I remember staring blankly at the ceiling and contemplating my emotions before falling asleep in middle school. Falling in love for the first time was overwhelming, especially with five popstars. As the months went by and my love grew stronger, my posters began to creep up my walls, mysteriously making their way into my line of vision. Eventually my ceiling was covered in One Direction posters. And I’m not ashamed one bit.
Harry Styles has taken me on quite a ride since the days when I would fall asleep looking into his eyes on a Seventeen magazine poster. It feels like I’ve been on the sideline of his life for nine years, cheering him on at every phase. From his blazer-wearing days of 2012 to his Vogue-modeling days of 2020, he has never failed to get my applause. If I could recall all the times that my jaw dropped as new developments demonstrated his genuine passion for art and utter self-assurance, we would be here all day. So I won’t do that. What I will do, though, is bring to light the hidden qualities and talents Styles has to offer. And it goes way beyond his luscious locks and pop star charm.
Starting off on the British TV series “The X Factor,” Styles originally had goals of becoming a solo artist until Simon Cowell decided to group him with four other singers, forming One Direction. Styles became a fan-favorite from the start. One Direction fans (a.k.a. Directioners) fell in love with his authenticity. He expresses his emotions. He’s not afraid to cry on camera. He doesn’t play the womanizer-cool-guy role everyone else created for him.
In a documentary following the band through their days on “The X Factor,” Styles speaks out on not being able to handle hate comments directed towards him on Twitter. His lips tremble and his eyes water as he admits, “I can take criticism, but if it’s just like a ‘I don’t like you,’ then I want to know why people don’t like me.”
Styles never really fit the cookie-cutter role he was expected to fulfill while in One Direction, and he didn’t always have the self-confidence he has today. And his fans could tell. He was always bursting out the seams with more to offer, suffocating from the confines of boyband-hood. From management to stylists to contracts, Styles was being molded into a lesser (but still genuine) version of himself.
When One Direction broke up in 2015, my heart broke into five separate pieces. Not to be dramatic, but it felt like the posters that tattooed my walls were mocking me. The critics were right. They were just a stupid boyband. Bound to break up and fail as solo artists.
But this was only the beginning of Styles. The bubble that once confined him was popped. And Directioners awaited with hope for the star’s debut album as they recovered from the sharp blow.
His self-titled debut album shocked the fandom with ballads like “Sign of the Times” and rock hits like “Kiwi.” He went from lyrics like “Baby, you light up my world like nobody else” to “I’m having your baby, it’s none of your business.” We saw the side of Styles that was hidden from us, shaded by the looming presence of One Direction’s management. We didn’t know what was hiding in the dark.
Styles’s range has become apparent in other ways, too. All the emotions he once had to hide were expressed in “Dunkirk,” a 2017 film where he played a soldier in battle. With no prior acting experience besides a quick performance with One Direction on “iCarly” in 2012, fans were worried. We couldn’t bear to see Styles cry again.
But he didn’t disappoint. Reviewers mentioned his “surprising amount of grit and pathos,” which made him “simply magnetic.” When everyone was doubting him, tagging his new career path as a rebound, he performed. He showed his range. He’s not a singer or a songwriter or an actor. He is an artist.
He shows this again and again.
His three-time Grammy-nominated album Fine Line came out in 2019. It’s about “having sex and feeling sad,” as Styles said himself. He touched on topics he couldn’t dare confront while in One Direction, calling himself an “arrogant son of a bitch who can’t admit when he’s sorry.” Styles shows us vulnerability, honesty and a new style of music in Fine Line.
And while covering a range of different songs, from “Juice” by Lizzo to “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac, Styles again shows his genuine love for music. And when you really love something, you love all of it. That’s where range stems from: the absolute urge to cover all aspects of your interest at all costs using whatever opportunities you can get your hands on. Styles covers it all.
And he doesn’t just do it for enjoyment. Styles acknowledges his platform. He knows his reach, and he doesn’t let it go to waste. In his unreleased song “Medicine” that he performed on tour, he sings, “The boys and the girls are here. I mess around with him. And I’m okay with it.”
At this moment, the self-conscious and insecure 18-year-old ripped off his tight-fitting blazer and exposed his inner core. Styles has been an ally of the LGBTQ+ community since his boy band days, but he’s become increasingly involved in the fight against gender norms and stereotypes as of late.
In December 2020, Styles became the first man to appear solo on the cover of Vogue. And he did it in a ballgown. He broke expectations in the best way possible and spoke up when Candace Owens, American author and political commentator, tweeted, “Bring back manly men”, regarding Styles’s cover. Styles spoke about the art of fashion and the blurring of lines between what is considered male and female clothing. He understands that art is about making a statement and does so with grace.
In his latest “Treat People With Kindness” music video, Styles and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”) co-star, wearing almost identical outfits while Styles does the more traditional “female” dance moves like dips and spins. And once again, he performs not just as an actor or a singer or a dancer, but as an artist, making a statement regarding the blurring of gender lines and just treating people kindly.
But it doesn’t end there. In the upcoming film “Don’t Worry Darling”, Styles has been cast as the male lead. The film takes place in the 1950s and follows an unhappy housewife as she starts to question her sanity. Styles plays her manipulative and controlling husband, which is the exact opposite of what he stands for. After reading a draft of the script, I can’t imagine him saying the lines he’s scripted for, but that’s what makes it so exciting. “Don’t Worry Darling” is just another way for Styles, as an artist, to make more of a statement regarding the abandonment of stereotypes and the push towards gender equality.
If Styles succeeds, as he’s done time and time again, this role will only add another layer to his already-versatile self, illuminating the inner workings of his mind that allow him to possess another personality so far off from his own. And I’m dying to see how he does it.
Range is about more than a singer-songwriter’s variety of styles or an actor’s type of role. When it comes to art, range is about expression. Being able to express what matters most to you in a number of different ways, whether it be through music style or acting or fashion, is what establishes range. Styles continues to surprise us with his undeniable creativity and authenticity.
If you’re still looking at Styles through a narrow lens that only captures his boyband days, I recommend taking a step back. You’ll come to find a well-rounded artist capable of making a statement in the most graceful and creative of ways.
Daily Arts Writer Laura Millar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.