Yes, that’s a clickbaity title and of course Harry Styles’s interview in Better Homes & Gardens is about more than just sex but also… he’s promoting his album in Better Homes & Gardens and this is the point: I don’t subscribe to Better Homes & Gardens and I’m not sure I’ve ever read an article in the magazine until now but I feel like I’m far from the only person who didn’t expect that a celebrity feature in Better Homes & Gardens would include details about sex. Which is why I love this unexpected marketing move from Harry and team. And I also love that just because it’s Better Homes & Gardens doesn’t mean that Harry’s just here to talk about, like, his couches and his kitchen. This is a solid celebrity profile – similar to what you’d read in Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair or Vulture. It’s just happens to be happening in Better Homes & Gardens, LOL.
That’s because Harry’s new album is called Harry’s House. So the press placement here is…well… on the nose, and I’m not mad at that. This is both on-the-nose and also out of the ordinary. It shows that his publicity team is getting creative with the promotion, not just checking off the list of the usual outlets that albums and movies are highlighted, even though Harry’s approach to it remains the same, whether or not it’s Billboard or Better Homes & Gardens. He’s not soft-balling it here and keeping the conversation surface and showing off whatever tiles he chose for the bathroom. There’s actually very little of that here. The conversation is more about sex than about place settings and Harry in fact gets quite candid – and this is where the sex comes in.
How we get to the sex, though, is interesting. It begins not with sex but with niceness and how nice Harry is, how his niceness is connected to his desire to be liked… and in exploring the roots of that desire, he goes back to his days with One Direction and, of course, the infamous purity expectation. There were contracts that were signed, promised made, related to behaviour and propriety – and when you’re in those formative years, in early adulthood, when your hormones are raging and you’re figuring yourself out, imagine the pressure of having to maintain a certain “cleanliness” (that’s the word used in the piece) while at the time trying to discover who you are. This is when the conversation turns to sex. And Harry says it was freeing for him, going solo, and not having to worry about those restrictions. Which is when he says the thing that’s the headline:
"But I think I got to a place where I was like, why do I feel ashamed? I'm a 26-year-old man who's single; it's like, yes, I have sex."
Not that this is a revelation. Everyone knows he has sex. If you’ve listened to his music you are well aware about the sex. If you’ve ever gossiped about him, of course you know he’s had sex. It’s just that, well, I was on a work call this morning with someone who’s a Directioner, and reading those words in print hit a certain way for her, and I imagine all the other millions of Directioners out there.
And yet, even though Harry here is describing an experience that’s pretty f-cked up, and certainly limiting for artists, there’s no blame or regret. He’s not complaining, he’s not lashing out at label executives and talent managers, he’s not criticising the system of star-making that made him a star, and he’s definitely not calling out the fans because they too participate in these unrealistic standards that are set up for young celebrities. It’s really just Harry recounting his past to better understand himself and what shaped him. It’s a fine line, no pun intended, and he manages it really well.
Harry’s confessions continue though – and I especially appreciate how honest he is when he’s sharing his perspective on being a musician:
“I don't know if there's anything more navel-gazing than making an album. It's so self-absorbed."
Yep, it has to be. It’s just not often admitted so succinctly. He goes on to unpack that self-absorption as it relates to each of his albums. On his first album, he reveals that much of his motivation was to be taken seriously, to prove to people that he could be an artist independent of the band. On this second album he was all about wanting to put out “really big songs” – in other words, chart-toppers, commercial successes. And what he’s learning from those two previous processes with this third album, in the moment at least, is that he’s not afraid to do whatever feels fun, so long as he can be proud of it.
I’m not sure that we often see this kind of vulnerability from artists reflecting back on their work, at least in the sense of exposing their own ego. What he’s sharing here is ego – in the first album it’s the classic former boy-bander wanting to establish himself trope; on the second album, here’s an artist basically saying, yeah, I wanted a #1 hit, many of them, actually. And that’s actually one of the keys to Harry’s success post One Direction. The talent is there, of course, and he’s a huge star, no doubt, but there’s a healthy balance of ego here. He needs that ego to command the stage, obviously, but not so much of it that he can’t concede that, sometimes, it wasn’t just about the music, it was also about status and reputation and glory, things that artists claim they don’t concern themselves with but naturally they all do.
And again, all this is told to us in Better Homes & Gardens!