My favorite monster of adorableness is baaaaaack
Hi. Yes, we did say we’d be fully out of office this week, and indeed, at this very moment Dame Margaret is being joyfully reunited with her geographic true love, The United Kingdom, but Dame Sophie is ensconced on her couch, still processing her disparate thoughts & feelings about the profile of Harry Styles that Rolling Stone had the temerity to drop on our hearts yesterday. Why does this matter? So glad you asked.
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If you’re not already familiar with Harry Styles, Global Superstar & Mille-Feuille of Dimples…listen. I’m both sorry for and so excited about what you’re going to experience now. Back in 2017, I wrote a Harry Styles Primer For Young Olds and then revisited his mastery as a live performer and what being in communion with one’s friends & fellow fans can do in times of trouble. I’m not going to rehash all of those on-ramps to fandom (though I do obviously recommend you read them).
Because there’s too much to explain, I will sum up. The key things you need to know about Harry, if you are not already down a rabbit hole, are:
He is a member of the long-hiatusing boyband One Direction and now a solo artist with an enormous & enthusiastic fan base
He is extremely famous and seems to not just wear it lightly but to relish it, particularly now that he dictates the terms on which he is extremely famous
Relatedly, he is a ham and gigantic music nerd
He is very pretty. I mean. Look at that face!
So. Why is this profile important? First of all, Rob Sheffield wrote it. Sheffield is Rolling Stone’s in-house poptimist with impeccable classic rock credibility, who can speak to the rockist graybeards in the magazine’s core readership (because demographically, he is one of them) and to readers who actually care about and respect contemporary popular music (because his ear for a sparkling melodic hook and bone-deep romantic lyrical sensibilities make him one of us). He’s been writing about Harry for years and is a respected intergenerational liaison. This is a perfect fit between writer and subject.
And because Sheffield — who is never better than when drawing witty, often moving, connections between the past and the present — wrote it, this profile has everything: doting waitresses at a classic Los Angeles Deli! Dulcimer lessons inspired by Harry’s newfound love of Joni Mitchell! Quoting, at length, the David Bowie pep talk about challenging oneself creatively that I also rewatch regularly to psych myself up! And, of course, sumptuous rock god photos of Harry in couture, in nature. Of course we are screaming. It is the stuff of this fandom’s literal waking fever dreams.
An expert in his field. A field of Queen Anne’s Lace. Conclusion: this is a shout-out to his mother, Anne Twist
It’s also a brilliant piece of celebrity persona development. Harry’s first Rolling Stone profile was written by Cameron Crowe, a former wünderkind rock journalist who grew up to be a filmmaker. Crowe featured some similarly heart clutch-inducingly charming anecdotes in his 2017 piece: Harry’s long-term houseguest stint with Ben Winston’s Orthodox Jewish family in London! His earnest yet guarded examination of his past romantic relationships! His obsession with romantic comedies!
See how they rhyme with each other? We can’t know to what degree that’s intentional, but regardless, it is contributing very substantively to the project of maintaining what Harry established about himself in the run-up to releasing his self-titled debut in 2017. This profile builds on the image elements that still work for him — teen girls are really savvy cultural critics, actually! increased vulnerability and emotional openness are core aspects of his definition of masculinity! — and laying the groundwork for the broader public to understand aspects of his public persona that suit him two years on, including, perhaps, more substantive engagement with race, gender, and sexuality.
It’s a fascinating exercise to read these pieces alongside Laura Snapes’ masterful profile of Taylor Swift, just out this week. Like her ex-boyfriend, Taylor is in a particularly reflective mood here, and it’s worth noting the similarities and differences between these wildly popular artists as they enter the next phases of their respective careers. I’m inclined to agree with Allyson Gross’ assessment: “that we want different things out of a profile on Harry than we do on Taylor is not alone the result of how they perform themselves, but also how we receive and relate to them; it is as much about the degree of scrutiny we subject them to as it is the amount they are willing to sit down for us, if a friend or stranger is speaking with them.”
I continue to want everything for Harry Styles as a person and as an artist, and I also want for him to be subjected to a more skeptical writer’s gaze the next time he sits for a major interview. He’s dazzling, and I’d love to know how that looks to someone impervious to being dazzled.
On the other hand, I also want whoever profiles him next to be able to elicit something like this, a pull quote that will launch 1000 Etsy items (which, to be clear, I absolutely will acquire):
Still watching lots of romcoms, I see ( for reference, if needed)
Although I would like to enforce a strict moratorium on “wow, Harry likes classic rock! How unexpected & authentic!!” commentary in all future profiles, I sure did write this while listening to my darling friend & fellow newsletterer Amy’s playlist of all the music referenced in Sheffield’s piece. Enjoy.