Harry Styles (Redditch, England, 28 years old) has brought down two curses from the music industry.
On the one hand, being one of the few members of a
(in his case, One Direction) to achieve solo international success and critical acclaim.
On the other, surviving the commercial challenge of the third album.
of him, released on May 20, went straight to number one in the UK and US.
Even in the competitive US market, which does not make it so easy for British artists (fewer than 10 have reached the top of the singles chart in the last decade), it took him seven days to ship 182,000 copies on vinyl.
“It was not until June 11, when the European tour of
Love on Tour
began in Glasgow [with a single Spanish stop in Madrid on July 29], that I realized the enormous pull it has.
I had never seen anything like it in the city.
Thousands of people came from all corners of the world.
Despite the rain, many changed hotels for tents in front of the stadium”, explains Craig Williams, music promoter and journalist in media such as
“It was like the Beatles in the sixties.
Although one might think otherwise, Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr were a
because they fulfilled a fundamental requirement: a teenage, and especially female, fan base that swooned at every wink.
The advent of an icon
Little remains of that Harry Styles who, in July 2010 and still a minor, auditioned for the seventh season of the British edition of
The X Factor
At the time, he was 16 years old, he was leading a pop punk band called White Eskimo, which he had formed with some high school classmates, and he worked in a bakery on Saturdays.
Before a jury including the pope of the entertainment industry, Simon Cowell, he interpreted
Isn't She Lovely
He went on to the next round.
In later episodes, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson and Zayn Malik suffered the same fate.
Initially, all aspired to participate in the category of male soloists between the ages of 16 and 27.
But what nobody counted on, not even them, is that they would end up being eliminated from the
Shortly after, Simon Cowell approached the five about continuing in the competition as a group.
Thus, One Direction was born.
The numerous videos that the program shared on YouTube made it possible to follow in real time how a fan phenomenon is built and dazzled a legion of teenagers week after week.
After placing third in the contest, Cowell signed them to his own label, Syco Music, and orchestrated a plan for world domination.
Their first single,
What Makes You Beautiful
went to number one in their native country on September 24, 2011. And, in late February of the following year, they debuted in the United States at number 28 on the
Billboard Hot 100
by Spice Girls
Bitter Sweet Symphony
, by The Verve, and
Are You Jimmy Ray?
, by Jimmy Ray, no other British artist had managed, in its first week, such a high entry on the US singles chart.
Harry Styles, followed by his partner Zayn Malik, leave a studio in London in October 2010. Neil Mockford (Getty Images)
In the UK, during their time in business, they had four number one hits and all of their albums (with the exception of 2011's
Up All Night
) were number one.
In the United States, his five studio albums reached the top of the
In total, One Direction sold 70 million copies.
But as with bands with different personalities, egos and sensibilities at play, the endless
and media pressure took their toll.
The first defector was Zayn Malik, who in March 2015 left the group while on tour in Asia.
In January 2016 One Direction, after one last album as a quartet, announced an indefinite break that is still ongoing.
From glory to indifference
“There are many who think they can succeed alone and forget that, if one day they were great, it was precisely because of the rapport with their peers.
Each one was there for a different reason.
The sum of all their talents is what worked within the context of the band, not outside of it."
These words by Álvaro García Montoliu, a Rockdelux
, define a constant and harsh reality in male pop groups.
In December 1986, just 12 months after his New Edition bandmates had terminated his services, Bobby Brown released
King of Stage
, an album that went unnoticed.
Once he renewed his image with
Don't Be Cruel
, he did get away with it: it was the best-selling LP in the United States in 1989, thanks to
as effective as
—versioned in 2004 by Britney Spears— or
Evey Little Step
, which earned him the Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 1990. With the inclusion of
On Our Own
in the soundtrack of the second installment of
another point was marked.
However, the tables were turned in 1992 with
While his predecessor sold 12 million copies, he had to make do with three.
His turbulent marriage to Whitney Houston accelerated the final blow.
One Direction members Liam Payne, Zayn Malik, Louis Tomlinson, Harry Styles and Niall Horan at the 2014 BRIT Awards. David M. Benett (Getty Images)
A New Kids on The Block, one of the forerunners of the
that would dominate the 1990s, did not like disbanding in 1994 either. Critics, in 1999, mercilessly attacked the solo adventures of Joey McIntyre and Jordan Knight .
Also Backstreet Boys, whose
remained that year 10 weeks at the top of the best-selling in the United States.
The quintet, since 1996, has sold more than 140 million copies.
But none of the solo albums by Nick Carter, Brian Littrell, AJ McLean or Howie D have left behind a memorable song.
In perspective, Kevin Richardson has been the smartest of all: to date he has not even taken the step.
Special mention deserves the British Robbie Williams.
The former Take That is an idol in Europe, Asia and Oceania.
On the other hand, practically nobody has paid attention to his career in the United States, despite the fact that Capitol Records tried it in 1998 with an album that mixed his first solo hits (
The Ego Has Landed
and EMI tried again in 2002 with a wild promotion campaign for their
album (and a record deal of £120m, the biggest in UK history).
In its first week, 264,104 fans purchased a copy in the UK;
in the United States, only 10,000.
Maybe that's why he lives in Los Angeles: in California, fewer people stop him on the street to ask for a selfie.
There are exceptions, of course.
Michael Jackson became the king of pop after emancipating himself from a boy band (except that they were his brothers), and in 1987, George Michael realized with the huge success of the album
that he was much more than the voice of Wham !
(except that there were two of them).
The last one who has managed to build an extremely solid career around the world and could be considered the only valid precursor to Harry Styles, with a very different style, is Justin Timberlake.
After dissolving NSYNC, he has sold 32 million copies alone and accumulates five number ones in the United States and four in the United Kingdom.
Harry Styles during his performance at the 2022 Coachella Festival. Kevin Mazur (Getty Images for Coachella)
“The biggest challenge they face is going from a predominantly female fan base to winning over not so much the adult audience, but their parents.
That is, beyond conquering mothers and daughters, do the same with fathers and sons”, says Williams.
In that sense, Harry Styles has been able to move his cards very well.
And now, with Justin Timberlake plunged, at 41, into an image crisis before the younger public ("he has gone from the king of pop to the king of the grimita",
sentenced this Tuesday), Styles is the great world male teen idol out of a
the style case
“I would love to say that I had the intuition from day one that he would succeed, but what is evident is that at first Zayn took him ahead.
First, getting together with Gigi Hadid and forming what was the fashionable couple for months, just when nobody was talking about generation Z. And then with his debut
Mind of Mine
in 2016, which due to its R&B fit much better in the musical context. then.
I continue to claim that work, but it is clear that Malik went from more to less and Styles has done the opposite route, ”says García Montoliu.
The image that the world had of Styles, above all, changed on April 7, 2017. That day saw the light
Sign of the Times
, the first advance from their first album.
“My father cried when I sang it on the BBC's The Graham Norton Show.
Seriously, he cried.
She caught him completely by surprise.
The song touched his soul.
Perhaps that is the key to his success.
Styles proved that our parents were right when they put bands like Fleetwood Mac, Roxy Music or Pink Floyd at our house, while we only wanted to listen to Oasis or Eminem”, confesses Williams.
García Montoliu adds: “That single and the rest of the album only gave him praise, and it even helped him become friends with Stevie Nicks, from Fleetwood Mac. But Styles has been smart enough not to get stuck in that
and go towards a more radio sound, without losing its retro essence.
It worked for The Weeknd, and for him too."
The tests have been
(instant number one in 2019 in the UK and US), and more recently
, also number one in both markets.
“I have the feeling that he does what he wants.
He directs his path and has total freedom, which is fascinating”, indicates Kay Díaz, a creative at the AP2U advertising agency and a
professor at La Salle Campus Barcelona.
“The fact of having belonged to a
, a more or less prefabricated product, catapulted him to be an internationally recognized character.
In marketing terms, that made it easier for him to show his subsequent transformation.
In five years we have realized that it was more than a mere product.
To tell the truth, we are dealing with a composer and a singer who does not stop evolving”.
“It is evident that queerbaiting
[the use of the LGTBI collective to gain visibility and influence] is on the brink of the abyss
,” García Montoliu points out with irony, given the androgynous aesthetic that he has adopted on stage and on covers such as the last December issue. of
However, Williams has a different take on the matter: “Through her activism and empathy, she has helped millions of kids feel comfortable in this crazy world, express their sexuality and dress the way they want without feeling under any pressure.
In that there is a clear parallelism with David Bowie.
He is breaking fashion rules and gender norms alike.
He is not afraid to express himself and rejects the traditional confines of masculinity.
Through it all, he has connected in an amazingly deep way with a huge fan base.”
“BTS are so giant that now that they have announced a hiatus to pursue solo careers, it is likely that at least one of them will make it.
My bet is Suga”, predicts García Montoliu.
"Although, considering that succeeding as a solo artist after a
is something that happens once every 10 years, Harry Styles has a rope for a while."
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