Har­ry Styles: the boy is back

Volume 4 Issue 001: Featuring fan fiction levels of adoration from Stevie Nicks, Elton John and Alessandro Michele. Read the full interview now.

Arti­cle tak­en from from The Face Vol­ume 4 Issue 001. Order your copy here.

A hand­shake can quell polit­i­cal unrest and sti­fle impend­ing war. It can, with a bit of spit, val­i­date a gentleman’s agree­ment, end a years-long roman­tic rela­tion­ship or send a young heart rac­ing. But it all depends on the two par­ties involved. 

Daisy, 21, felt a seis­mic jolt when Har­ry Styles, 25, wear­ing a striped jumper and rings on three of his five fin­gers, clutched her hand two days after this year’s Met Gala in New York, when she served him gela­to at the shop where she worked. 

He decid­ed on a small mint choco­late gela­to and I made his and the one for his friend and I said, Can I just say I absolute­ly loved your Met Gala look’ and he said Thank you very much! What’s your name?’ And I said, Daisy’ AND HE FUCK­ING EXTEND­ED HIS HAND AND REACHED TO SHAKE MY HAND ANDACTU­AL­LY FUCK­ING SHOOK HIS HAND WHAT THE FUCK,” she wrote on Insta­gram after The Shak­en­ing. Like I didn’t even say any­thing to gas him up besides I loved your met gala look’ and his fine ass went and shook my hand! WHATBEAU­TI­FUL FUCK­ING HUMAN BEING THAT HE IS GOD BLESS HIM ANDHOPE HW [sic] LIVES FOREVER.”

For Har­ry Styles, a hand­shake can be a roman­tic ges­ture, con­jur­ing a potent rev­er­ence in its recip­i­ent, like the time he met Gucci’s cre­ative direc­tor Alessan­dro Michele. He was as attrac­tive as James Dean and as per­sua­sive as Gre­ta Gar­bo. He was like a Luchi­no Vis­con­ti char­ac­ter, like an Apol­lo: at the same time sexy as a woman, as a kid, as a man,” Michele told me, has­ten­ing to add: Of course, Har­ry is not aware of this.”

No, Styles has no idea the pow­er he wields. In per­son, he’s tow­er­ing, like some­one who is not that much taller but whose rep­u­ta­tion adds four inch­es. Styles has a seda­tive bari­tone, spo­ken in a rum­my north­ern Eng­lish accent, that tum­bles out so slow­ly you for­get the name of your first born, a swag­ger that has been nursed and per­fect­ed in myth­i­cal places with names like Pais­ley Park, or Abbey Road, or Grace­land. Makes com­plete sense that he would be up for the role of Elvis Pres­ley in Baz Luhrmann’s upcom­ing biopic. He was primed, nay, born to shake his hips, all but one but­ton on his shirt cling­ing for dear life around his tor­so. Then the part was award­ed to anoth­er actor, Austin Butler. 

[Elvis] was such an icon for me grow­ing up,” Styles tells me. There was some­thing almost sacred about him, almost like I didn’t want to touch him. Then I end­ed up get­ting into [his life] a bit and I wasn’t dis­ap­point­ed,” he adds of his ini­tial research and prepa­ra­tions to play The King. He seems relaxed about los­ing the part to But­ler. I feel like if I’m not the right per­son for the thing, then it’s best for both of us that I don’t do it, you know?”

Styles released his self-titled debut solo album in May 2017. The boy­band grad was clear­ly unin­ter­est­ed in hol­low­ing out the charts with more for­mu­la­ic meme pop. Instead, to the sur­prise of many, he dug his heels into retro-fetishist West Coast 70s rock. Some of the One Direc­tion fan-hordes might have been con­fused, but no mat­ter: Har­ry Styles sold one mil­lion copies. 

Despite its com­mer­cial and crit­i­cal suc­cess, he didn’t tour the album right away. He want­ed to act in the Christo­pher Nolan film Dunkirk. To his cred­it, his por­tray­al of a British sol­dier cow­er­ing in a moored boat on the French beach­es as the Nazis advanced wasn’t skew­ered in the press like the movie debuts of, say, Madon­na or Justin Tim­ber­lake. Per­haps he was fol­low­ing advice giv­en by Elton John, who had urged him to diver­si­fy. He was bril­liant in Dunkirk, which took a lot of peo­ple by sur­prise,” John writes in an email. I love how he takes chances and risks.” Act­ing, unlike music, is a release for Styles; it’s the one time he can be not himself. 

Why do I want to act? It’s so dif­fer­ent to music for me,” he says, sud­den­ly ani­mat­ed. They’re almost oppo­site for me. Music, you try and put so much of your­self into it; act­ing, you’re try­ing to total­ly dis­ap­pear in who­ev­er you’re being.” 

Fol­low­ing the news that he missed out on Pres­ley, his name was float­ed for the role of Prince Eric in Disney’s live-action remake of The Lit­tle Mer­maid. How­ev­er, fans will have to wait a bit longer to see Styles on the big screen as that idea, too, has sunk. He won’t be The King or the Prince. It was dis­cussed,” he acknow­ledges before swift­ly chang­ing the sub­ject. I want to put music out and focus on that for a while. But every­one involved in it was amaz­ing, so I think it’s going to be great. I’ll enjoy watch­ing it, I’m sure.”

The new album is wrapped and the sin­gle is decid­ed upon. It’s not like his last album,” his friend, rock n’ roll leg­end Ste­vie Nicks, told me recent­ly over the phone. It’s not like any­thing One Direc­tion ever did. It’s pure Har­ry, as Har­ry would say. He’s made a very dif­fer­ent record and it’s spectacular.” 

Beyond that, Styles is keep­ing his cards close to his chest as to his next musi­cal move. How­ev­er, the air is thick with rumours that his main wing­man for HS2 is Kid Har­poon, aka Tom Hull, who co-wrote debut album track Sweet Crea­ture. No less an author­i­ty than Liam Gal­lagher told us that both big band escapees were in the same stu­dio – RAK in north-west Lon­don – at the same time mak­ing their sec­ond solo albums. Styles played him a cou­ple of tracks, and I tell you what, they’re good,” Gal­lagher enthused. A bit like that Bon Iver. Is that his name?”

Har­ry Styles met Nicks at a Fleet­wood Mac con­cert in Los Ange­les in April 2015. Some­thing about him felt authen­tic to the leg­endary front­woman: ground­ed, like she’d known him for­ev­er, blessed with a win­ning moon­shot grin. A month lat­er, they met back­stage at anoth­er Mac gig, this time at the O2 in Lon­don. Styles brought a car­rot cake for Nicks’ birth­day, her name piped in icing on top. By her own admis­sion, Nicks doesn’t even cel­e­brate birth­days, so this was a sur­prise. He was per­son­al­ly respon­si­ble for me actu­al­ly hav­ing to cel­e­brate my birth­day, which was very sweet,” she says.

Styles’ rela­tion­ship with Nicks is hard to define. Induct­ing her into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in New York as a solo artist ear­li­er this year, his speech hymned her as a mag­i­cal gyp­sy god­moth­er who occu­pies the in-between”. She’s called him her lovechild” with Mick Fleet­wood and the son I nev­er had”. Both have moved past the pre­lim­i­nary chat acknowl­edg­ing each other’s unquan­tifi­able tal­ents and smooth­ly accel­er­at­ed towards play­ful cut-and-thrust ban­ter of a witch mom and her naughty child. 

They per­form togeth­er – he sings The Chain and Stop Drag­gin’ My Heart Around; she sings the one alleged­ly writ­ten about Tay­lor Swift, Two Ghosts. One of those per­for­mances was at the Guc­ci Cruise after­par­ty in Rome in May, for a lot of mon­ey”, Nicks tells me, in a big kind of cas­tle place”. She has become his de fac­to men­tor – one phone call is all it takes to reach the Queen of Rock’n’Roll for advice on sequenc­ing (“She is real­ly good at track list­ing,” Styles admits) or just to hear each other’s voic­es… because, well, wouldn’t you?

Fol­low­ing anoth­er Fleet­wood Mac con­cert, at London’s Wem­b­ley Sta­di­um, in June, Nicks met Styles for a late (Indi­an) din­ner. He then invit­ed her back to his semi-detached Geor­gian man­sion in north Lon­don for a lis­ten­ing par­ty at mid­night. The album – HS2or what­ev­er it’ll be called – was fin­ished. Nicks, her assis­tant Karen, her make-up artist and her friends Jess and Mary crammed onto Styles’ liv­ing-room couch. They lis­tened to it once through in silence like a bunch of edu­cat­ed monks or some­thing in this dark room”. Then once again, 15 or 16 tracks, this time each of his guests offer­ing live feed­back. It wrapped at 5am, just as the sun was bleed­ing through the curtains.

Even for a pop star of Styles’ stature, press­ing play” on a deeply per­son­al work for your hero to digest, watch­ing her face react in real time to your new music, must be… what? 

It’s a dou­ble-edged thing,” he replies. You’re always ner­vous when you are play­ing peo­ple music for the first time. You’ve heard it so much by this point, you for­get that peo­ple haven’t heard it before. It’s hard to not feel like you’ve done what you’ve set out to do. You are hap­py with some­thing and then some­one who you respect so much and look up to is, like: I real­ly like this.’ It feels like a large stamp [of approval]. It’s a big step towards feel­ing very com­fort­able with what­ev­er else hap­pens to it.”

Wad­ing through Styles’ back­ground info is exhaust­ing, since he was spanked by fame in the social media era where every god­dam blink of a kohl-rimmed eye has been doc­u­ment­ed from six angles. (And yes, he does some­times wear guyliner.) 

Deep breath: born in Red­ditch, Worces­ter­shire, to par­ents Des and Anne, who divorced when he was sev­en. Grew up in Holmes Chapel in Cheshire with his sis­ter Gem­ma, mum and step­dad Robin Twist. Rode hors­es at a near­by sta­ble for free (“I was a bad rid­er, but I was a rid­er”). Stopped rid­ing, got into dif­fer­ent stuff”. Formed a band, White Eski­mo, with school­mates. Aged 16, tried out for the 2010 run of The X Fac­torwith a stir­ring but aver­age ren­di­tion of Ste­vie Wonder’s Isn’t She Love­ly. Cut from the show and put into a boy band with four oth­ers, Louis Tom­lin­son, Liam Payne, Niall Horan and Zayn Malik, and called One Direc­tion. Became inter­na­tion­al­ly famous, toured the globe. Zayn quit to go solo. Toured some more. Dat­ed but maybe didn’t date Car­o­line Flack, Rita Ora and Tay­lor Swift – whom he report­ed­ly dumped in the British Vir­gin Islands. (This rela­tion­ship, if noth­ing else, yield­ed an icon­ic, can­did shot of Swift look­ing deject­ed, being motored back to shore on the back of a boat called the Fly­ing Ray.) One Direc­tion dis­cussed dis­band­ing in 2014, actu­al­ly dis­solved in 2015. They remain friend­ly, and Styles offi­cial­ly went solo in 2016.

It’s been two years since his epony­mous debut and lead sin­gle, Sign of the Times, shocked the world and Elton John with its swag­ger­ing, soft rock sound. It came out of left field and I loved it,” John says.

After 89 are­na-packed shows across five con­ti­nents grossed him, the label, whomev­er, over $61 mil­lion, Styles had all but dis­ap­peared. He has emerged only inter­mit­tent­ly for pub­lic-fac­ing events – a Guc­ci after­par­ty per­for­mance here, a Met Gala co-chair­ing there. He relo­cat­ed from Los Ange­les back to Lon­don, sell­ing his Hol­ly­wood Hills house for $6 mil­lion and ship­ping his Jaguar E-type across the Atlantic so he could take joyrides on the M25

I’m not over LA,” he insists when I ask about the move. My rela­tion­ship with LA changed a lot. What I want­ed from LA changed.”

A great escape, he would agree, is some­times nec­es­sary. He was in Tokyo for most of Jan­u­ary, hav­ing near­ly fin­ished his album. I need­ed time to get out of that album frame-of-mind of: Is it fin­ished? Where am I at? What’s hap­pen­ing?’ I real­ly need­ed that time away from every­one. I was kind of just in Tokyo by myself.” His sab­bat­i­cal most­ly involved read­ing Haru­ki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chron­i­cle, singing Nir­vana at karaoke, writ­ing alone in his hotel room, lis­ten­ing to music and eaves­drop­ping on strangers in alien con­ver­sa­tion. It was just a pos­i­tive time for my head and I think that impact­ed the album in a big way.”

Dur­ing this break he watched a lot of films, read a lot of books. Some­times he texts these rec­om­men­da­tions to his pal Michele at Guc­ci. He told Michele to watch the Ali Mac­graw film, Love Sto­ry. We text what friends text about. He is the same [as me] in terms of he lives in his own world and he does his own thing. I love dress­ing up and he loves dress­ing up.”

Because he loves dress­ing up, Michele chose Styles to be the face of three Guc­ci Tai­lor­ing cam­paigns and of its new gen­der­less fra­grance, Mémoire d’une Odeur. 

The moment I met him, I imme­di­ate­ly under­stood there was some­thing strong around him,” Michele tells me. I realised he was much more than a young singer. He was a young man, dressed in a thought­ful way, with uncombed hair and a beau­ti­ful voice. I thought he gath­ered with­in him­self the fem­i­nine and the masculine.”

Fash­ion, for Styles, is a play­ground. Some­thing he doesn’t take too seri­ous­ly. A cou­ple of years ago Har­ry Lam­bert, his styl­ist since 2015, acquired for him a pair of pink metal­lic Saint Lau­rent boots that he has nev­er been pho­tographed wear­ing. They are exceed­ing­ly rare – few pairs exist. Styles wears them to get milk”. They are, in his words, super-fun”. He’s not sure, but he has, ball­park, 50 pairs of shoes, as well as full clos­ets in at least three post­codes. He set­tles on an out­fit fair­ly quick­ly, maybe changes his T-shirt once before head­ing out, but most­ly knows what he likes.

What he may not ful­ly com­pre­hend is that sim­ply by being pho­tographed in a gar­ment he can spur the career of a design­er, as he has with Har­ris Reed, Palo­mo Spain, Charles Jef­frey, Alled-Martínez and a new favourite, Bode. Styles wore a SS16 Guc­ci flo­ral suit to the 2015 Amer­i­can Music Awards. When he was asked who made his suit on the red car­pet, Guc­ci began trend­ing world­wide on Twitter. 

It was one of the first times a male wore Alessandro’s run­way designs and, at the time, men were not tak­ing too many red car­pet risks,” says Lam­bert. Who knows if it influ­enced oth­ers, but it was a spe­cial moment. Plus, it was fun see­ing the fans dress up in suits to come see Harry’s shows.”

Yet tra­di­tion­al gen­der codes of dress still have the minds of mid­dle Amer­i­ca in a choke­hold. Men can’t wear women’s clothes, say the online whingers, who have labelled him trag­ic”, a clown” and a Bowie wannabe. Styles doesn’t care. What’s fem­i­nine and what’s mas­cu­line, what men are wear­ing and what women are wear­ing – it’s like there are no lines any more.” 

Elton John agrees: It worked for Marc Bolan, Bowie and Mick. Har­ry has the same qualities.”

Then there is the ques­tion of Styles’ sex­u­al­i­ty, some­thing he has admit­ted­ly nev­er real­ly start­ed to label”, which will plague him until he does. Per­haps it’s part of his allure. He’s bran­dished a pride flag that read Make Amer­i­ca Gay Again” on stage, and plant­ed a stake some­where left of cen­tre on sexuality’s rain­bow spectrum. 

In the posi­tion that he’s in, he can’t real­ly say a lot, but he chose a queer girl band to open for him and I think that speaks vol­umes,” Josette Maskin of the queer band MUNA told The Face ear­li­er this year. 

I get a lot of…” Styles trails off, wheels turn­ing on how he can dis­cuss sex­u­al­i­ty with­out real­ly answer­ing. I’m not always super-out­spo­ken. But I think it’s very clear from choic­es that I make that I feel a cer­tain way about lots of things. I don’t know how to describe it. I guess I’m not…” He paus­es again, piv­ots. I want every­one to feel wel­come at shows and online. They want to be loved and equal, you know? I’m nev­er unsup­port­ed, so it feels weird for me to over­think it for some­one else.”

Sex­u­al­i­ty aside, he must acknowl­edge that he has sex appeal. The word sexy’ sounds so strange com­ing out of my mouth. So I would say that that’s prob­a­bly why I would not con­sid­er myself sexy.”

Har­ry Styles has emerged ful­ly-formed, an anachro­nis­tic rock star, vague in sen­si­bil­i­ty but des­tined to impress with a dis­arm­ing smile and a warm but firm handshake. 

I recite to him a quote from Chrissie Hyn­de of The Pre­tenders about her time atop rock’s throne: I nev­er got into this for the mon­ey or because I want­ed to join in the super­star sex around the swim­ming pools. I did it because the offer of a record con­tract came along and it seemed like it might be more fun than being a wait­ress. Now, I’m not so sure.”

Styles – who worked in a bak­ery in a small north­ern town some time before play­ing to 40,000 scream­ing fans in South Amer­i­can are­nas – must have wit­nessed some shit, been invit­ed to a few pool­side sex par­ties, in his time. 

I’ve seen a cou­ple of things,” he nods in agree­ment. But I’m still young. I feel like there’s still stuff to see.”

Hair Hol­li Smith at Art Part­ner, Make-up Dot­ti at State­ment Artists, Man­i­curist Maki at The Wall Group, Per­son­al styl­ist Har­ry Lam­bert, Pho­tog­ra­phy assis­tance Max Dworkin, Styling assis­tance Mal­colm Hall and Borys Kor­ban, Hair assis­tance Michiko Yoshi­da, Pro­duc­tion Mary Clancey Pace, Pro­duc­tion assis­tance Kirk Camp­bell and Luis Jaramil­lo, Retouch­ing Two Three Two

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