When I first started telling people that I was starting Casually Obsessed, everyone wanted to know when I was going to talk about Harry Styles. I'm sure he seemed like an obvious early subject because everyone knew I loved him. And his second album had just come out, something I enthused about to anyone who would listen. So, I get why people assumed I would be using this new platform to publish all my thoughts about Harry Styles.
Except, being asked to articulate how I feel about Harry Styles is like being asked to tell you how I feel about the ocean. Do you want me to describe the characteristics of the water, or what it's like to be immersed in it? Should I give you a memory of the ocean, or how it exists in my imagination? Should I tell you about the water with the assumption that you've also felt like I've felt, or tell you about it like you've only ever seen a swimming pool?
All this to say: Harry felt like too much for me to capture and so, nearly two years in, I've yet to turn the Casually Obsessed spotlight his way.
But this week, standing in the pit at his Sacramento show — a concert I bought tickets for 723 days earlier — I realized something I wanted to write to you about: Harry’s dancing.
The thing you have to know is that One Direction was a boyband that didn't dance. I can't stress enough how anti-dancing they were. It became a thing about them, part of the 1D mythology. When people wanted to know why that was, their response was, basically, "we feel silly dancing, so we don't." In another era, there's no way you would have made it into a boyband if you weren't willing to dance; the powers-that-be considered that part of the package. Maybe it's the way the band was formed, stringing together boys who didn't make it as solo artists on a reality show, or maybe it was a particular period in pop culture, a reaction to the matching outfits and overwrought choreography of the past, or maybe it was something else entirely. There were jokes about it, but they never jumped through that hoop that so many others did and do.
Even without the choreography, Harry (a consummate ham) spent a lot of time flouncing around the stage. Always grooving, always running (and falling) with his mic stand. I never saw 1D perform live — I didn't become a fan until they had already parted ways — but I've seen their concert documentary and watched plenty of videos on YouTube. Harry looks, particularly in later years, to be genuinely having fun on stage— entertaining himself as much as the crowd. He likes performing, entertaining. If fame had found him later in life, I wonder if he would have that Tom Hiddleston quality of watching-you-watch-him, looking for reassurance and approval as he does a bit. As it is, he's got years of experience playing massive stadium shows. His persona as a musician was born on big stages, raised on taking up that space. It's been 6 years since One Direction broke up, 4 years since Harry released his first solo album, and he's continued to refine that stage presence.
In 2018 I was visiting a friend for my birthday and we spent a lazy afternoon hanging around her apartment, listening to music and talking and being silly. Late in the day I found myself doing a sort of strut around the apartment, taking long, exaggerated steps with a little arm shimmy. I kept doing it but didn't quite know why. I mused aloud about where I picked up the movement, wondering what had me approximating John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. I realized later that I had gotten it from Harry. I pulled up his set from the iHeartRadio Music Festival and there it was. As soon as he was out from behind his guitar, he was bodily taking over the stage. His signature flair legged pants billowing out as he strut across the stage. It's funny watching it now because, in comparison to his more recent performances, he looks practically contained. But at the time I soaked it all in, internalizing the dramatic walk, the swaggering shoulders, the pounding fists.
It felt then, and still feels today, transcendent.
I should clarify that the dancing itself isn't really the thing. Harry has 5, maybe 6 moves, which are primarily just exaggerations of everyday movements. The thing about the dancing is how celebratory it feels. Some people would call it unself-conscious, but I don't think that's quite right. I think there are two kinds of self-consciousness: the hyper-vigilant kind, full of judgment and second-guessing, and the kind that's conscious of how wonderful having a self can be. When Harry Styles is romping across a stage it's like there's no greater pleasure than being a person with a body, a person with music going and a place to play. There's nothing special about his dancing, which is part of why it feels so special. It's permission-giving. You can just feel the music in your body and move to it — that's allowed; that's plenty; that's holy. Riotous, joyous, movement.
For both his tours, Harry has ended every set with his song Kiwi — a song that grows in intensity and magnitude when performed live. He tees the song up, makes a point of inviting the crowd into it, letting us know that this is the end. Whatever you've been holding back, this is the cue to let it out. "I would like to ask a favor of you. You’ve been very kind to me so far. I have 2.5 minutes left,” he says. “and I would like you to go nuts.”
We do him the favor and we lose our fucking minds.
If you haven’t seen the Treat People with Kindness music video, where Harry is the lounge singer and Phoebe Waller-Bridge is the hotshot, private detective, you simply must. Please join me in dreaming of Harry in a Broadway musical.
I’m still in the early chapters, but I’m currently reading Fangirls: Scenes from Modern Music Culture by Hannah Ewens and I love it.