Four days ago Harry Styles posted three blank white photographs to his Instagram, a day later he revealed three covers for Another Man magazine. Two of the covers feature Styles in a dog collar (not the priest kind), staring broodily into the camera, in the third he is dressed in a turtleneck sweater, grinning gawkishly with his tongue pressed into the side of his cheek. These covers mark Styles’ first step away from One Direction. Inside the magazine he is interviewed by Sir Paul McCartney, he is shot wearing high fashion garments, and the magazine features content he curated. The Harry Styles in Another Man might seem a far cry from the cherubic boy of What Makes You Beautiful, and this is a bold career move, but it is a move that carries through with the significance of One Direction.
One Direction were and still are all about the fans, all those millions of teenage girls. One Direction made a space for them where they could be silly and passionate, where they could connect with their peers and work themselves out. Spaces like these are few and far between outside of groups like One Direction, outside of massive mainstream pop music. Harry Styles is still a mega pop star, and probably he always will be, no matter what his solo album sounds like, but Harry Styles in Another Man is also interested in a whole lot more than big budget bangers. Another Man shows Styles as deeply invested in fashion, be it brand new floral Gucci suits and Yves Saint Laurent jackets or tattered chelsea boots bought at a thrift store in South America. He reads poetry (I’ll forgive him his love of Charles Bukowski because Herman Hesse is okay and Rumi is better), he writes a journal, and he collects art.
From a cynical, publicity standpoint Another Man pushes Styles as being authentic, maybe even hinting that he is removed to a certain degree from the pop stardom that got him to where he is now. But, even if the narrative is that there is more to Styles than meets the eye so it’s okay to like him now, there is a whole lot more going on here. The people who most love Harry Styles are young girls and women, and what this interview and magazine feature is saying to them is: you like Harry Styles, and Harry Styles likes these things (poetry, art, fashion) and pop music and all this other stuff are not mutually exclusive. Harry Styles in Another Man is doing what Harry Styles in One Direction was doing, he is creating space for girls and women in spaces that traditionally exclude them. Music, poetry, art and even fashion have excluded women for centuries, fostering a culture where women either have to force their way in or find other interests. Pop music is an art form in its own right but it is so important that girls and women be encouraged to explore whatever cultural bits and bobs tickle their fancy.
To many Harry Styles is an idol, and rightly so. He is beloved by young women and he carefully nurtures that bond, even while negotiating that liminal space between ‘authenticity’ and measured pop persona. In Another Man Styles lightly side steps a question about crazy fan behaviour, and he speaks openly and reverently about One Direction. Styles might be changing his image, but he isn’t distancing himself from his fan base, he’s taking them with him.