the ecstasy of harry styles
on Stardom and why and what i think that man makes us feel
Harry Styles is a being of a higher power and the hottest commodity on planet Earth.
My relationship with Harry is long, but mostly passive. A few of my middle school friends were obsessed with this boy band on the British X-Factor, and proximity turned me into a pre-WMYB One Direction fan. I was a Harry girl. I liked his green eyes and his floppy hair and his soft voice and his cute accent. I was involved, but I mostly watched his career from outside of the fandom space (I was too busy wishing Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine would kiss each other in a Star Trek movie at the time). I cried when I heard “Sign of the Times” for the first time, but I never read 1D fic or spun an internet yarn about Harry and Louis.
I went to Harry’s House on night 11 of his MSG residency on September 8th, 2022. I didn’t buy a ticket initially, worrying that my presence would stick out like a sore thumb amongst the deep-state stans who made threatening tweets about attending without deep-state fan credentials. But my friend got COVID and sold me her ticket for a reasonable price, so there I was. It was the same day Queen Elizabeth died. No one in the room was remotely sad, even when Harry asked us to observe a moment of silence for Her Dead Majesty. We had a different British royal to care about.
Entering that rhinestone-and-feather-covered space was ritualistic. I’d been to MSG for the first time to see Billy Joel about a month earlier and it felt like an entirely different venue that night — nothing against Billy Joel fans, at all, I am one of them, but there’s nothing quite like the buzzing of a room of youths waiting to watch Adonis in performance. I am a perennial black-wearer and I wore orange and sparkles; the rest of the room was lit up with color in a way that made me feel connected and safe and thrilled, even though I was there by myself. We were all there to look cute and treat people with kindness and have the best time with our friend Harry.
I found myself getting really emotional before the opening act even went on. I looked up and saw the big, colorful, retro lettering of “Harry’s House” on the big screen and was struck by how invested I felt in this man’s success. I really was a passive fan, but it still felt like I had watched Harry Styles grow from a cute teenager into someone who could dominate a 15-show residency at the Garden in the blink of an eye. Everyone screamed and cried and danced and knew when a One Direction song joined the pre-show playlist. We have all been along for this ride, and now we’re collectively reaping the benefits of years of support. We had spent years watching Harry Styles to get to the point where we got to see him.
Harry Styles is the closest thing I can think of to a real-life Truman from The Truman Show. He became a man on TV in front of our eyes. We watched him grow as a person and performer into the unabashed rock star he is today, a 28-year-old man careening around a stage that, even in its dual-catwalk excess, still feels too small for him. That can feel overwhelming!
It’s about more than just watching him grow up on TV, though. Harry’s specific charisma hinges on how well each of us can personalize our relationship to him. He is unbelievably good at making you feel like you are the only girl in the room, even if that room is a sold-out venue. When I still used TikTok, Harry concert footage dominated my FYP. The way he interacts with fans in the pit, in these tiny but intimate ways, elicits this deep nervousness and excitement and curiosity in me. I am still afraid of COVID, but I can totally understand spending a ton of money to get as close to him as possible for the small chance that you could be noticed. There are videos where he’ll smile, or laugh, or wink directly into some girl’s camera, and that tiny gesture for The Girl Reading This gets posted online, and then it becomes a tiny gesture for a million The Girl Reading Thises. He’s incredibly adept at fostering what feels personal and individual to a crowd.
At one point during my concert, Harry blew a kiss up around my section (I was in the second tier seating), and this 20-something girl sitting 2 seats over from me SCREAMED and shook her friend and said, “That was for me!” Yes, Harry seems to have preternaturally good eyesight in some of these TikToks and photos where he reads people’s signs from 1000 feet away, but with the blinding lights and distance, it’s unlikely he directed this kiss specifically at this girl. But who am I to tell her that? It’s a testament to Harry’s star power that she felt like that tiny gesture was for her, specifically, to the point where she had a physical and emotional reaction to it. Hell, I kinda felt like it was for me, specifically. When he sang “baby, you were the love of my life,” we all pointed back at him.
I loved Harry’s House, the album, because it felt like listening to someone’s older brother talk about his first year of college from the benefit of his experience at a graduation party, and you’re listening to him talk, and you wish he would kiss you, but he won’t. It has that same attention to The Girl Reading This — especially in “Matilda” and “Boyfriends” — that makes his live performances so electric. He has turned being the boy next door into world domination.
Harry gives so much of himself to his fans, and it’s never enough. I’m not delusional enough to misunderstand that Harry is a persona first, a person second. That same personalized energy that made that night at MSG magical is what creates toxicity in fandom spaces online and in-person; we feel entitled to Harry because we grew up with him, and because he reaches out to us like he grew up with us, too.
I think the long-running Larry Stylinson conspiracy theory — let’s call it (the idea that Harry and 1D bandmate Louis Tomlinson have been in a secret relationship/marriage for many, many years) what it is — is a response to the parts of Harry that he intentionally keeps private. Larry allows Larries to take possession over someone who cannot possibly really exist in the form we understand. Harry is famously quiet about his romantic relationships; a tortured, oppressive history of love with another man is a “logical” explanation for why Harry shares so much of himself with us, but Not That.
Harry has been accused of queerbaiting with his gender expression and non-committal answers to interview questions about his sexuality and love life. I hope this is something we’re all collectively reconsidering in the aftermath of that poor kid from Heartstopper being forced to come out as bisexual in response to queerbaiting allegations; human beings can’t queerbait, the term exists to talk about fictional characters and writers rooms, and no one owes anyone details about their sexual identity. I think people are obsessed with understanding Harry’s sexuality because it’s NOT something about him we can easily observe, and we can easily observe so much of who he wants us to think he is. He has the gift of making audiences feel like he’s presenting his heart to us on a silver platter, but that’s not enough. We need to know the unknowable; we need to understand the man behind the music and the green eyes and the floppy hair and the soft voice and the cute accent. We can’t accept that the relationship we have is more than enough.
The Harry thing is religious ecstasy. We each have individual ties to Him while also participating in the collective (dancing at a concert, laughing at/with/mostly at him in his big new movie, talking about him online). We spread the gospel by sharing concert videos, doing his marketing work for free on the strength of His charisma. I’ve said before that I can’t watch more than a couple concert videos at a time because his energy is that hypnotic; I know I would spend the rest of my life devoted to him if I continued watching more regularly. It’s nonsensical, but it’s true. Whatever It is, Harry has it. His power is terrifying, and I fall for it every time.
Please read “Everything I Need I Get from You: How Fangirls Created the Internet as We Know It” by Kaitlyn Tiffany. She’s a genius and uses One Direction fandom as a case study to talk about internet community and love and stuff. It’s amazing.
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