The one thing Duana hates the most about me is that I can read and write in a moving car and she gets motion sickness and doesn’t understand how it doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is heat. When I’m hot I get nauseous and yesterday afternoon I got into a hot car and got nauseous and what saved me was reading the new Rolling Stone cover feature on Harry Styles. I am thanking Harry Styles for curing my nausea and also for this interview. This is Harry’s answer to the question Is The Celebrity Profile Dead? If he has anything to do with it - no, not at all.
This is a classic celebrity profile, so classic it’s almost performative, like part of the fun in reading it is delighting in Harry going all in on his brand, a living throwback of a rock star from the 60s and 70s. Which is his whole sh-t, as we know, in his music and styling, but he’s extending that to publicity too - and I LOVE it, I appreciate him for it. No other star at his fame level is this forthcoming anymore, so it doesn’t matter if he’s doing it as part of whatever character he’s playing, if this is a character, whether or not he’s just sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, hanging out with a writer from Rolling Stone the way he imagines the Rolling Stones might have, back in the day.
Harry gets into all of it. He talks about failed relationships, his friends talk about his most recent failed relationship, how heartbroken he was, maybe still is, how he just wants to sing songs about “having sex and feeling sad” which is unexpectedly simple and profound, or am I just really taken with this photo shoot?
What is your album about? Having sex and feeling sad. Yep. That’s pretty much all the explanation you need.
But wait, just when you want to eye-roll Harry for his method interview, you can’t deny that, even though he might be playing the part of the rock star in a biopic, he’s not actually the f-cked up, irresponsible asshole. Right in the title, despite the fact that he might be bummed about love, they call him the “eternal sunshine”. Harry Styles is not brooding. Look at the cover. Not squinting, not smizing, not anger-posing, or think-posing, not concerned about being taken seriously – rather he’s smiling, the kind of smile where your tongue pushes lightly against the back of your teeth, a sweet, endearing, almost youthful smile. The smile of a wholesome teen idol. So…not quite the stereotype of the 70s rocker after all?
He doesn’t talk like it either. Harry Styles in 2019, four years after the dissolution of One Direction, is not here to sh-t on his time in One Direction. He LOVED his time in One Direction, no regret, no complaints. Nothing here about not making the kind of music he believed in, nothing about being part of a packaged machine, nothing that we usually hear from people, especially boys-to-men, when they leave a group to go off on their own. Harry has figured out that you don’t have to sh-t on something to commit to something else. And that too, in the space he occupies, somewhere between pop prince and rock star, is refreshing if not radical.
And we haven’t even gotten to the part where he sticks up for girls yet, which is familiar territory. Duana and I admired this about him on Show Your Work the last time he talked about this which was the last time he was interviewed for Rolling Stone in 2017. These were his words then:
“Who’s to say that young girls who like pop music – short for popular, right? – have worse musical taste than a 30-year-old hipster guy? That’s not up to you to say. Music is something that’s always changing. There’s no goal posts. Young girls like the Beatles. You gonna tell me they’re not serious? How can you say young girls don’t get it? They’re our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going. Teenage-girl fans – they don’t lie. If they like you, they’re there. They don’t act ‘too cool.’ They like you, and they tell you. Which is sick.”
This is what he’s saying now:
“They’re the most honest — especially if you’re talking about teenage girls, but older as well,” he says. “They have that bullsh-t 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 f-cking own this sh-t. They’re running it.”
So we’re not dealing with a new Harry discovery just in time for his new album. He was here, already, he’s been here the whole time, appreciating the tastes of teen girls, his fans, and you can be cynical about that because they’re the ones spending money on his music or you can recognise him for modelling for modern men what it means to see girls-to-be-women for how they want to be seen. And that too is part of Harry’s connection to his audience. He might be rocking to a vibe of music from a certain time but he’s not rocking out to a version of masculinity from a previous era. And this is where Harry Styles seems the least performative, where it matters most. When he talks about inclusion and vulnerability, about letting people know, in very clear terms, what he stands for, it’s not because, as he says, he’s trying to be the “good guy”, you believe that this is just how he moves around in the world.
Calculated or not, then, he’s done his job with this interview. To the point where I almost feel, like, grateful for this interview. Harry Styles stuck up for the celebrity profile by showing up as a celebrity and allowing himself to be profiled. I promise it’s a good one, you can read it here.