Harry Styles appeared to have lost control over the top end of his vocal range Wednesday at the Greek Theatre, where this 23-year-old heartthrob from the boy band One Direction played the second date of his first tour as a solo act.
Had he gotten sick since launching the tour the night before in San Francisco? Perhaps he’d overdone it at the after-party.
Whatever the case, the slight impairment of Styles’ voice was no big deal: Screaming from the instant his pompadoured silhouette flickered across a pink curtain, the members of the singer’s very young audience provided all the high notes anyone could need.
And besides, music was hardly the thing that mattered in a concert that was all about glimpsing a dreamboat in real life.
To unpack what happened: The Times sent its resident 1D-ologists — pop music critic Mikael Wood and film writer Amy Kaufman — to the Greek on a joint assignment. Here are some of their many thoughts.
Mikael Wood: At 39, I was definitely one of the oldest people in the house, which meant I almost got a senior-citizen discount at the concession stand. But my advanced age also allowed for some valuable context, and that was having seen One Direction a bunch of times before Harry and the rest of the band split (at least temporarily) last year.
With that in mind, what struck me was how much more musical this show was. Teen-pop stars are routinely underestimated as musicians — and their fans as listeners — and 1D always had fun with those low expectations; its happily chaotic gigs were meant to provoke people who think five guys in a band should do more onstage than just wander around and crack jokes.
Here, though, Harry was really buckling down. He played guitar reasonably well and sang complicated vocal harmonies with his four-piece band (even if he sometimes had to take the low part). And, as on his self-titled debut, the sound was rich with serious dad-rock echoes: David Bowie in “Sign of the Times,” Stealers Wheel in “Carolina,” Thin Lizzy in a reimagined take on 1D’s “Stockholm Syndrome.”
This dude even did Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” during his encore.
I’m a dad, so obviously I didn’t mind hearing this stuff. But I kind of missed the madcap intensity of those old 1D shows, back when Harry and his mates seemed not at all concerned with demonstrating their taste or maturity.
What’d you think, Amy? Was the grown-up Harry we saw skilled but too sedate?
Amy Kaufman: First of all, I agree with you: I felt old. The friend I went to the show with was your age, and I’m 31. In an effort to fit in, I immediately purchased one of those $35 “Harry” baseball caps upon entering the venue. It is now one of my most treasured pieces of concert merchandise.
All the girls around us seemed to be between the ages of 15 and 20, and one young lady a few seats over spent the entirety of the concert in full-blown sobs. It was vaguely distracting, but it also reminded me of how intensely I felt for the boy band heroes of my youth, like Hanson and ’N Sync. Every little thing they said during a concert always felt like it was directed just to me.
On that note, I was surprised that Harry didn’t utter a word to the crowd until after the third song. Then, when he did, he really played up the flirty thing: “I am falling in love with you,” “You are the best friends any person could ask for,” “I’m pretty into you right now.” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at some of his obvious ploys for shrieks, but the audience seemed to fall for it.
His voice sounded amazing to me. In my opinion, he and Zayn Malik were always the most skilled vocalists in 1D, and Harry really proved that Wednesday night. But I’ll admit that I found the vibe surprisingly low-energy.
Remember after he performed “Stockholm Syndrome” — just his fourth song — and told the crowd he wished he’d saved it for later because it left him “knackered”? Maybe this was more of his charm offensive, but I was shocked. All he did was jump slightly around the stage; I didn't even see him break a sweat, and there were certainly no legitimate dance routines.
You’re 23 years old, Harry. Should we be worried about your health?
Wood: I was worried for a second when he halted “Kiwi,” which is the hardest-rocking track on “Harry Styles” — kind of a wimpy version of Jet’s wimpy version of AC/DC. Were the crunching guitars and galloping tempo too much him? Nah, he was just stopping the song to inform the crowd he needed more enthusiasm to continue.
“I’m about to tell you I’m having your baby,” he said, a delightful transgression from a guy who not so long ago was a picture of squeaky-clean puppy love.
Speaking of those early days: As eager as Harry seems to present himself as a real rocker, I liked that he didn’t disavow the 1D stuff in order to do it. Lots of people in his position would mock their boy-band pasts, but Harry actually reached back to the band’s first single, “What Makes You Beautiful.”
Granted, he and the band had overhauled it so that it sounded like Neil Diamond. But that was a savvy move, and a gracious one; it made clear that Harry doesn’t take his audience for granted.
Kaufman: He definitely does not. If anything, I thought he was almost too effusive in his thanks to his fans. I mean, he told the crowd at least four times that he wouldn’t be onstage if it weren’t for them. It was sweet, but we get it, babe.
Honestly, the whole affair was pretty syrupy, from the “Treat People With Kindness” tees he was selling to the floral suit he was wearing. I’ve always enjoyed his style; he has a more polished Mick Jagger thing going on, and he certainly pulls off a pussy-bow blouse better than Melania Trump. His hair seems to have grown back nicely since he shaved it for “Dunkirk,” though I do miss his long tresses. As my friend put it while staring fondly at him on the big video screen: “Even, like, his skull is hot.”
But I digress. Because even his looks couldn’t distract from the fact that the poor kid has only 10 songs. It did make for a tidy show, though, and it was nice to wrap up the evening by 10:15.
Eww, I really am old.
Wood: About that limited repertoire: I saw Harry play a one-off show at the Troubadour right after his album came out, and I remember thinking that, for all his fluency in this new language, he really wasn’t giving us a clear idea of who Harry Styles is. OK, so he likes the Rolling Stones. And he loves his fans. But what makes him tick? What’s he afraid of? What makes him laugh? He’s such a fuzzier presence than the old-timers he idolizes, and that hadn’t changed at the Greek.
Did you feel like Harry was expressing anything beyond his interest in ancient records?
Kaufman: Ancient? Calm down, Mikael — it’s not like he’s referencing Buddy Holly or something. But point taken: I’m not sure of his “brand,” so to speak, either. Then again, when you think about other young solo male artists of his kind — Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Ed Sheeran, Charlie Puth — do you really think of a distinctive personality? I guess some of them have become known for especially revealing lyrics or bad boy behavior. Somehow, the most interesting thing we know about Harry’s personal life is that he dated Taylor Swift for a hot minute.
I’m not saying he needs to be making tabloid headlines to define his onstage persona, necessarily. I liked feeling that there was still something pure about him. I mean, the raciest thing he did all night was stick his tongue out at some chicks in the front row.
Wood: Maybe it’s that blankness that allows his fans to project their fantasies onto him.
Kaufman: I had the chance to eavesdrop on some conversations. As you might expect, most of them were totally enamored with Harry’s performance, caught in the gooey afterglow of seeing their dream boyfriend up close and personal.
“I think it’s going to dawn on me at school tomorrow, this whole night,” one teen told her friend. “Like, at soccer practice, Coach will ask what’s wrong with me, and you’ll just have to explain that I’m having a mental breakdown because of Harry.”