The Real Harry Styles Has Arrived

The Real Harry Styles Has Arrived

by Cat Cardenas

Bathed in the warm glow of the spotlight, Harry Styles addressed a sold out crowd at the Los Angeles Forum Friday night. "I'm baaaack," he teased.

This would mark the first full performance of Fine Line since its release earlier that day, and among some of the roughly 17,500 faces in the crowd were fans who had traveled from as far as Brazil and others who had camped outside the venue 48 hours prior to ensure a good spot in the pit.

Confidently swaggering and strutting around the stage, he wore the same bright pink, unbuttoned top, suspenders, and white high waisted pants that he sports in the fisheye portrait from his album cover. He's long been compared to Mick Jagger, but these days they have more than the hair in common.

Before jumping into "Golden," the album's gritty first track, Styles told the crowd, "Feel free to be whoever you want to be in this room."

Fine Line is the highly anticipated follow-up to Styles' 2017 self-titled debut — a release that, despite favorable reviews, wasn't quite made for radio. Compared to his former One Direction bandmates, it's Styles who had strayed the farthest from the pop world that made him, and on Fine Line he's doubled down. Where his first album waded into the water, this one dives in headfirst into the California of Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

And judging by the arena of fans who already knew every word to songs that had been released less than 24 hours ago, if it was a risk — it's one that paid off.

The album is lush in texture, with tracks that burst forward in vivid color and others that feel hauntingly distant. Even the album's most pop-oriented songs are filtered through a hazy '70s lens of psychedelic harmonies and classic rock sounds that pull from several of Styles' influences, including David Bowie and Paul McCartney.

Songs like "Watermelon Sugar," and "Adore You" make for easy crowd pleasers, but it's the album's slower, more intimate songs that provided some of the best moments of the night. On "Cherry" and "Falling" (a cruel one-two punch toward the middle of the album), Styles' sings tortured, desperate ballads to his lost love, begging her at one point, "Don't you call him what you used to call me."

As he transitioned into "Falling," Styles asked fans to take their phones out and turn their lights on. It's one thing to hear the singer bare his soul on the album (a quick Twitter search of the song will reveal dozens of reactions from sobbing fans), but it's something else entirely to see it sung to a sea of glimmering lights, with fans cheering on his soaring vocals and forming a powerful chorus that swelled with each painful lyric.

Styles commands attention no matter the pace of the song, and as he rounded out the night with tracks from the back half of the album — the decidedly trippier, mushroom trip-influenced half — he came alive. "She," "Sunflower, Vol. 6," and "Canyon Moon" (a favorite of Stevie Nicks), are self-indulgent, weird, and fun songs that combine the bleeding guitar notes of Pink Floyd with the lyrical and melodic whimsy of a Ram-era Paul McCartney.

By the time he reached "Treat People With Kindness," a three-minute technicolor daydream of a song, Styles' joy was unbridled.

As it turned out, the singer had saved the best for last. His five-song encore featured some of his "older" tracks, including "Sign of the Times," and a retooled version of "What Makes You Beautiful" that was more fitting for the boy band member-turned-rockstar. Glitter snowed down from the ceiling during a cover of Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime," and the fan-favorite "Kiwi" closed things out.

When Styles warmed up the crowd for a special guest, someone he called a "light" in his career, it was easy to guess who. It's no secret that Styles and Stevie Nicks have love for each other — Nicks has even referred to him as her adopted son — but an appearance from the rock legend seemed out of the question until it was already happening. Met with wild applause, Nicks made her way onto the stage to perform a duet of "Landslide," dancing and holding hands with Styles as they traded verses.

Since Styles has gone solo, his music has often been categorized as "dad rock," with many critics questioning whether his younger fan base even understand his references to icons of the '60s and '70s. The answer, especially going off of the warm reception Nicks received last night, seems like a clear and obvious yes. Maybe it isn't true for all of his fans (and maybe I'm just tired of older guys asking me about my Led Zeppelin shirts), but if you're drawn to Styles, at least part of the reason is because he's the first artist in recent memory that comes close to embodying a rock n' roll spirit that's long felt dead. Watching the greats like Robert Plant and McCartney perform today is still magical, but it's not the same as getting to witness them at their peak. Styles manages to invoke those classic sounds without coming off as derivative.

It's a pop-dominated world right now, and while Styles might not get as much airplay as Ariana Grande and the Jonas Brothers, he has no trouble selling out the same venues or inspiring the same rabid fan bases they do. Furthermore Styles shines in the spaces they don't occupy, making room to experiment with nostalgia-tinged sounds he's showcased so far.

Put simply: Harry Styles is poised to become the superstar we've been waiting for, and Fine Line has him one step closer to getting there.

At the end of his show, shortly before he bowed out for the last time, Styles ended with a simple, earnest message for his fans: "The album is yours now. I am yours."

Photography: Hélène Pambrun