The Second Coming of Harry Styles: A Noisey Roundtable
We're really sorry.
You're a person reading a music site, so you probably know Harry Styles released his first solo song today. He "teased" it last Friday 31 March – also the 30th anniversary of Prince's Sign o' the Times, *upside-down smiling emoji* – and since then, there have been various whispers about the song's sound (the common denominator has tended to be "Queen"). To round off the buildup, some powerful images surfaced of Harry hanging out of a helicopter, and of his stunt double wearing a mask of his face during a music video shoot, to whet our collective appetite. Never ones to keep our gobs shut, now that "Sign of the Times" is out after debuting on Grimmy's Radio 1 breakfast show, we've got things to say. So please, without further ado, enjoy this Harry Styles-themed roundtable featuring Noisey's own Daisy Jones, Tshepo Mokoena, Lauren O'Neill, Ryan Bassil and Emma Garland.
OK, First: General Feelings on Harry Styles
Lauren: I would like to summarise my own by saying that I, personally, would pay Harry Styles to slap me in my face.
Ryan: Why are you making me do this?
Emma: I feel the same way about Harry Styles as I felt about this extremely cool goth girl at school when I was 15: do I want to shag him or do I want to be him? Probably a bit of both. Putting aside, for a second, his triumphant hair and ability to wear multiple ostentatious rings and voice that sounds like the commanding yet nonchalant ghost of anyone who has ever broken a window in the Hyatt Hotel, Harry Styles is just pretty good, isn't he? He definitely stands the best chance out of all the Directioners to evolve into an artist able to hold some genuine relevance for potentially the next few decades. I'm putting a lot of pressure on him to plug the gaps left by Iconic British Males who have sadly expired, but that's only because I think he could if he wanted to *insert Tyra Banks rooting for you gif but in present tense*.
Daisy: I second Emma's sentiment: half of me wants to sleep with him, but the other half wants to know what it's like to actually be him. What does it feel like to wake up every morning smelling like Tom Ford Patchouli Absolu and fresh sweat, probably, LA sun streaming on your face through the skylight as you select what floral shirt to unbutton that day (Gucci or Laurent?) and what healthy protein-based snack to consume from your double-doored, duck egg Smeg fridge before you have to ring Elton John for some "advice"? Do you know what I mean?
Tshepo: The last boyband I cared about was probably N*Sync so I have very few feelings about Harry Styles. I think his voice is good – though he reminds me of the people at music school who'd put on a husky texture because that was the "in" sound – but there's not much else there. I am 28 years old, though.
Ryan: Look, I love Justin Timberlake. I would consider shaving my head in an attempt to bring "SexyBack". That's how inspiring the man is. Harry Styles hasn't even bothered going to the barbers for this comeback – this is already more words than he deserves. What sort of pop star is he?!
What About the Actual Song?
Lauren: It's very Baby's First Bowie isn't it? "Sign of the Times" sounds like "Life on Mars" filtered through a machine that makes everything sound 30 percent more "Chris Martin woz ere." The sound, for me, is disappointing because despite my more sensible instincts, I had naively pinned all my hopes on an exact replica of One Direction's sadly under-appreciated Springsteen-lite bangeranger "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" and spent quite a long time imagining him performing it as a surprise guest at Glastonbury, wearing one of his lovely bandanas and a cut off T-shirt showing off his lovely arms. Instead, we got Ed Sheeran's uni halls mate who's well into T-Rex because he heard "Children of the Revolution" on a bread advert.
Tshepo: This sounds exactly like how I thought a debut Harry "splash!" track would. As an early adopter of the deep-V shirt, skinnies and those pointy boots you only ever see on guys who probably still like Kasabian, Harry's aesthetic has been priming him for a "classic rock meets glam" single like this. And yes, you can obviously hear the Bowie and Elton John influences all over this. He does ring Elton for advice after eating that protein snack though, right?
Ryan: I don't know what you guys were expecting from Harry Styles but I've ruminated hungrily over enough pictures of Mick Jagger to have anticipated this comeback as being something akin to Exile on Main Street. Yes, Harry Styles doesn't do heroin. Yes, he (probably) doesn't own a villa in Villefranche-sur-Mer, near Nice. And yes, it is likely his veins do not run red and blue with the sound of Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters. But so what? You look like Mick Jagger, mate. Capitalise. I've already said far too much now but this could have been you, baby. You could have have owned the fuck out of this market. You could have been on the cover of various European editions of Vogue and Mojo! Next time have your manager call me.
Daisy: Harry, why did you align yourself with Queen and Bowie and Prince, only to release something that sounds like a mid-range number from We Will Rock You the musical covered by The Verve covered by David Sneddon from Fame Academy? This whole thing is a reminder that before the tattoos and the STIs and the high fashion spreads, Harry was just one of five lads wearing casual M&S desert boots and performing a cover of "Torn" to Sinnita. It's kind of inescapable, really. Even if he'd released a video of himself screaming gutturally for 20 minutes before smashing some coke live on air, you'd still be thinking, 'yeah but… X Factor.'
Emma: Given that Harry Styles has been known to make distressing statements such as "Chris Martin is the reason I love music", in my head, this was going to go one of two ways: full Coldplay or full Queen, but it actually drifts somewhere in the middle. For a song that is nearly six entire minutes long, it doesn't really go anywhere; it introduces the melodies from the offset and just repeats them with additional crash cymbals. My biggest qualm, though, is that there's nothing about this that particularly screams "HARRY STYLES" to me. Anyone from Noel Gallagher to The Walkmen could've released this and I wouldn't be surprised. Still, props for the fact that this is a really weird song to drop in 2017 as a first solo single that isn't a pop banger or about romance. The lyrics sound like the musings of someone who is extremely concerned about climate change. My theory is that the world is definitely going to end in 2017 and only Harry Styles knows about it and wrote this song to play out while we all implode.
On the Vocals and Lyrics in Particular
Ryan: You know how they say no one can imitate Tupac's cadence because he raps from the heart? This is like that except Harry Styles is singing from some irrelevant body part, like his feet. His beautiful little feet. His emotionless but ultimately still quite nice big toe.
Lauren: I will go on record as saying that this is the best Harry has ever sounded. His vocals are a reminder that we do have in our midst a properly good, talented, British male pop star – perhaps our best prospect since yung Robbie Williams in his "Let Me Entertain You" period when he really went off. But with a song like this, where nothing really happens until a bridge a few minutes in, he's squandered. If he doesn't release an upbeat, 3 minute pop-rock Song of the Summer contender soon, he'll be wasting his own potential.
Emma: If someone sang like this at me in person I'm pretty certain I would bin all my principles, snort a line of ants and punch my best friend just to have a shot at touching their forearm. Lyrically, it is the first step of an expanding brain meme about late capitalism that concludes with something about how politics really IS a lot like Harry Potter.
Ryan: I'm comfortable with never having to listen to this again.
Optimism About His Solo Career Based on This Evidence Alone
Daisy: Listen, Harry Styles could release a song where he just repeats "egg, egg, egg, egg, egg, egg, egg" in a monotone and his solo career would still be more successful than anybody else's.
Lauren: She's not wrong is she.
Tshepo: You don't get backed by Simon Cowell money, enlist Jeff Bhasker on production for your first single and spend years establishing yourself in one of Britain's biggest boy bands to flop as a solo act at the end of it. The music machine will not let this fail.
Emma: I am optimistic for the coming weeks in which the video will be released and we get to see Harry screaming "WE GOT TO GET AWAAAAAAY" while dangling from a helicopter over the ocean dressed in Acne Studios' 'Cornish Fishing Village Bae' line.