The Eternal Sunshine of Harry Styles
H arry Styles isn’t exactly dressed down for lunch. He’s got a white floppy hat that Diana Ross might have won from Elton in a poker game at Cher’s mansion circa 1974, plus Gucci shades, a cashmere sweater, and blue denim bell-bottoms. His nail polish is pink and mint green. He’s also carrying his purse — no other word for it — a yellow patent-canvas bag with the logo “Chateau Marmont.” The tough old ladies who work at this Beverly Hills deli know him well. Gloria and Raisa dote on him, calling him “my love” and bringing him his usual tuna salad and iced coffee. He turns heads, to put it mildly, but nobody comes near because the waitresses hover around the booth protectively.
He was just a small-town English lad of 16 when he became his generation’s pop idol with One Direction. When the group went on hiatus, he struck out on his own with his brash 2017 solo debut, whose lead single was the magnificently over-the-top six-minute piano ballad “Sign of the Times.” Even people who missed out on One Direction were shocked to learn the truth: This pinup boy was a rock star at heart.
A quick highlight reel of Harry’s 2019 so far: He hosted the Met Gala with Lady Gaga, Serena Williams, Alessandro Michele, and Anna Wintour serving an eyebrow-raising black lace red-carpet look. He is the official face of a designer genderless fragrance, Gucci’s Mémoire d’une Odeur. When James Corden had an all-star dodgeball match on The Late Late Show, Harry got spiked by a hard serve from Michelle Obama, making him perhaps the first Englishman ever hit in the nads on TV by a First Lady.
Closer to his heart, he brought down the house at this year’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony with his tribute to his friend and idol Stevie Nicks. “She’s always there for you,” Harry said in his speech. “She knows what you need: advice, a little wisdom, a blouse, a shawl.” He added, “She’s responsible for more running mascara — including my own — than all the bad dates in history.” (Backstage, Nicks accidentally referred to Harry’s former band as “’NSync.” Hey, a goddess can get away with that sort of thing.)
Harry has been the world’s It boy for nearly a decade now. The weirdest thing about him? He loves being this guy. In a style of fast-lane celebrity that takes a ruthless toll on the artist’s personality, creativity, sanity, Harry is almost freakishly at ease. He has managed to grow up in public with all his boyish enthusiasm intact, not to mention his manners. He’s dated a string of high-profile women — but he never gets caught uttering any of their names in public, much less shading any of them. Instead of going the usual superstar-pop route — en vogue producers, celebrity duets, glitzy club beats — he’s gone his own way, and gotten more popular than ever. He’s putting the finishing touches on his new album, full of the toughest, most soulful songs he’s written yet. As he explains, “It’s all about having sex and feeling sad.”
The Harry Charm is a force of nature, and it can be almost frightening to witness in action. The most startling example might be a backstage photo from February taken with one of his heroes, Van Morrison. You have never seen a Van picture like this one. He’s been posing for photos for 50 years, and he’s been refusing to crack a smile in nearly all of them. Until he met Harry — for some reason, Van beams like a giddy schoolgirl. What did Harry do to him? “I was tickling him behind his back,” Harry confides. “Somebody sent me that photo — I think his tour manager took it. When I saw it, I felt like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction opening the case with the gold light shining. I was like, ‘Fuck, maybe I shouldn’t show this to anyone.’”
In interviews, Harry has always tended to coast on that charm, simply because he can. In his teens, he was in public every minute and became adept at guarding every scrap of his privacy. But these days, he’s finding out he has things he wants to say. He’s more confident about thinking out loud and seeing what happens. “Looser” is how he puts it. “More open. I’m discovering how much better it makes me feel to be open with friends. Feeling that vulnerability, rather than holding everything in.”
Like a lot of people his age, he’s asking questions about culture, gender, identity, new ideas about masculinity and sexuality. “I feel pretty lucky to have a group of friends who are guys who would talk about their emotions and be really open,” he says. “My friend’s dad said to me, ‘You guys are so much better at it than we are. I never had friends I could really talk to. It’s good that you guys have each other because you talk about real shit. We just didn’t.’”
It’s changed how he approaches his songs. “For me, it doesn’t mean I’ll sit down and be like, ‘This is what I have for dinner, and this is where I eat every day, and this is what I do before I go to bed,’” he says. “But I will tell you that I can be really pathetic when I’m jealous. Feeling happier than I’ve ever been, sadder than I’ve ever been, feeling sorry for myself, being mad at myself, being petty and pitiful — it feels really different to share that.”
At times, Harry sounds like an ordinary 25-year-old figuring his shit out, which, of course, he is. (Harry and I got to know each other last year, when he got in touch after reading one of my books, though I’d already been writing about his music for years.) It’s strange to hear him talk about shedding his anxieties and doubts, since he’s always come across as one of the planet’s most confident people. “While I was in the band,” he says, “I was constantly scared I might sing a wrong note. I felt so much weight in terms of not getting things wrong. I remember when I signed my record deal and I asked my manager, ‘What happens if I get arrested? Does it mean the contract is null and void?’ Now, I feel like the fans have given me an environment to be myself and grow up and create this safe space to learn and make mistakes.”
We slip out the back and spend a Saturday afternoon cruising L.A. in his 1972 silver Jaguar E-type. The radio doesn’t work, so we just sing “Old Town Road.” He marvels, “‘Bull riding and boobies’ — that is potentially the greatest lyric in any song ever.” Harry used to be pop’s mystery boy, so diplomatic and tight-lipped. But as he opens up over time, telling his story, he reaches the point where he’s pitching possible headlines for this profile. His best: “Soup, Sex, and Sun Salutations.”
How did he get to this new place? As it turns out, the journey involves some heartbreak. Some guidance from David Bowie. Some Transcendental Meditation. And more than a handful of magic mushrooms. But mostly, it comes down to a curious kid who can’t decide whether to be the world’s most ardently adored pop star, or a freaky artiste. So he decides to be both.
Two things about English rock stars never change: They love Southern California, and they love cars. A few days after Harry proclaimed the genius of “Old Town Road,” we’re in a different ride — a Tesla — cruising the Pacific Coast Highway while Harry sings along to the radio. “Californiaaaaaa!” he yells from behind the wheel as we whip past Zuma Beach. “It sucks!” There’s a surprising number of couples along the beach who seem to be arguing. We speculate on which ones are breaking up and which are merely having the talk. “Ah, yes, the talk,” Harry says dreamily. “Ye olde chat.”
Harry is feeling the smooth Seventies yacht-rock grooves today, blasting Gerry Rafferty, Pablo Cruise, Hall and Oates. When I mention that Nina Simone once did a version of “Rich Girl,” he needs to hear it right away. He counters by blowing my mind with Donny Hathaway’s version of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.”
Harry raves about a quintessential SoCal trip he just tried: a “cold sauna,” a process that involves getting locked in an ice chamber. His eyelashes froze. We stop for a smoothie (“It’s basically ice cream”) and his favorite pepper-intensive wheatgrass shot. It goes down like a dose of battery acid. “That’ll add years to your life,” he assures me.
We’re on our way to Shangri-La studios in Malibu, founded by the Band back in the 1970s, now owned by Rick Rubin. It’s where Harry made some of the upcoming album, and as we walk in, he grins at the memory. “Ah, yes,” he says. “Did a lot of mushrooms in here.”
Psychedelics have started to play a key role in his creative process. “We’d do mushrooms, lie down on the grass, and listen to Paul McCartney’s Ram in the sunshine,” he says. “We’d just turn the speakers into the yard.” The chocolate edibles were kept in the studio fridge, right next to the blender. “You’d hear the blender going, and think, ‘So we’re all having frozen margaritas at 10 a.m. this morning.’” He points to a corner: “This is where I was standing when we were doing mushrooms and I bit off the tip of my tongue. So I was trying to sing with all this blood gushing out of my mouth. So many fond memories, this place.”
It’s not mere rock-star debauchery — it’s emblematic of his new state of mind. You get the feeling this is why he enjoys studios so much. After so many years making One Direction albums while touring, always on the run, he finally gets to take his time and embrace the insanity of it all. “We were here for six weeks in Malibu, without going into the city,” he says. “People would bring their dogs and kids. We’d take a break to play cornhole tournaments. Family values!” But it’s also the place where he has proudly bled for his art. “Mushrooms and Blood. Now there’s an album title.”
Some of the engineers come over to catch up on gossip. Harry gestures out the window to the Pacific waves, where the occasional nude revelry might have happened, and where the occasional pair of pants got lost. “There was one night where we’d been partying a bit and ended up going down to the beach and I lost all my stuff, basically,” he says. “I lost all my clothes. I lost my wallet. Maybe a month later, somebody found my wallet and mailed it back, anonymously. I guess it just popped out of the sand. But what’s sad is, I lost my favorite mustard corduroy flares.” A moment of silence is held for the corduroy flares.
Recording in the studio today is Brockhampton, the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest boy band.” Harry says hi to all the Brockhampton guys, which takes a while since there seem to be a few dozen of them. “We’re together all the time,” one tells Harry out in the yard. “We see each other all day, every day.” He pauses. “You know how it is.”
Harry breaks into a dry grin. “Yes, I know how it is.”
One Direction made three of this century’s biggest and best pop albums in a rush — Midnight Memories, Four and Made in the A.M. Yet they cut those records on tour, ducking into the nearest studio when they had a day off. 1D were a unique mix of five different musical personalities: Harry, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, Zayn Malik, and Liam Payne. But the pace took its toll. Malik quit in the middle of a tour, immediately after a show in Hong Kong. The band announced its hiatus in August 2015.
It’s traditional for boy-band singers, as they go solo and grow up, to renounce their pop past. Everybody remembers George Michael setting his leather jacket on fire, or Sting quitting the Police to make jazz records. This isn’t really Harry Styles’ mentality. “I know it’s the thing that always happens. When somebody gets out of a band, they go, ‘That wasn’t me. I was held back.’ But it was me. And I don’t feel like I was held back at all. It was so much fun. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t have done it. It’s not like I was tied to a radiator.”
Whenever Harry mentions One Direction — never by name, always “the band” or “the band I was in” — he uses the past tense. It is my unpleasant duty to ask: Does he see 1D as over? “I don’t know,” he says. “I don’t think I’d ever say I’d never do it again, because I don’t feel that way. If there’s a time when we all really want to do it, that’s the only time for us to do it, because I don’t think it should be about anything else other than the fact that we’re all like, ‘Hey, this was really fun. We should do this again.’ But until that time, I feel like I’m really enjoying making music and experimenting. I enjoy making music this way too much to see myself doing a full switch, to go back and do that again. Because I also think if we went back to doing things the same way, it wouldn’t be the same, anyway.”
When the band stopped, did he take those friendships with him? “Yeah, I think so,” he says. “Definitely. Because above all else, we’re the people who went through that. We’re always going to have that, even if we’re not the closest. And the fact is, just because you’re in a band with someone doesn’t mean you have to be best friends. That’s not always how it works. Just because Fleetwood Mac fight, that doesn’t mean they’re not amazing. I think even in the disagreements, there’s always a mutual respect for each other — we did this really cool thing together, and we’ll always have that. It’s too important to me to ever be like, ‘Oh, that’s done.’ But if it happens, it will happen for the right reasons.”
If the intensity of the Harry fandom ever seems mysterious to you, there’s a live clip you might want to investigate, from the summer of 2018. Just search the phrase “Tina, she’s gay.” In San Jose, on one of the final nights of his tour, Harry spots a fan with a homemade sign: “I’m Gonna Come Out to My Parents Because of You!” He asks the fan her name (she says it’s Grace) and her mother’s name (Tina). He asks the audience for silence because he has an important announcement to make: “Tina! She’s gaaaaay!” Then he has the entire crowd say it together. Thousands of strangers start yelling “Tina, she’s gay,” and every one of them clearly means it — it’s a heavy moment, definitely not a sound you forget after you hear it. Then Harry sings “What Makes You Beautiful.” (Of course, the way things work now, the clip went viral within minutes. So did Grace’s photo of Tina giving a loving thumbs-up to her now-out teenage daughter. Grace and Tina attended Harry’s next show together.)
Harry likes to cultivate an aura of sexual ambiguity, as overt as the pink polish on his nails. He’s dated women throughout his life as a public figure, yet he has consistently refused to put any kind of label on his sexuality. On his first solo tour, he frequently waved the pride, bi, and trans flags, along with the Black Lives Matter flag. In Philly, he waved a rainbow flag he borrowed from a fan up front: “Make America Gay Again.” One of the live fan favorites: “Medicine,” a guitar jam that sounds a bit like the Grateful Dead circa Europe ’72, but with a flamboyantly pansexual hook: “The boys and girls are in/I mess around with them/And I’m OK with it.”
He’s always had a flair for flourishes like this, since the 1D days. An iconic clip from November 2014: Harry and Liam are on a U.K. chat show. The host asks the oldest boy-band fan-bait question in the book: What do they look for in a date? “Female,” Liam quips. “That’s a good trait.” Harry shrugs. “Not that important.” Liam is taken aback. The host is in shock. On tour in the U.S. that year, he wore a Michael Sam football jersey, in support of the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team. He’s blown up previously unknown queer artists like King Princess and Muna.
What do those flags onstage mean to him? “I want to make people feel comfortable being whatever they want to be,” he says. “Maybe at a show you can have a moment of knowing that you’re not alone. I’m aware that as a white male, I don’t go through the same things as a lot of the people that come to the shows. I can’t claim that I know what it’s like, because I don’t. So I’m not trying to say, ‘I understand what it’s like.’ I’m just trying to make people feel included and seen.”
On tour, he had an End Gun Violence sticker on his guitar; he added a Black Lives Matter sticker, as well as the flag. “It’s not about me trying to champion the cause, because I’m not the person to do that,” he says. “It’s just about not ignoring it, I guess. I was a little nervous to do that because the last thing I wanted was for it to feel like I was saying, ‘Look at me! I’m the good guy!’ I didn’t want anyone who was really involved in the movement to think, ‘What the fuck do you know?’ But then when I did it, I realized people got it. Everyone in that room is on the same page and everyone knows what I stand for. I’m not saying I understand how it feels. I’m just trying to say, ‘I see you.’”
At one of his earliest solo shows, in Stockholm, he announced, “If you are black, if you are white, if you are gay, if you are straight, if you are transgender — whoever you are, whoever you want to be, I support you. I love every single one of you.” “It’s a room full of accepting people.… If you’re someone who feels like an outsider, you’re not always in a big crowd like that,” he says. “It’s not about, ‘Oh, I get what it’s like,’ because I don’t. For example, I go walking at night before bed most of the time. I was talking about that with a female friend and she said, ‘Do you feel safe doing that?’ And I do. But when I walk, I’m more aware that I feel OK to walk at night, and some of my friends wouldn’t. I’m not saying I know what it feels like to go through that. It’s just being aware.”
‘Man cannot live by coffee alone,” Harry says. “But he will give it a damn good try.” He sips his iced Americano — not his first today, or his last. He’s back behind the wheel, on a mission to yet another studio — but this time for actual work. Today it’s string overdubs. Harry is dressed in Gucci from head to toe, except for one item of clothing: a ratty Seventies rock T-shirt he proudly scavenged from a vintage shop. It says “Commander Quaalude.”
On the drive over, he puts on the jazz pianist Bill Evans — “Peace Piece,” from 1959, which is the wake-up tone on his phone. He just got into jazz during a long sojourn in Japan. He likes to find places to hide out and be anonymous: For his first album, he decamped to Jamaica. Over the past year, he spent months roaming Japan.
In February, he spent his 25th birthday sitting by himself in a Tokyo cafe, reading Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. “I love Murakami,” he says. “He’s one of my favorites. Reading didn’t really used to be my thing. I had such a short attention span. But I was dating someone who gave me some books; I felt like I had to read them because she’d think I was a dummy if I didn’t read them.”
A friend gave him Murakami’s Norwegian Wood. “It was the first book, maybe ever, where all I wanted to do all day was read this,” he says. “I had a very Murakami birthday because I ended up staying in Tokyo on my own. I had grilled fish and miso soup for breakfast, then I went to this cafe. I sat and drank tea and read for five hours.”
In the studio, he’s overseeing the string quartet. He has the engineers play T. Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer” for them, to illustrate the vibe he’s going for. You can see he enjoys being on this side of the glass, sitting at the Neve board, giving his instructions to the musicians. After a few run-throughs, he presses the intercom button to say, “Yeah, it’s pretty T. Rex. Best damn strings I ever heard.” He buzzes again to add, “And you’re all wonderful people.”
He’s curated his own weird enclave of kindred spirits to collaborate with, like producers Jeff Bhasker and Tyler Johnson. His guitarist Mitch Rowland was working at an L.A. pizza shop when Harry met him. They started writing songs for the debut; Rowland didn’t quit his job until two weeks into the sessions. One of his closest collaborators is also one of his best friends: Tom Hull, a.k.a. Kid Harpoon, a longtime cohort of Florence and the Machine. Hull is an effusive Brit with a heart-on-sleeve personality. Harry calls him “my emotional rock.” Hull calls him “Gary.”
Hull was the one who talked him into taking a course on Transcendental Meditation at David Lynch’s institute — beginning each day with 20 minutes of silence, which doesn’t always come naturally to either of them. “He’s got this wise-beyond-his-years timelessness about him,” Hull says. “That’s why he went on a whole emotional exploration with these songs.” He’s 12 years older, with a wife and kids in Scotland, and talks about Harry like an irreverent but doting big brother.
Last year, Harry was in the gossip columns dating the French model Camille Rowe; they split up last summer after a year together. “He went through this breakup that had a big impact on him,” Hull says. “I turned up on Day One in the studio, and I had these really nice slippers on. His ex-girlfriend that he was really cut up about, she gave them to me as a present — she bought slippers for my whole family. We’re still close friends with her. I thought, ‘I like these slippers. Can I wear them — is that weird?’
“So I turn up at Shangri-La the first day and literally within the first half-hour, he looks at me and says, ‘Where’d you get those slippers? They’re nice.’ I had to say, ‘Oh, um, your ex-girlfriend got them for me.’ He said, ‘Whaaaat? How could you wear those?’ He had a whole emotional journey about her, this whole relationship. But I kept saying, ‘The best way of dealing with it is to put it in these songs you’re writing.’”
True to his code of gallant discretion, Harry doesn’t say her name at any point. But he admits the songs are coming from personal heartbreak. “It’s not like I’ve ever sat and done an interview and said, ‘So I was in a relationship, and this is what happened,’” he says. “Because, for me, music is where I let that cross over. It’s the only place, strangely, where it feels right to let that cross over.”
The new songs are certainly charged with pain. “The stars didn’t align for them to be a forever thing,” Hull says. “But I told him that famous Iggy Pop quote where he says, ‘I only ever date women who are going to fuck me up, because that’s where the songs are.’ I said, ‘You’re 24, 25 years old, you’re in the eligible-bachelor category. Just date amazing women, or men, or whatever, who are going to fuck you up, and explore and have an adventure and let it affect you and write songs about it.’”
His band is full of indie rockers who’ve gotten swept up in Hurricane Harry. Before becoming his iconic drum goddess, Sarah Jones played in New Young Pony Club, a London band fondly remembered by a few dozen of us. Rowland and Jones barely knew anything about One Direction before they met Harry — the first time they heard “Story of My Life” was when he asked them to play it. Their conversation is full of references to Big Star or Guided by Voices or the Nils Lofgren guitar solo in Neil Young’s “Speakin’ Out.” This is a band full of shameless rock geeks, untainted by industry professionalism.
In the studio, while making the album, Harry kept watching a vintage Bowie clip on his phone — a late-Nineties TV interview I’d never seen. As he plays it for me, he recites along — he’s got the rap memorized. “Never play to the gallery,” Bowie advises. “Never work for other people in what you do.” For Harry, this was an inspiring pep talk — a reminder not to play it safe. As Bowie says, “If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you are capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”
He got so obsessive about Joni Mitchell and her 1971 classic Blue, he went on a quest. “I was in a big Joni hole,” he says. “I kept hearing the dulcimer all over Blue. So I tracked down the lady who built Joni’s dulcimers in the Sixties.” He found her living in Culver City. “She said, ‘Come and see me,’” Hull says. “We turn up at her house and he said, ‘How do you even play a dulcimer?’ She gave us a lesson. Then she got a bongo and we were all jamming with these big Cheshire Cat grins.” She built the dulcimer Harry plays on the new album. “Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison, those are my two favorites,” he says. “Blue and Astral Weeks are just the ultimate in terms of songwriting. Melody-wise, they’re in their own lane.”
He’s always been the type to go overboard with his fanboy enthusiasms, ever since he was a kid and got his mind blown by Pulp Fiction. “I watched it when I was probably too young,” he admits. “But when I was 13, I saved up money from my paper route to buy a ‘Bad Motherfucker’ wallet. Just a stupid white kid in the English countryside with that wallet.” While in Japan, he got obsessively into Paul McCartney and Wings, especially London Town and Back to the Egg. “In Tokyo I used to go to a vinyl bar, but the bartender didn’t have Wings records. So I brought him Back to the Egg. ‘Arrow Through Me,’ that was the song I had to hear every day when I was in Japan.”
He credits meditation for helping to loosen him up. “I was such a skeptic going in,” he says. “But I think meditation has helped with worrying about the future less, and the past less. I feel like I take a lot more in—things that used to pass by me because I was always rushing around. It’s part of being more open and talking with friends. It’s not always the easiest to go in a room and say, ‘I made a mistake and it made me feel like this, and then I cried a bunch.’ But that moment where you really let yourself be in that zone of being vulnerable, you reach this feeling of openness. That’s when you feel like, ‘Oh, I’m fucking living, man.’”
After quite a few hours of recording the string quartet, a bottle of Casamigos tequila is opened. Commander Quaalude pours the drinks, then decides what the song needs now is a gaggle of nonsingers bellowing the chorus. “Muppet vocals” is how he describes it. He drags everyone in sight to crowd around the mics. Between takes, he wanders over to the piano to play Harry Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up.” One of the choir members, creative director Molly Hawkins, is the friend who gave him the Murakami novel. “I think every man should read Norwegian Wood,” she says. “Harry’s the only man I’ve given it to who actually read it.”
It’s been a hard day’s night in the studio, but after hours, everyone heads to a dive bar on the other side of town to see Rowland play a gig. He’s sitting in with a local bar band, playing bass. Harry drives around looking for the place, taking in the sights of downtown L.A. (“Only a city as narcissistic as L.A. would have a street called Los Angeles Street,” he says.) He strolls in and leans against the bar in the back of the room. It’s an older crowd, and nobody here has any clue who he is. He’s entirely comfortable lurking incognito in a dim gin joint. After the gig, as the band toasts with PBRs, an old guy in a ball cap strolls over and gives Rowland a proud bear hug. It’s his boss from the pizza shop.
In the wee hours, Harry drives down a deserted Sunset Boulevard, his favorite time of night to explore the city streets, arguing over which is the best Steely Dan album. He insists that Can’t Buy a Thrill is better than Countdown to Ecstasy (wrongly), and seals his case by turning it up and belting “Midnight Cruiser” with truly appalling gusto. Tonight Hollywood is full of bright lights, glitzy clubs, red carpets, but the prettiest pop star in town is behind the wheel, singing along with every note of the sax solo from “Dirty Work.”
A few days later, on the other side of the world: Harry’s pad in London is lavish, yet very much a young single dude’s lair. Over here: a wall-size framed Sex Pistols album cover. Over there: a vinyl copy of Stevie Nicks’ The Other Side of the Mirror, casually resting on the floor. He’s having a cup of tea with his mum, Anne, the spitting image of her son, all grace and poise. “We’re off to the pub,” he tells her. “We’re going to talk some shop.” She smiles sweetly. “Talk some shit, probably,” says Anne.
We head off to his local, sloshing through the rain. He’s wearing a Spice World hoodie and savoring the soggy London-osity of the day. “Ah, Londres!” he says grandly. “I missed this place.” He wants to sit at a table outside, even though it’s pouring, and we chat away the afternoon over a pot of mint tea and a massive plate of fish and chips. When I ask for toast, the waitress brings out a loaf of bread roughly the size of a wheelbarrow. “Welcome to England,” Harry says.
He’s always had a fervent female fandom, and, admirably, he’s never felt a need to pretend he doesn’t love it that way. “They’re the most honest — especially if you’re talking about teenage girls, but older as well,” he says. “They have that bullshit detector. You want honest people as your audience. We’re so past that dumb outdated narrative of ‘Oh, these people are girls, so they don’t know what they’re talking about.’ They’re the ones who know what they’re talking about. They’re the people who listen obsessively. They fucking own this shit. They’re running it.”
He doesn’t have the uptightness some people have about sexual politics, or about identifying as a feminist. “I think ultimately feminism is thinking that men and women should be equal, right? People think that if you say ‘I’m a feminist,’ it means you think men should burn in hell and women should trample on their necks. No, you think women should be equal. That doesn’t feel like a crazy thing to me. I grew up with my mum and my sister — when you grow up around women, your female influence is just bigger. Of course men and women should be equal. I don’t want a lot of credit for being a feminist. It’s pretty simple. I think the ideals of feminism are pretty straightforward.”
His audience has a reputation for ferocity, and the reputation is totally justified. At last summer’s show at Madison Square Garden, the floor was wobbling during “Kiwi” — I’ve been seeing shows there since the 1980s, but I’d never seen that happen before. (The only other time? His second night.) His bandmates admit they feared for their lives, but Harry relished it. “To me, the greatest thing about the tour was that the room became the show,” he says. “It’s not just me.” He sips his tea. “I’m just a boy, standing in front of a room, asking them to bear with him.”
That evening, Fleetwood Mac take the stage in London — a sold-out homecoming gig at Wembley Stadium, the last U.K. show of their tour. Needless to say, their most devoted fan is in the house. Harry has brought a date: his mother, her first Fleetwood Mac show. He’s also with his big sister Gemma, bandmates Rowland and Jones, a couple of friends.
He’s in hyperactive-host mode, buzzing around his cozy VIP box, making sure everyone’s champagne glass is topped off at all times. As soon as the show begins, Harry’s up on his feet, singing along (“Tell me, tell me liiiiies!”) and cracking jokes. You can tell he feels free — as if his radar is telling him there aren’t snoopers or paparazzi watching. (He’s correct. This is a rare public appearance where nobody spots him and no photos leak online.) It’s family night. His friend Mick Fleetwood wilds out on the drum solo. “Imagine being that cool,” Gemma says.
Midway through the show, Harry’s demeanor suddenly changes. He gets uncharacteristically solemn and quiet, sitting down by himself and focusing intently on the stage. It’s the first time all night he’s taken a seat. He’s in a different zone than he was in a few minutes ago. But he’s seen many Fleetwood Mac shows, and he knows where they are in the set. It’s time for “Landslide.” He sits with his chin in hand, his eyes zeroing in on Stevie Nicks. As usual, she introduces her most famous song with the story of how she wrote it when she was just a lass of 27.
But Stevie has something else she wants to share. She tells the stadium crowd, “I’d like to dedicate this to my little muse, Harry Styles, who brought his mother tonight. Her name is Anne. And I think you did a really good job raising Harry, Anne. Because he’s really a gentleman, sweet and talented, and, boy, that appeals to me. So all of you, this is for you.”
As Stevie starts to sing “Landslide” — “I’ve been afraid of changing, because I built my life around youuuu” — Anne walks over to where Harry sits. She crouches down behind him, reaches her arms around him tightly. Neither of them says a word. They listen together and hold each other close to the very end of the song. Everybody in Wembley is singing along with Stevie, but these two are in a world of their own.