Our Harry Styles ennui says more about us than it does about him

Our Harry Styles-ennui says more about us than it does about him | Soho House

If the ‘Harry’s House’ singer wants to win back hearts and minds in the wake of ‘Queer Bating-gate’, he might need to consider a speedy metamorphosis

Wednesday 24 August 2022       By Teo van den Broeke       Photograph by Parker Woods

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the depths of a YouTube hole watching Harry Styles’ original audition video for The X Factor. As the cheeky chappy from Redditch, all mad hair and unprepossessing bonhomie, prepared to sing his rendition of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely’, I grudgingly prepared myself to be blown away. This, after all, was his very own origin story, a ready-made time capsule to carry his creative credentials into the future, and I expected it to be boringly good.

What a stinker the video turned out to be. Barely in tune and imbued with more than a touch of the Frank Spencers, I was shocked enough by it to fall out of my social media stupor and into my bed, but I also nodded off feeling secretly satisfied that Styles was once, well, a bit rubbish – a mean little part of me sleeping more soundly knowing that the pop superstar wasn’t always God-like at everything he turned his hand to. And now – in the wake of the digital storm currently raging around the artist – it’s a feeling that I’m beginning to think the rest of the world is experiencing too, albeit in a subtly different way.
For those not fully versed, the former One Direction-er has, in the past few days, been decried for a quote he made in an interview with Rolling Stone, in relation to his turn in gay drama My Policeman. ‘So much of gay sex in film is two guys going at it,’ said Styles, ‘and it kind of removes the tenderness from it’.
The general consensus is that Styles, an ostensibly straight man, had no right to speak on behalf of the queer community on the subject of gay sex. Further fuel was added to the fire by media reassertions that the singer has never really been clear about his sexuality (the closest he’s ever come to addressing bisexuality rumours was when he said to a fan during a show, ‘we’re all a little bit gay, aren’t we?’). His gender-fluid approach to the clothes he wears seems to have irritated people too, the suggestion being that he has adopted the traditionally queer tropes of dressing flamboyantly and being sexually ambiguous as tools to progress his career.
‘He’s just happy ‘cause he stole queer culture for his benefits and fame, period’, said one Twitter user. ‘Ah yes, here we have Harry Styles who is most likely a cis straight man giving his unwanted opinion on gay sex what a good day today,’ wrote another. 
Styles’ comment was ill-considered at best; ignorant at worst. As a gay man I feel a bit irritated by it, sure, but I’m happy to let it slide as a clumsy slip of the tongue. Plenty of other celebrities have queer-baited and got away with it scot-free before Styles, after all. There was the time Tom Hardy said, ‘I'm an actor, of course I’ve had gay sex’, and then, of course, there’s the entirety of James Franco’s career. The truth of the matter, in my opinion, is that this latest furore has less to do with what Styles said, and more to do with the fact that we’re all just getting a bit bored with him. 
It’s no secret that here in the Western world we tire of famous people as quickly as we fall in love with them. In October 2010, Cheryl Cole was on the cover of Vogue, beloved by her public and riding high. By 2014, she’d divorced Ashley Cole and been sacked from The X Factor, derided and disabused by the media world that had built her up. If the mood music’s right, Adele’s prime for a fall too, the comments beneath her Elle UK cover (‘Adele seems like she’s turned into a super spoiled brat’) being among the many early death knells.
So, what can Styles do to stop the floodgates of hate opening and, in turn, win back hearts, minds and Twitter accounts? Apologising for his comment probably isn’t going to cut it, so if he’s smart, he’ll take a leaf out of the popstar playbook first written by David Bowie (later edited by Madonna), and completely overhaul his image. 
Because although many pundits have suggested that Styles is basing his career model on that first outlined by Bowie (the former’s 1970s-inspired wardrobe being the most obvious similarity), the truth is that he’s been pedalling the high-fashion Andy Pandy look for a while now. So, if he truly wants to get back in the world’s good books, he needs to do a full Thin White Duke and distract everyone by wearing all-black sex gear from Rick Owens and singing contrapuntal screamo, stat.
Whether Styles has the desire or interest to do what it takes to maintain his superstar status remains to be seen, but while he figures it out, let’s lay off the poor lamb a bit shall we? I’ll stop watching his X Factor audition video with glee and you stop spamming his Twitter account, because ultimately our increasing distaste towards him says more about our diminished attention spans than it does about anything else.

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