Is he the biggest rock star in the world today?
Wait a second, how could this happen? Aren’t boy bands supposed to be a flash in the pan, purveying mindless drivel for prepubescent girls who promptly abandon their crush when they go through puberty, only to show up decades later for the reunion show?
Welcome to music in 2020. Where we’re completely divorced from what came before, the pre-internet era, and there’s no cohesive scene, despite the labels and the media telling us there is.
Today it’s all about longevity. Not the first week numbers, but whether you can last, whether you can sustain, and the irony is so many of the touted number ones don’t. Oh, you’ll see it in their bios, on their Wikipedia pages, it’s almost as worthless as a Grammy, anybody can debut at number one, but can they stay there?
Harry Styles does not have the best voice, not even in One Direction, but he knows the rule of rock and roll, that conception is more important than execution, that the talent is in the idea, not the raw skills, otherwise music would be dominated by the melisma monsters of “The Voice.”
They’ve even got the 808 in country now. If you were frozen in the seventies and defrosted today, you’d believe that melody was a lost art, that the beat was everything, and that a canned sound from the eighties is the only way to gain success, but Harry Styles proves this is patently untrue. I’m not saying that “Watermelon Sugar” has the lyrical complexity and underlying gravitas of anything on Bob Dylan’s “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” but it is a hell of a lot more listenable, it puts you in that late summer mood, where you lament the passing of those days in the sun, but you’ve still got the fumes of the feeling, which you want to maintain.
Harry Styles has been on a musical hejira, trying to find his identity, who he wants to be. Rather than just replicating what is on the chart, he pursued his own cobbled-together vision, a combination of SoCal seventies along with a modern pop sensibility, to the point where he’s making the most palatable music on the scene.
This should not be. We should all be listening to Jason Isbell, we should be hanging on every word of Drake and the Weeknd, not that they are not big in their own verticals, but Harry Styles seems to have transcended genre, he’s king of all the charts, everything but rock, because the wankers who control that format don’t want to admit this good-looking young ‘un beat the regulars at their own game.
In a world where you’re supposed to emerge fully-formed, Harry Styles has developed. Isn’t this the way it used to be, isn’t that why Warner Brothers stuck with you for five albums, because they believed you’d grow and find your groove? Styles’s solo debut, the eponymous “Harry Styles,” got all the publicity, but it’s the second LP, “Fine Line” which has burned its way into the public consciousness. And at this point, “Watermelon Sugar” is the fourth hit single from the LP. Anyone can come up with one hit, but to deliver four is nearly unheard of, and in the modern world these four hits have all hit the chart in less than a year, unlike the seventies and eighties when labels took two and a half years to dribble the hits out, if they could make the album last that long.
But it’s all image, right? Girls just want to look at and fantasize about Harry?
The official “Watermelon Sugar” video has 87+ million views on YouTube. And, then there’s another lyric version that has 52+ million views. Yet, the song has has 565+ million streams on Spotify, never mind competing services. So, all this crap about YouTube ripping off creators…it appears all active listeners are on dedicated music streaming services, and the fact that Harry is a hunk is irrelevant.
Repeatability. That’s the essence of a hit. Something you hear once and want to hear again. And the more you listen to it, the more you get into it, you’re entranced, that’s “Watermelon Sugar,” and it’s not even the best track on “Fine Line”…”Adore You,” which has 520+ million streams on Spotify, holds that title.
“Fine Line” is “Silk Degrees,” made by a more likable artist who has already had more sustained success than Boz Scaggs.
“Fine Line” is a Fleetwood Mac album, obviously hanging with Stevie Nicks has rubbed off on Harry.
It took years for people to acknowledge how great Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” was. He was supposed to be a mindless boy band singer, but that album ultimately penetrated the culture, from blacks to whites, to the point where when “Thriller” was released, it dominated the culture, albeit helped by videos on MTV.
Every week there are new releases. You don’t know what to pay attention to. Maybe the work of old favorites, but after that? Furthermore, it takes so much effort to get into music, but it takes no effort to get into “Fine Line,” you get into it immediately.
The boomers, who are nearly irrelevant, who don’t count despite them telling us they do ad infinitum, would be positively stunned by “Fine Line.” Come on, just play it at a dinner party, everybody will immediately ask…”What is that”
Youngsters know Harry. But his lack of dominance has to do with the culture as opposed to his work. We live in a Tower of Babel society. It’s nearly impossible to take the temperature of not only the musical scene, not only the political scene, but any scene. So, something hiding in plain sight can be positively gigantic and you don’t know, you can’t feel it. But when you listen to “Fine Line” you do.
You may think I’m overstating the case. But the truth is Harry Styles is the little engine that could. Someone who everybody is aware of who has been dismissed out of the box, because the story is not sexy, despite his attractiveness he does not dominate TMZ, it’s not about the antics, but the music. No one is shooting him. He’s not making it by being featured on others’ music, nor importing rappers on his tracks to make them hits.
I’m not saying Harry’s team, both in the studio and at the label, don’t deserve credit for his success, but you need someone to guide you, to lead the team. It’s not like Harry worked with the producer du jour and employed their sound to dominate the chart, he did it his way, albeit with help, but almost no one can do it alone.
So, Harry Styles is this big. He may not be running for president, he may not be in the news every damn day, but he’s a part of 2020 culture. And if you don’t know, if you didn’t get the memo, you have now!