Rolling Stone

On a Friday night in New York, Harry Styles put on a show.


It wasn’t just any show; it was the first time he performed his third and soon-to-be-biggest album, Harry’s House, in its entirety. The crowd that May night covered Long Island’s UBS Arena in feathers and glitter and tears — a ritualisti­c skin shedding of sorts whenever Styles comes to town.

Fans noticed something different about the encore: Styles didn’t end with his usual closer, “Kiwi”; instead, he opted to finish the night with a second performanc­e of his new single “As It Was,” his dance-through-the-tears pandemic reflection on isolation and change. When he played it, the crowd exploded in a way even Styles had never experience­d. It left him a bit shaken.

“We came offstage, and I went into my dressing room and just wanted to sit by myself for a minute,” he tells me, two months later. “After One Direction, I didn’t expect to ever experience anything new. I kind of felt like, ‘All right, I’ve seen how crazy it can get.’ And I think there was something about it where I was . . . not terrified, but I just needed a minute. Because I

Staff writer Brittany Spanos wrote the Adele cover story in December. wasn’t sure what it was. Just that the energy felt insane.”

At 28, Styles has unlocked a new level of stardom for himself. Years ago, he regularly filled stadiums as a member of One Direction, his former boy band. This spring and summer, he’s playing them on his own. “As It Was” has become his hugest song yet, setting streaming records and topping the charts in more than two dozen countries, including 10 weeks straight in the U.S. Because he’s a star with a largely young, female fan base, many have refused to engage with him as much more than a pretty teen idol. (I don’t need to lay out decades of music history to show how wrong of a take that is.) But he can feel the tides change in curious ways. “‘As It Was’ is definitely the highest volume of men that I would get stopping me to say something about it,” he notes. “That feels like a weird comment because it’s not like men was the goal. It’s just something I noticed.”

Before his headlining set at Coachella in April, I caught Harry backstage, surrounded by James Corden, Styles’ onstage guest Shania Twain, and his girlfriend, Olivia Wilde. Later, I took in sold-out shows in New York and at London’s Wembley Stadium. The immense love showering Styles was impossible to ignore — you see it in the faces of every fan, whether they’ve been supporting him for “one year, two years, five years, 12 years,” as he says in nearly every end-of-show thank-you speech. Along the way I heard him everywhere, even when I wasn’t trying. “As It Was” played in every cab. “Watermelon Sugar” soundtrack­ed breakfast. “Golden” lurked quietly at a London drugstore. “Late Night Talking” blasted at a Brooklyn bar, leading one man to proclaim, “I like Harry Styles. I can admit it,” like it was a radical act of self-acceptance.

And while he may be everywhere in 2022, Styles is, at the moment, literally right in front of me, sitting in an armchair of a hotel business suite in Hamburg, Germany, on a sweaty June afternoon. After a dip in the Irish Sea this morning, he flew into town and is now enjoying a day off in the middle of his first European tour since 2018.

In person, Styles looks more like your best friend’s cute, sporty older brother than the gender-bending style icon he’s become. He’s left the boas and sequin jumpsuits in the dressing room, opting instead for a blue Adidas track jacket, gym shorts, and Gucci sneakers. His hair, often described as “tousled,” like he’s a renegade prince in a romance novel, is clipped back with a hair claw, a signature day-off accessory.

Styles is a kind of millennial anomaly: He plugs his phone in across the room, never once sneaking a glance for a rogue notificati­on. He maintains eye contact as his thoughts unfurl in his often slow, British drawl. He’s a bit more Zen, even stoic, than he once was; that goofy, class-clown energy he exuded when the world first fell in love with him in One Direction 12 years ago has naturally diminished. But he’s still as affable and charming as ever, rememberin­g details from small talk we had in all the other cities where I had been (profession­ally) stalking him, and proving earnestly curious about how I was going to spend my time in Hamburg and how magazine deadlines work. (Back in New York, after surprising fans at a Spotify event for his new album, he asked me my thoughts on David Crosby’s most recent album, which he loved.)

“My great uncle lives here,” Styles says of Hamburg. “He married a German lady, so I have a German cousin. They always used to come and visit when I was a kid, and the only word in English [the cousin] knew was ‘lemonade.’ I didn’t know if she actually wanted lemonade or was trying to say ‘Give me some water please!’ ”

Of course it wasn’t meant to take him this long to get back to places like Hamburg, where he’ll play for more than 50,000 fans tomorrow night at Volksparks­tadion, a local football stadium. Love on Tour, the name for his current trek, was supposed to launch in the spring of 2020, a few months after Styles released his second album, Fine Line. We all know what happened next.

Styles didn’t get to play live again until last fall, but something funny happened in the interim. While we were bound to our homes, Styles experience­d his first Number One hit in Fine Line’s “Watermelon Sugar,” a tune so

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