Long before Harry Styles hit the sweetest heights of his career with his No. 1 single “Watermelon Sugar” in 2020, a British “The X Factor” judge was sour on the future pop superstar.
After the then 16-year-old baker sang Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” a cappella during his 2010 audition, he was unceremoniously shot by music director Louis Walsh. “I think you’re so young, I don’t think you have enough experience or confidence yet,” he told a headscarf-draped Styles.
But the other two judges – Nicole Scherzinger and, most importantly, Simon Cowell – saw something special in the young singer and voted him out for the next round. And Cowell would go on to pair Styles with four other contestants on “X Factor” to form One Direction.
Since then, the only direction has been for the floppy-haired lad from Cheshire, England, who went from the boy band’s biggest heartthrob to a Grammy-winning solo sensation, who on Friday made the one from his second of two Coachella weekends. And with his new No. 1 single “As It Was” heating up anticipation for his third solo album, “Harry’s House” (out May 20), Styles’ career is on fire.
“He’s truly become one of the greatest artists of this generation,” said Tom Poleman, Chief Programming Officer and President of National Programming for iHeartMedia. “It’s the concert that everyone wants to see, it’s the music that everyone wants to hear on the radio, and then it’s also the artist that everyone wants to follow on social networks. up to 81 million followers between Twitter and Instagram alone, those are mega-star numbers.
Certainly, being the headliner of one of the biggest and busiest music festivals on the planet was a crowning achievement for the new prince of pop. “He must be the first person to become famous on a reality show to headline Coachella,” said SiriusXM’s “Volume West” host Lyndsey Parker, who was among those in the Indio desert, in California, to witness Styles in everything. its glittering glory on April 21. “He made a grand entrance wearing this fun fur…and underneath he had this Freddie Mercury sequin jumpsuit, which not every guy could wear. He absolutely did.
At 28, Styles has found that swagger — and an infectious sense of freedom — throughout his journey from boy-bander to rock god. “Now,” as he told Rolling Stone in 2019, “I feel like the fans have given me an environment to be myself and grow and create this safe space to learn and make mistakes. .”
After singing as a child on a karaoke machine his grandfather gave him – the first song he recorded was Elvis Presley’s “The Girl of My Best Friend” – Styles was the lead singer of local band White Eskimo when he auditioned for “X Factor.” And he even came up with the name One Direction, which Cowell signed to his label Syco Music after the then-newly formed group finished third on “X Factor.”
After the One Direction phenomenon took off with the global hit “What Makes You Beautiful” in 2011, Styles became a fan favorite with the band – but he wasn’t exactly the Justin Timberlake of 1D who seemed destined to. solo fame. “When you watch certain bands, like Destiny’s Child, it’s really not a question of who’s the star,” said ‘MTV Fresh Out Live’ host Jamila Mustafa, referring to the former band’s Beyonce’s daughters. “But I think it pushed Harry Styles.”
In fact, Zayn Malik was the first member of One Direction to go solo after leaving the group in 2015. But after 1D went on hiatus in 2016, it was Styles who shook up the music world when he released the Bowie-esque “Sign of the Times” in 2017, revealing more depth and a sharper sensibility than anyone expected.
“When ‘Sign of the Times’ came out, I thought it was a really good premiere. [solo] single because… it was really like a gauntlet thrown down, like, ‘OK, this is the new me,’” Parker said of the hit ballad, which Rolling Stone ranked No. 428 on the 500 Plus. all time great songs in 2021.
Indeed, Styles’ self-titled solo debut in 2017 showed he had learned well from classic rock heroes such as Van Morrison and Fleetwood Mac. And all of a sudden, it not only had artistic credibility, but also cross-generational appeal.
“The next generation as well as their parents could connect with Harry,” Poleman said. “And that’s always been the definition of true mass artists – when you can cross generations. And he did it masterfully.”
Demystifying the Second Crisis, Styles built on that success with his second album, 2019’s “Fine Line,” which – incorporating more soulful sounds on hits such as “Lights Up,” “Adore You” and, of course, , “Watermelon Sugar” – went triple platinum and earned him his first Grammy.
Meanwhile, some older music legends also watched — and adored — Styles. In fact, Stevie Nicks — who called Styles “the son I never had” — had him inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019. And country-pop queen Shania Twain came to play with him at Coachella.
“Talent appreciates talent, and they can recognize that,” Poleman said. “Obviously they see it in Harry.”
And while Parker agrees that Styles is “the real deal” as a musician, she says his retro and Gucci style also invites comparison with some all-time greats. “He has this Mick Jagger thing; he has that Bowie thing,” she said.
Indeed, Styles’ thrift store couture label saw him rock a dress as the first man to appear solo on the cover of American Vogue for the magazine’s December 2020 issue. During that time, he’s been a rainbow flag advocate for the LGBTQ community, helping one of his young female fans date her mother at a concert in 2018.
And while he’s dated the likes of Kendall Jenner, Nadine Leopold and Camille Rowe — as well as Taylor Swift in his 1D days — he doesn’t have that bad boy image as a gamer. “I think he’s a gentleman,” Mustafa said.
In addition to the upcoming release of “Harry’s House,” whose title nods to a Joni Mitchell song, Styles will co-star with current flame Olivia Wilde – 10 years his senior – in this year’s thriller. fall “Don’t Worry Darling”. But even though his career “defies gravity”, as Poleman puts it, he hasn’t forgotten his roots in One Direction – and, refreshingly, he remembers them fondly.
“When someone comes out of a band, they’re like, ‘That wasn’t me. I got held up,’” Styles told Rolling Stone. been me. And I don’t feel like I was held back at all. It was so much fun… It’s not like I was strapped to a heater.
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