Logo for Byte Magazine at Ball State University

The evolution of Harry Styles' music

by Baylie Clevenger In 2012, One Direction entered my world and absolutely rocked it. I was obsessed. I had posters, necklaces, albums, and t-shirts galore… and Harry was always my favorite.  I remember pretending on Twitter that Louis was my favorite because at the time liking Harry the most was frowned upon for fear of being labeled a “fake fan.”  The moral of the story is that I have loved Harry Styles for a long time and I have listened to every piece of music that features him… and I got to thinking about how much that has changed since I was 13 years old with posters plastered on my wall. 

1D Days

Image from Amazon
As I mentioned before, the One Direction craze absolutely consumed my teen years, so there’s a lot of music here to comb through. Let’s get to it. To fully appreciate Styles’ evolution, it is only appropriate to start with the band’s first album— Up All Night. Though the album could not get more bubblegum if it tried, Styles was always able to bring strong and unique vocals to the table.  Songs like “Gotta Be You” were some of the first to make an example of the heights Styles could reach with his vocals.  Beyond that, UAN acts as the bare bones for any boy band—an upbeat collection of sickeningly sweet pop songs to rot your teeth and melt your heart.  Between UAN and the band’s third album, Midnight Memories, there was some minor growth. In their second album, Take Me Home, the band still delivered that sugary sound, but with some more depth. This is when Styles showed us the softer side of his vocals with songs like “Little Things” and “They Don’t Know About Us.”  This is when it seemed that overnight, One Direction developed a completely new sound and aesthetic, following up soon after with Midnight Memories.  This album showcased Styles in a more serious light with songs like “Little White Lies,” “You & I,” and “Story of My Life,” each of which had stronger vocals and ballad-esque qualities.  This trend continued with their fourth studio album, Four. This album takes on a more mature sound as well, with more ballad-like sounds and vocals, many provided by Styles in songs like “Clouds,” “Girl Almighty,” and “Spaces.”  Overall, the One Direction era did not showcase Styles’ talent in its entirety. He did see some development overall in style, but his own creative sound was lost in the bubble gum. 

Self-titled, self-styled

Image from Complex
In 2017, Styles’ long-awaited, self-titled, debut solo album was finally gifted to the public. This is when Styles started coming into his own and was able to explore a style that fit his artistic vision.  In particular, songs like “Woman” and “Kiwi” felt mature and almost had an aspect of rock to them. Especially for “Kiwi,” rock aspects were present in Styles’ grittier vocals and the addition of guitar riffs that we might not have seen from the One Direction days.  Styles’ self-titled album felt really comfortable, and nothing felt forced. It was also more raw and vulnerable than anything created in the One Direction era. Songs like “Two Ghosts” and “Sweet Creature” still had a little aspect of pop to them, but overall felt more vulnerable.  In this era, listeners could really feel what Styles was writing about and relate to the deeply emotional instrumentals and lyrics.  We also saw a wider variety of style even just within this one album. “Kiwi” could be borderline rock while “Meet Me in the Hallway” feels like a sweet little longing indie song. Styles also tried his hand with his first ballad, “Sign of the Times,” which was a major hit and was incredibly solid for his first go.  Overall, self-titled was a little experimental for Styles’ sound. It was a solid, beautiful album that saw him coming into his own. 

More-than-fine line

Image from i-D Vice
Finally, we have reached a masterpiece. On Dec. 13, 2019, Styles released his most recent album titled Fine Line. As far as sound development, this one takes the cake.  Though Styles did come into his own with self-titled, he blew everything out of the water with Fine Line. This is where we really see his sound change and develop into something entirely unique and beautiful.  The album is a wide range of emotional and well-developed songs that have the relatable feel of a One Direction song mixed with the depth of a song from his self-titled album.  For example, the namesake for the album, “Fine Line,” starts soft with raw, emotional lyrics that eventually build to a grand instrumental of trumpets and drums with the profound lyrics sung above them.  The songs all feel like they have their own personality while also being cohesive. Styles even got a little more comfortable and personal with these tracks.  Overall, Styles has managed to shock the world after coming from a show like X-Factor to becoming one of the most refined and celebrated musicians in the industry.
Images: Amazon, Complex, i-D Vice Featured Image: Baylie Clevenger