How Harry Styles went from teeny-bop to Classic Rock
On a brisk Tuesday morning in Rockefeller Center, thousands of fans are eagerly awaiting the appearance of Harry Styles on NBC’s “Today” show. There are the usual screams and tears, and many in the crowd have been on line for days. But as 23-year-old Styles launches his solo career with a self-titled debut album (out Friday), the teen-girl hysteria that followed Styles’ old group One Direction around like a screeching shadow is subtly changing.
In April, his first single, “Sign of the Times,” broke into the top five on the Billboard chart, and surprised listeners with its classic-rock leanings. In an instant, the guy known to casual observers as “that dude who dated Taylor Swift” suddenly had a new slew of fans.
“My brother and husband used to put up with me listening to One Direction, but they really like that song,” says 32-year-old Cameron Cotrufello, who came from Philadelphia to see Styles perform just four songs at his “Today” gig. “They think it sounds like David Bowie or James Taylor.”
“My dad didn’t really care about One Direction, but he loves ‘Sign of the Times,’” adds Allie Shaw, a 16-year-old fan from New Jersey. “He sings it around the house. It reminds him of Elton John.”
“Harry Styles” the album might be where the Brit’s fan base crosses both generations and sexes. But as the album’s executive producer Jeff Bhasker tells The Post, it would be a mistake to think Styles is deliberately trying to fashion himself as a ’70s revivalist.
“We never intentionally tried to make something like an Elton John or a Fleetwood Mac album,” he says.
Instead, Bhasker points to Styles’ guitarist and co-writer Mitch Rowland as being a key factor in the album’s creation. “He’s kind of like the Keith Richards to Harry’s Mick Jagger. That type of dynamic between the lead guitar player and the singer needs to exist for the type of music Harry wants to do.”
“I’m sure a lot of people will wonder about who these songs are about, but they might be about people from past lives,” he says. “Harry’s such an old soul. He must have had past lives because he’s 23 years old but he seems like he’s 100 years old!”
While Styles’ new sound might come as a surprise to some, the clues have been there for years. As a kid, some of his earliest music memories are of his dad playing Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” “I couldn’t really get it,” he recently told Rolling Stone. “But I just remember being, like, ‘This is really f–king cool.” It had such an effect on him, he even has a “Dark Side of the Moon” tattoo on his left arm.
Styles has given shout-outs to Fleetwood Mac several times over the years, and in 2015, he singled out Paul Simon for praise. “I wish I had written ‘50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,’” he told Entertainment Weekly. “I think the verse in that song is one of the best verses ever written. It’s incredible.”
During his One Direction days, Styles also showed an ear for more contemporary rock groups. In 2012, he was spotted wearing a T-shirt of the hip British indie-punk band the Cribs.
“The One Direction guys were on our guest list when we played Los Angeles around then,” remembers Cribs bassist Gary Jarman. “They all seemed like smart, switched-on fans with good taste, but Harry was the biggest fan. He even supported our album releases through his Twitter account.”
Styles currently splits his time between London and Los Angeles — though he’s rumored to have just bought a three-bedroom Tribeca condo. Fans will see him on the big screen this summer in the Christopher Nolan WWII flick “Dunkirk.” After that, he’ll hit the road for his first solo world tour in September, including a stop at Radio City Music Hall.
The string of 13 North American dates sold out in seconds, and bigger venues will no doubt follow next year. But he might have a little work to do when it comes to polishing his stage routine. During a secret show this week at Williamsburg record store Rough Trade, Styles attempted a stage dive, but fans were caught off guard and he hit the floor. No one was hurt and Styles offered apologies — not that his fans were asking for any.
“Harry f–king did a stage dive and kicked me in the head with his Gucci shoe thank f–king god” tweeted one fan, in all caps.
But after years of being cooped up in the cage of One Direction, you can’t blame Styles for getting carried away. “There’s a lot of pent-up energy and creativity in him,” says Bhasker. “He’s been waiting to do this a long time.”