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Updated: Aug 22, 2023

After a live One Direction gig in 2012, music critic Chris Richards of The Washington Post, wrote: ”As the five traded couplets, it was tough to imagine a future Justin Timberlake, Ricky Martin or Bobby Brown emerging from the pack.” Harry Styles now has over 62M listeners a month on Spotify, 3 Grammies, the biggest song of 2022 and has just finished one of the highest grossing tours of all time. Oh, and he’s also found time to become a style icon with major fashion houses, Vogue Magazine, the Met Gala etc, and make significant contributions to charitable causes.

“Why Harry?” you might well be wondering…

After all, broodingly handsome Zayn Malik with his very cool vocals was the first to leave One Direction and strike out on his own, making the most soaring and passionate 1D solo hit of all, with a little help from Sia:

Zayn has only just admitted that: ‘I completely, selfishly wanted to be the first person to go and make my own record.’

All the lads had the advantage of the unparalleled fanbase they carried with them, from what NPR described as "one of the biggest boy bands the world had ever seen” and Billboard were still calling 1D "the world's biggest boy band" in 2020, three years after their hiatus as a pop act. It is agreed that the power of social media was vital to the success of One Direction. In their active years, they were all extremely present on social media and interacted with fans daily, giving them what the Independent called "an army of online fans”, and spreading their fame across the globe. HuffPost wrote that "One Direction's level of fame surpassed anything that modern audiences had seen" and that "fans and non-fans alike widely agree that such intense levels of fandom hadn't been seen since The Beatles in the 1960s”. Remember?

At the peak, there were pop-up shops around the world, including Brisbane, Toronto, Chicago, New York, Tokyo and Stockholm, exclusively selling 1D merchandise. And the band’s image was increasingly developed to emphasise each member's individuality, paving the way for solo success.

But just this week, Liam Payne was discussing the negative ways in which the 1D experience had impacted him. He says it ‘definitely left scars on me’ and revealed he had spent months in a wellness clinic in the US last year, after hitting rock bottom following an appearance on Logan Paul’s podcast.

Meanwhile, Harry Styles has steadily pulled ahead of the other members, including Zayn. But hang on, is the idea of Harry making gradual progress correct? As early as 2017, American journalist Anna J Haynes assessed all five 1D solo careers and wrote this: ‘With the recent release of his self-titled album, Styles has proven to be the member not only with the most potential, but also the highest level of pure musical skill. While he may not be rock’s music literal saviour, as NPR claims, he is undoubtedly reminiscent of The Doors frontman Jim Morrison or sometimes even Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger. A year ago, Zayn would top this list, but Harry’s perfect instrumentation and seamless vocals have won over my heart.’

Here’s where the runaway bus goes crashing through the marketplace, sending chickens scurrying, fruit flying in all directions and people running for safety. Brace yourselves, you Bowie fans. Buckle up your safety belts, lovers of ‘real’ music like its used to be in the old school, olden days. ‘Cos here it comes. Harry Styles is good. Very good. Oops, there goes another big pile of apples, off the cart and rolling around the marketplace. The secret is out. The genie cannot be put back in the bottle now. If you’re new to this idea, try starting here:

Grammy awards are not just handed out because a guy has 60 tattoos and has been known to wear the occasional dress and feather boa, and Harry Styles has three Grammies. But not like you’d realise that from his carefree demeanour. He’s not sitting on any laurels, this guy moves forward.

Years ago, Fred Astaire would rehearse his dance routines for like, six months. They were generally filmed in one take, no edits. Yep, one take, no edits. The ultimate master of dance, Fred would often finish a stunning scene by tossing his hat onto a hat stand, or some similar ordinary gesture, as if to say ‘anyone can do this, it's nothing special, folks!’.

That’s the thing about Harry. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. He goes with the flow. Yes, he has teams for everything… tracks, videos, fashion looks. But they are good teams and it all works out. There’s a danger of course, that by appearing not to take himself very seriously, he risks others not taking him seriously. But try telling that to his fans. They see a young Artist, from his lyrics to his tunes, to his videos, his clothes and now even his choice of portraitist, the legend that is David Hockney. Plus, Harry was no slouch in his ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ movie role.

All these spinoff activities are built on the foundation of Mr Styles’ music career, and if you’ve been on a desert island for the last couple of years, here’s your crash course. The young singer had this on his debut album, which Apple Music called his ‘magisterial Bowie-meets-Elton calling card’:

Album two can prove to be a jaunty little stroll across lethal quicksand for many artists, but instead, Harry comes up with this:

No way was this little boyband punk going to live up to that level of success on his third album, right? In many people’s eyes he remained a mere cipher, just a hanger for some glittery suit, a guy who lucked into success, like the gardener portrayed by Peter Sellars in ‘Being There’. But that was not to be:

“Why Harry?” you might well be wondering…

Because he’s good at what he does. Very good.

Dominic Bugatti

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