I was hesitant to listen to Harry Styles’ debut self-titled album. In the past I actively avoided listening to One Direction, and, even more so, its fanbase. I did not enjoy the cookie-cutter kid-bop style of their boy band music. Their fanbase was a compilation of young teenage girls convinced “What Makes You Beautiful” was written about them, and sent them into a complete frenzy over the group of British boys. Don’t get me wrong. I very much enjoyed listening to them perform on the X Factor where their raw talent truly shone. However I could not bring myself to listen to them after that first single released. I have always been a music snob, I’ll fully admit. I was raised listening to classic rock, Supertramp, Zeppelin, the Beatles, musical soundtracks, and alt-80s genres my dad enjoyed. Forgive me if the four-chord pop song became tiresome after about three songs. Give The Axis of Awesome’s “4 Chords” and Bo Burnham’s “Repeat Stuff” each a listen, and you’ll understand what I mean. One Direction fit right into that category of four chord pop songs, and I simply was not a fan.
When Zayn Malik first announced that he would be leaving the band, the internet went into complete hysterics. I have been on Tumblr since grade nine, and I have seen some wild stuff (i.e. the “Mishapocalypse” of 2013. If you don’t know what that is, look it up. Or don’t. Save yourself). Zayn leaving One Direction is in probably my top 5 least favourite events that I have witnessed on the Internet. My entire dash was full of fans losing their absolute minds over the news. I didn’t even know that half of the blogs I followed were remotely interested in the band, but there were posts upon posts upon POSTS regarding Zayn and One Direction. I, personally, felt relieved and hopeful for the future of each artist — I desperately wished for each member to produce music that showcased each of their full talents. However, once “Pillowtalk” released, I was once again disappointed. It sounded very similar to the music already being produced by artists like the Weeknd. It fit right into another popular genre of the time. I admit, his voice is a dream, and his belt is strong and solid. However, I could have mistaken his song for another artist’s.
So when Harry Styles released his first single, “Sign of the Times,” I didn’t bother to look it up and listen to it. I don’t frequent YouTube or Spotify as much as most, and I avoid pop radio like the plague. It was not until the full album released that I began noticing the widespread praise for it online. One particular aspect of Harry’s new solo career that caught my attention was this post regarding his recent photoshoot with Another Man magazine. To sum it up, Harry Styles was very much venturing outside gender norms in modern media. I decided to delve deeper into this photoshoot, and another image caught my eye: one of the front page images.
Tell me that doesn’t look like he’s a member of the Beatles.
I was impressed with both the Another Man and Rolling Stone photoshoots, but that still was not enough to convince me to listen to his album. Until I received a text from my friend who’d been online watching videos of both Harry’s early (the X Factor) and present (solo career) stuff, and was impressed with both. Later that day, he let me know that he’d listened to Harry’s full album and told me he was both impressed and surprised, as he’d avoided One Direction as I had. I trust this friend’s opinion on everything from music to movies, so I knew that the album must be good. He’d described “Sign of the Times” as having “classic Bowie vibes” — a compliment one does not give lightly. He said that Harry was going “beyond the cheap gloss of most modern pop,” which was exactly what I’d feared his music was going to be. Now, I had to listen to this album.
And I did. Let me tell you, I was not prepared for it. Not in the slightest.
The first track, “Meet Me In The Hallway,” sold me from the first line. It sounded like a Pink Floyd song; with the echoed effect on Harry’s vocals, the bass line underneath the acoustic guitar, and the unconventional melodic lines. This was quite far from the sound of One Direction.
And I fucking loved it. (Sorry, Mom.)
This album could pass for having been released in the 60s/70s era of the Beatles, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin. Harry Styles brought back the instrumentation and sounds of the era and created a masterpiece of a debut solo album. Track 3, “Carolina,” sounds like a Beatles song. Its structure, instrumentation, and lyrics are completely derivative of the Beatles. There is honestly no other way to describe it. I could put it on a Beatles playlist and it would fit in. “Sweet Creature”’s guitar style and structure is similar to that of “Blackbird”. I am not suggesting that Harry Styles has copied the Beatles. I am saying that his inspiration is very much a product of his English upbringing, not to mention the immortal genius of the Beatles’ works and its continuous effect on music.
I thoroughly enjoyed each track on the album. I hope his fans from his One Direction days follow him through his solo career, and brings in new fans such as myself. His style is a refreshing change from today’s mainstream pop music, and I can only hope for more of it.