Having recently won his first Grammy and delivered an unforgettable performance to go along with it, it’s easy to forget that Harry Styles was once just a contestant on UK talent series The X Factor!
He’s come an incredibly long way since, having gone from unknown teen to boy band heartthrob to being perhaps the most influential male pop artist of the 21st century – all in just over a decade.
Here, DDW takes a look at the evolution of Harry Styles, from his humble beginnings in North West England to having the world’s eyes on him during his incredible performance at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards last weekend.
Where It All Began
Born in 1994 and raised for the majority of his childhood in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire, Harry Styles has always spoken of being a happy child with very supportive parents. It’s no surprise, then, that they were right behind him when he first began to show an interest in music and performing at a young age – he was even given a karaoke machine by his grandfather, which he used to record song covers to share with his family.
Whilst in school, Harry already knew that there was only one career for him, desperate to make it as a musician one day. As a teenager, he teamed up with three friends to form the band White Eskimo in order to perform at the school’s Battle Of The Bands contest. With Harry as the singer, the band came out on top in the contest, giving Harry the confidence boost that he needed in order to take the first step in his pursuit of a career in music – auditioning for the UK’s biggest talent series, The X Factor.
Looking back now, his audition for the programme makes for very strange viewing – even at just 16, Harry Styles already had an impressive voice, having performed an a capella cover of Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely? in the hope of winning over the judging panel.
Surprisingly, not all of the judges were so interested in Harry, with Louis Walsh voting not to send him through to the next round, citing his feelings that Harry might not have the confidence to make it through the later stages of the competition. However, with two out of the three responses to his audition being a ‘yes’, his audition was successful nonetheless.
At the next stage of the competition, however, Harry found himself floundering. Having come off a little less polished during his vocal audition and struggling to keep up during a dance challenge, he was devastated to be told that he would not be advancing any further.
Fortunately, he was in good company. The judges had also decided to let go four other talented contestants within Harry’s age group, quickly feeling that they had missed an opportunity after the rejected contestants began to leave the audition venue. Just as Harry thought it was all over, he was called back to the stage, along with fellow contestants Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson, where they were offered a lifeline – the chance to form a brand new group and continue the competition as a five-piece.
Of course, it was an opportunity that they couldn’t refuse.
The One Direction Years
The group sailed through the remainder of the competition, quickly amassing an adoring fanbase amongst viewers of The X Factor. They were still talented as individuals, of course, but as a group, they came together in perfect harmony. When it came to the final, thousands felt that One Direction were guaranteed the top spot – though this wasn’t how it panned out.
One Direction’s time on The X Factor ended with the group in third place, though they vowed that the end of their journey on the show was just the beginning of their journey as a group, and mentor Simon Cowell was in agreement.
What followed was an astronomic rise for the boys, in which they quickly found themselves becoming the biggest boy band in the world, with a response from millions of fans that hadn’t been seen since the ‘Beatlemania’ of the 1960s. Over the course of the next six years, they went on to record five studio albums, embark on four sell-out tours (two of them worldwide) and sell over 700 million records, making them one of the biggest-selling boy bands of all time.
In 2016, however, after Zayn Malik made the decision to leave the group, it was announced that the group would be taking an indefinite hiatus – with nobody sure when, and if, One Direction would ever return.
Fans around the world were devastated, but each member of the band was determined to branch out and explore their own musical careers as solo artists, just as they had intended to when they auditioned for The X Factor as individuals in 2010.
When Harry began to tease the release of his first solo ventures, the world was watching.
Introducing Harry Styles
Harry’s first solo single, Sign Of The Times, was released in April 2017. A track that uses choral harmonies, soft-rock and glam-rock influences and launches from an emotional introduction into a soaring, powerful chorus, it was an instant hit – the track hit the top spot in both the UK and the US upon its release. It was a promising sign of things to come.
Many were surprised by the retro, Bowie-inspired direction that Harry seemed to be taking, as well as just how perfectly it suited him. When his self-titled debut album was released later that year, it was clear that Harry was carving out a career that was musically worlds away from his work with One Direction, yet tipped for just as much success.
He took the album on the road, embarking on his first solo tour in September 2017. It was clear from the moment that the curtains came up on his first performance that Harry had grown to a point where he no longer needed to be one of a group – he could hold his own as a soloist and would do it in spectacular fashion.
Fashion, in fact, was another ever-changing aspect of Harry’s persona. Gone were the days of skinny jeans, tight tees and loose beanie hats – he was quickly becoming something of a fashion icon. Having started to work a 1970s-inspired wardrobe of statement looks, each one just as cool as they were eclectic, he quickly secured a partnership with Gucci, modelling in several of their campaigns.
Having taken an unofficial break from recording in order to focus on other projects – a critically-acclaimed performance in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and role as executive producer of CBS comedy Happy Together among them – Harry made his return to the charts in mid-2019, as he released the lead supporting single for his second album, Fine Line.
Lights Up borrowed elements of his debut, combining them with the very modern pop sound of his former band, and did so to brilliant effect. Followed quickly by a second supporting single, Adore You and again by summer-ready indie-pop track Watermelon Sugar, the hype for Fine Line was almost out of control by the time of its release in December 2019.
When the album finally dropped, it was clear once again that Harry Styles was a force to be reckoned with, well on his way to becoming a true 21st-century pop icon. In the months following, even the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic (which caused the cancellation of his Fine Line tour) couldn’t slow his rise.
In the year since Fine Line’s release, Harry has gone on to win no shortage of awards and accolades for his work. This streak culminated in his win at the recent 63rd Grammy Awards, where Watermelon Sugar beat tracks by Billie Eillish, Doja Cat and Justin Bieber to pick up the award for Best Pop Solo Performance. His win was marked by a live performance of the song, which certainly set hearts around the world racing!
We may have to wait a while to see what Harry does next, but one thing is for sure: whatever he does, he’ll do it in style and in a way that is uniquely him.