Is it now ok for indie fans to like Harry Styles?
Following the release of Harry's House, it's time to stop feeling guilty about enjoying the former One Direction singer.
I’ve got a confession to make. I’m a music snob who is mellowing in their golden years. It’s to the extent that nestled between obscure remix compilations and the collections of the anthemic tunes we all know and love I’ve got a playlist. One that I put together in secret and listen to it when there’s no one about. It’s called Guilty Pleasures. And Harry Styles is on it.
I can’t remember when I first encountered the song ‘Kiwi’ from the former member of One Direction. Thinking back, it was maybe performed at the end of a chat show or an awards ceremony like the BRITs. There were frantic camera shots, big costumes and a female drummer properly going for it in the glam rock-inspired number. Deep down I wished it had been from an up and coming indie act no one else had heard of rather than a former boyband member everyone knew. Then I could admit to liking it. Then I could promote it from the Guilty Pleasure playlist.
A lot of people like Harry Styles. He’s got the looks and he can actually sing (a pleasant change for yours truly who survived the Britpop era of listening to singers who couldn’t sing). His solo material is pretty much as far removed from his former band and he’s been in that "Right Place In The Right Time" when it comes to social media with ‘Watermelon Sugar’ ruling TikTok last year.
It can’t all be based on his previous career. No offence to any of his former bandmates but they’d struggle to sell out stadiums and headline Coachella in the manner in which he's done this year alone.
This leads us to his latest album and his third solo offering. Harry’s House arrives off the back of first single ‘As It Was’, a song both soul-baring and foot-tapping at the same time. It became the most streamed song in a single day by a male artist ever. If you’ve not heard it over the last couple of months then there’s a chance you’ve been living in your own house with no contact with the outside world or an internet connection.
Surely Harry’s House can’t keep the momentum going? For the most part it does. Opener ‘Music For a Sushi Restaurant’ evokes Prince-era ‘Purple Rain’. ‘Late Night Talking’ starts like Duran Duran and before we know it we’re nodding along to shimmering production, synths and funk. Nile Rodgers has a lot to answer for.
Noel Gallagher (who else?) has been quick to criticise Harry Styles, citing the fact that he doesn’t think the pop star writes his own songs (although each one of his songs features a writing credit from him). Yet when things get gentler with ballads such as ‘Mathilda’ and ‘Boyfriends’ it’s those songs that genuinely- touch the listener in the manner in which Gallagher also does just as well.
You’ll wonder how the fans who’ve been with him since his first X Factor audition will cope with his reinvention. Much like Prince in his prime the whole thing drips with rax sexuality. ‘Cinema’ could well be an odeum to film actress/director Oliva Wilde while ‘Daylight’ casually drops in drugs references that wouldn’t have got him past the judges house back in the day. It’s hardly the debauched musings of MGMT’s ‘Time To Pretend’ but it’s not ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ either.
It’s a pity Harry Styles didn’t loosen up a bit and go a bit further with the Eighties theme. It’s missing an ‘Appetite For Destruction’ type song that would have pushed his impressive vocals in another direction. It’s missing that couple of minutes of headbanging. It’s missing ‘Kiwi’. And because of that, after an uplifting start, things tend to petter out to the end.
It would have been easy for Harry Styles to have knocked out an album of songs selected from a conveyor before another act got their hands on them. He could have put out thirteen tracks about the woes of being him. Or got the boys back together for that reunion.
Instead, he’s made Harry’s House. If it was an actual abode, it would be pastel coloured with the windows open. There would be a room for reflection, a kitchen for partying and a bedroom with the door firmly closed. It’s time to put him on the playlists we’re not embarrassed to admit to compiling.