I saw Harry Styles in concert 3 times. Here's the deal.
In my defense, I initially only intended on seeing Harry Styles in concert once. Over a year ago, my friend Claire and I bought tickets to his show at Madison Square Garden. Both only an hour-and-change away from New York by plane, getting there seemed pretty doable and inexpensive. Plus, MSG is an iconic venue, one that artists chart success by. Selling out the Garden is a clear-cut sign that you're definitively on the way to rockstar status, and it seemed pretty likely that Harry would do just that. For the record, he did. Two nights in a row.
Now, a few moments before I bought a ticket for the show in New York, I also bought tickets to his show in D.C., which would occur only three days later. Once Claire and I decided on seeing him at MSG, I figured I would sell the D.C. tickets and make a little bit of a profit. I really was going to make good on that promise, but when I got those tickets in the mail, I didn't have the heart to sell them. They were crappy nosebleeds, but once I had them in my hands I didn't want to put them back in their envelope and send them off to someone else, even if I could make twenty bucks or so. So instead I made peace with the fact that I, as a grown woman, was now seeing Harry Styles in concert twice. For the better part of a year, I really was set on just seeing the show twice. Just twice. I don't know why that makes it better, but somehow two concerts--in two different cities--still feels firmly on the sane side of being a fan, while three maybe tips you over the edge into crazed territory.
But then I saw the show that first night at MSG, and it was worth over one year's anticipation. I wasn't ready for the magic to be over. Neither was Claire. So while we were aimlessly meandering the streets of Manhattan, we bought tickets to his second sold-out show. What?! We didn't have any other plans! And honestly, I think night two exceeded night one. Thank you, Jean, the random woman on Stubhub who resold her tickets for a fantastic price: I couldn't be a crazy fangirl without you. So let's discuss.
Harry Styles is objectively a rockstar. You'd be naive to say he wasn't born to be on a stage. His parents on some level must've known, too, when they chose to name him. His birth name is Harry Styles. Not Harold; just Harry. I mean, c'mon: That's the type of name you hire a team to dream up. The right mix of luxury and comfort, and the perfect length to fit on a T-shirt.
His whole schtick is both formulaic and a total departure from the existing mold. He's got a hand in every part of his tour's production, from the music that plays between acts to the phrases on his merchandise. And with every decision he leaves his signature mark. He sells shirts that are sunshine yellow and read "Treat People With Kindness." His opening act is disco cowgirl Kacey Musgraves. Before he takes the stage the venue's speakers play all 13 minutes and 32 seconds of Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." All of these facts are bewildering, enchanting, and are just so very Harry. He's a collection of nonsensical factoids dressed in Gucci bellbottoms that couldn't have even been created in the Mattel factory, where they specialize in creating every little girl's dream man.
To be in attendance at a Harry Styles show feels like you're in on a secret. You and 20,000 other people. The curtain encompassing the stage falls and fanatical screams engulf the room as every member of the audience catches their first glimpse of him. And you can joke all you want about his clothes or his boyband past, but if you're in the arena as he's blowing initial kisses and shuffling around the stage, you're locked in. Harry somehow manages to make it seem like every single member of the audience has recently given him a ride to the airport, and he is hell-bent to let you know how appreciative he is. He's also hell-bent to let you know that even though the world is currently in the worst shape it has been in a while, for the next two hours or so the only things that matter are rainbow flags and rock-n-roll renditions of One Direction classics.
I think the reason why his solo endeavors feel so genuine and freeing is because he doesn't shy away from his past. He's not here to erase your memories of 1D; if anything he wants to embrace them. When introducing "What Makes You Beautiful" on night two of Madison Square Garden, he said "This is a song that means an awful lot to me." He knows that, frankly, a lot of us would've blindly followed the band's all-but-confirmed frontman down whatever path he made for his solo endeavors, but he instead took the time to create an album he was proud of and wants to show off. Watching his solo concert you can't help but think to yourself, "Oh...this is what he should've been doing this whole time." Wearing the clothes he wants to wear, singing the songs he wants to sing, doing whatever bizarre dance moves he deems appropriate. The One Direction years were the training wheels, and this is the X-Games.
Each time I watched the show (and, I'll remind you: That's three times) I spent the same amount of time cheering and rolling my eyes. Smiling and furrowing my brow. I know I sound like I'm gushing, and that's because I am. Because here's the thing I really want to drive home: Harry Styles is clearly incredibly kind and compassionate he's also a cocky little asshole. He wouldn't be a rockstar if he wasn't. When he smirks thousands of girls scream, so he smirks a lot. When he comes back to the stage for his encore, he ascends a backlit staircase as if he is literally paying us a visit from heaven. He pokes fun at the fans in the front row and spits water on them and he manages to make every ticket holder feel utterly lovesick. At one point during the D.C. show he murmured into his microphone with an arrogant British attitude "You know what to do," and I could only stand there, in the back row, slack-jawed. Because I did know what to do. He wanted us all to take over for him and scream the lyrics "She's a good girl/She feels so good." And God help us, we did.
For more cohesive thoughts on Harry's show at Madison Square Garden, I highly recommend reading Rob Sheffield's review in Rolling Stone. For me, I'll leave it at this: There's a reason Taylor Swift more or less wrote an entire album about him, and I lived to see him in person thrice. Can't wait to do it again.