Harry Styles is a white-hot meteor piercing our solar system, and he fucking knows it. He’s handling that knowledge with a sexy collectedness that’s hard to come by, both both at his age (a fresh 23) and at his panty-dropping level of stardom. Wrapped up in a bad-boy Brit persona of hair-flipping, snowmobile-flipping and middle-finger-flipping with a pop-rock voice we haven’t heard this side of Freddy Mercury, solo artist Styles is now espousing woke AF shakedowns wherein he stands up for women and lambasts music’s misogynistic culture. That could make him pop music’s most dangerous weapon.
We haven’t really seen someone like Styles before. The most apt comparison that’s been made—yes, by us too—is that he’s the new Justin Timberlake. These men experienced similar trajectories, having both transitioned from boy band to solo artist without losing audiences in arenas. Despite having the dumbest band name of all time, NSYNC is a bit more iconic than One Direction, but both groups reached their peaks via bubblegum mega hits. Timberlake, though, was pre-24/7 news cycle, pre-“like for like,” pre-meme, pre-Twitter. We never really knew Timberlake in early aughts—we just loved him. Honestly, I still don’t think many of us know him, but that could just be because he’s white toast personified.
Styles, on the other hand, is a true millennial—part of a generation responsible for the undoings of refinery, work ethic, human connection, bees and American patriotism, if you ask your grandparents. But whether you admit it or not—and full disclosure, I’m a proud millennial—Gen Y is as responsible for woke baes as we are the selfie apps everyone 100 percent uses. We’re the people who will clean shit up once the president is impeached and the last Republican dinosaurs die off. We’re the people who will colonize undiscovered moons after the naysayers drown our last red adler in CO2 emissions. And we are the people who gave you Harry Styles.
Perhaps that’s why so many music critics condescend acts supported by teenie boppers: deep down, they know fans have more influence.
Styles’s age might not sound important to his image, but it plays a huge part into what motivates him to defend his generation and genre simultaneously. I’m referring to a recent Rolling Stone profile of Styles, wherein Cameron Crowe writes, “Styles is aware that his largest audience so far has been young—often teenage—women. Asked if he spends pressure-filled evenings worried about proving credibility to an older crowd, Styles grows animated. ‘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. 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.”
Damn. There’s a lot to unpack here, but let’s start with him fending off ageism. Ageism is low-key one of our most toxic -isms. It’s not deadly like racism or systemic like sexism, but it does contribute to cyclical, existential angst. Ageism perpetuates a culture wherein the old are lauded as sagacious drains while the young are deemed incapable nuisances. Ageism limits dreams and offers a disempowering perspective of the world that judges value on virility, and that’s fucked up. Styles recognizes that, and his reverse perspective that age shouldn’t inhibit appreciation is something the music industry—which exploits youth as much as it simultaneously dismisses it—woefully needs.
Beyond that, though, Styles hits on something else that is valid and overlooked: the blatant disregard for young female fans. You may be shuddering right now at the notion of Playboy tackling an issue related to tweens, but if you like women, you need to get behind empowering the youth who grow up to be women. Styles, having been on the receiving end of so many girls’ screams, seems to not only recognize, but also respect, their power. Without screaming girls, would there have been an Elvis—or even the Beatles, as Styles points out? Perhaps that’s why so many music critics condescend acts supported by teenie boppers: deep down, they know fans have more influence. Historically through present day, young women have faced trivialization. Styles obliterating the stereotype that fan girls are silly and unmerited is badass in 2017.
Styles goes on to tackle the music mansplainer, a terrible figure every woman has encountered in her life, and perhaps most often in Brooklyn bars. He is a special breed—the offspring of a manspreader and a mansplainer who loves fucking at SXSW—and he will tell you about music as though you’ve never heard about it before. His gift of communication will surely cause your eyes and vagina to alight with a virginal Fuck me glow. “Goodness gracious, mister,“ you’ll say to him, "I never realized there was so much to say about the legacy of the Eagles, and the renaissance that was the Red Hot Chili Peppers and how you think they’re related. Are you a genius? Fuck me now, please.”
Truly, who gives a musician more? The hipster who illegally downloads music to play for his five roommates and ailing cat, or the women who buy tickets and merchandise and travel hundreds of miles to see a show, and who wait outside with signs afterward? Styles recognizes that in our celebrity-worshipping culture, toxic masculinity has a trickle-down effect. How pop culture represents women has real-world effects. By saying it’s “sick” that his female fans are so open with their feelings, Styles is praising young women for appreciating music, artistry and emotion just as much as "I’m a cool dad” Cameron Crowe.
We’re a far cry from audiences at pop concerts being an equal wash of men and women, but the talking points Styles is putting out suggests that if we were to stop caring so much about what other people think, that day could be on the hoizon. It’s time to respect the screaming fan girls. Respect pop music. Respect women’s opinions—no matter their age. Respect Katy Perry, too. And fuck those Ryan Gosling memes, girl. It’s Styles who’s really stanning for us.