Released in 2017, Harry Styles is the eponymous debut solo studio album by the English singer and songwriter Harry Style, and, as someone who's not the biggest modern pop fan, it's not nearly as bad as I thought it might be. It marked Styles' departure from his previous work as a member of the immensely popular boy band One Direction and his entry into a solo career (though he still breaks out the One Direction hit "What Makes You Beautiful" live, apparently). The album received critical acclaim and showcased Harry Styles' transition into a more mature and distinct musical style, while not veering too far from his origins in The X Factor (let's also remember that The Beatles started off as markedly more pop before branching off into a variety of styles).
Harry Styles (both the album and the artist) draws influence from various genres, including rock, pop, folk, and soft rock, with a retro feel that incorporates elements of 1970s rock and 1980s pop with an occasional light dash of “alternative rock.” Some of the standout tracks on the album include "Sign of the Times," "Two Ghosts," "Kiwi," and "Sweet Creature." "Sign of the Times" was released as the lead single from the album and received widespread praise for its anthemic sound and emotional depth. The song marked Styles' first solo venture and demonstrated his ability to stand on his own as a solo artist.
The album's artwork and overall aesthetic also helped cement Harry Styles as a fashion icon, featuring a distinct androgynous style. He said: “What women wear. What men wear. For me it’s not a question of that...If I see a nice shirt and get told, ‘But it’s for ladies.’ I think: ‘Okaaaay? Doesn’t make me want to wear it less though… I think the moment you feel more comfortable with yourself, it all becomes a lot easier.”
Harry Styles was a success, despite his "evolution"
The self-titled album was a critical and commercial success, further establishing Styles as a solo artist with a unique musical identity. It was well-received by fans and music critics and helped Harry Styles make a successful transition from a boy band member to a respected solo artist in the music industry. Honestly, there is seemingly nothing that complex about the average Harry Styles song.
Styles' lyrics mostly focus on a romantic partner's affections for him, as well as his own romantic feelings for them. The album's lyrical themes could be described as adolescent and romantic. Also, at a time where it's almost mind-blowing to see a popular musician with a live instrument (say, a piano or an acoustic guitar), that sort of image no doubt helps performers like Harry Styles or Taylor Swift.
Harry Styles the album received mostly positive reviews from music critics, who praised Styles' vocals, production, lyrics and stylistic diversity (for example, the song "Only Angel" is said to sound close to glam rock). And to think: It's all because, back in August 2015, One Direction sustained a hiatus, which assured this album could be recorded in 2016. Plenty of fans were pleased, and Simon Cowell was, too. Maybe boy bands should go on an indefitinte hiatus more often.
My point in this positive review is not that I'm now a Harry Styles superfan. In fact, with all the choices out there, odds are pretty low that I'll revisit this album particularly often. The point has more to do with giving things a chance and perhaps being surprised. As a more dramatic example of a music act that started off pop then went in another direction: Ministry started off as a synth pop group, then became industrial thrash metal. I don't anticipate Harry Styles to make such a stark transition, but who knows? Even the pop world can have occasional surprises.