Harry Styles didn’t have to write “Sign of the Times.” When One Direction officially went on hiatus in 2016, the solo careers of each member remained imminent, but one of them having true depth beyond simple pop radio fodder wasn’t in the foreseeable future. Amidst the more sleazy club tracks of his compatriots (“Strip That Down” by Liam Payne, Zayn Malik’s “Pillow Talk”) Styles went there on the lead single of his debut solo album; he penned the political ballad that 2017 so desperately needed.
He didn’t have to, and by all means, in regards to funds n’ fame, he didn’t need to; but he did, for us. And that’s part of why Harry Styles is worth seeing in 2018, especially like he was Monday night (June 18) at Boston’s TD Garden.
Glean what you will from the song, but if nothing else, it quite literally signaled a new era for the singer, one with both his feet planted in his newfound musical maturity, but with his dapper charm still apparent as ever.
Styles remains a powerhouse — not from the charisma effervescing from his (surprisingly small in person) frame, but in the high-frequency squeals he effortlessly culls from his maturing, now-20-something fan base. Eye twitches that so much as look like winks garnered screams, as did vague hand motions and smirks, never mind his actual deliberate, jaunty sex appeal (see: “Medicine,” “Woman”). When Styles signaled to the sound guy to up the volume of his vox, one girl’s life probably peaked because she thought he was pointing at her instead.
But if Styles didn’t have any of them clucking at his heels, he just wouldn’t have any remnants of his boy band-hood clinging to him. To remove his admirers would be to render him spotless from his 1D days, and even when he did dust off his old stuff like “Stockholm Syndrome” and “If I Could Fly,” they melded into the mix, seemingly a mere extension of his self-titled solo album.
For all intents and purposes, Styles has managed to come into his own musically without burying his roots with One Direction, all while nixing any of the juvenile aspects that come with starting your career in a teen boy group. The accompanying tropes are nonexistent in his new epoch; rehearsed one-liners, corny choreo, and douche-y athletic wear all absent from the 2018 Styles experience.
The breakdown of a Styles solo gig offers no gimmicks. No canned music was piped in, Styles sported a guitar for the majority of the set, and was backed by a full live band. His stage production didn’t rely on any flashy pyrotechnics or brazen neon lighting. His stage garb screamed ’70s Mick Jagger in a Seinfeld-puffy-shirt way that only a handful of genetically blessed people on this earth could possibly pull off. There’s nothing here that you couldn’t spot at any other large scale rock concert, not unlike The Killers or Cage The Elephant; that’s to say, the live show is really fucking good. The scientific evidence to support this lies in the fact that Styles performed a rock version of 1D’s “What Makes You Beautiful” and Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” in the same set without it being an utter abomination.
But not everyone remains convinced, particularly those sitting on the sidelines. “Imagine going to see that clown,” someone had the audacity to tweet at TD Garden earlier that day in reference to Styles’ Boston appearance. Yet, at the show itself, all the potential off-putting elements of teenie-bopper stardom have been stripped away from the singer, intentionally or otherwise.
Judging from Styles’ swift and natural transition from lead high school heartthrob to lone, smoldering older flame, he’s in the musical arena for the long run. Now, if only his fans would stop pelting him with roses when he’s trying to perform, the rest of the world could give him a better chance to be taken seriously.
All photos by Hélène Pambrun from Monday night’s Boston show, via Columbia Records and used with permission. Follow Victoria Wasylak on Twitter @VickiWasylak.