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16th Jun 2023

Harry Styles is actually woefully underrated 

Jack Peat

We haven’t seen an artist like him since David Bowie 

I’ve always considered myself to be somewhat of a music purist. 

I still listen to albums from front to back, usually on an old record player I keep next to a collection of EPs that produces a lovely scratchy sound as original masterpieces from Revolver to The Queen Is Dead turn on its table. 

Those albums aren’t just important because they are musical triumphs, they’re important because they had a profound impact on the industry and influenced cultural movements that impacted society as a whole. 

Without the Beatles there is no Pixies, Nirvana or Oasis. Without The Smiths there is no Stone Roses, Radiohead or The Libertines. But what those bands did for women’s liberation, gay liberation, environmentalism and working class movements is equally profound. Both are bands whose popularity was supplanted by their artistry, giving them a unique position in the annals of music history. 

For me, ever since the X Factor aired on our screens, fronted by Simon Cowell with his pearly white teeth, pristine T and Twickers jeans and shoes combination, it has been the absolute antithesis of all that. 

The public flogging of people out to chase their dreams has seen huge audiences flock to the show over the years as they crown acts who manage to not butcher classic covers. As Michael Rosenberg (AKA Passenger) once put it, the show “murdered music” at the altar of a few “money-grabbing pricks”. It robbed us of an original Christmas Number 1 for decades until a countermovement propelled Rage Against The Machine to the top spot. And quite right, too. 

But the show has, quite miraculously, given birth to a musician who, in my view, belongs in the same category as The Beatles, The Smiths and, pertainantly, David Bowie in status. 

Harry Styles, formerly of One Direction fame, is quite obviously a popular bloke. He is about to perform in front of 90,000 people at Wembley for the fourth night after completing the highest selling Scottish stadium tour ever. He has 48.9 million followers on Instagram and his 2022 hit ‘As It Was’ was the most streamed Spotify song that year. 

But his popularity should not be confused with his artistry.

Styles is more than just the hoards of screaming teenage fans and strings of celebrity endorsements we’ve come to know him for. He’s actually an icon both in music and in style, and increasingly an icon in modern movements of inclusiveness and self-worth. 

During a concert in Houston, Texas, in 2018, he interacted with a ten-year-old boy in the crowd who had become overcome with emotion. Styles assured the young boy, “Crying is very manly. Being vulnerable is manly”. That is fucking classy, man. 

His debut album artwork, which depicts the least tattooed area of his naked body half-submerged in a pastel pink bath, similarly conveys vulnerability, femininity, reflection, and intimacy, all of which are buzzwords for new youth movements that will only grow in acceptance and popularity. 

When I look at his Love on Tour show I don’t see a teenage heartthrob. I see the Beatles. I look at his fashion and I see Bowie. I look at the messages he’s sending out to kids and I see Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation. And I see the fact that nobody is talking about him in those terms as proof that he is actually woefully underrated. 

Now bring on the hate…

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