Styles walks a “Fine Line” between sadness & hope in new album

Singer explores the highs and lows of heartbreak across 12 songs

Harry Styles.
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Last month, Harry Styles released his second solo album, Fine Line. This comes three years after One Direction (comprised of Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne, and, formerly, Zayn Malik) announced what was supposed to be a mere 18-month hiatus, which is now indefinite.

In a 2010 video diary from One Direction’s time on the music competition show, The X Factor, Louis Tomlinson dubbed Harry Styles “the flirt” of the group. The nickname was a joke more than anything else, but Styles’ reputation as a womanizer only continued to bloom from there, despite his attempts to deny it.

Since the band’s split, Styles has shed the media’s preconceptions and defined himself as both an influential artist and person.

Today, his success has far surpassed that of his former bandmates, who have all forged new careers as solo artists.

While some One Direction members have struggled to reach the top charts with their solo albums, Harry Styles’ most recent album, Fine Line, topped the Billboard 200 chart for two successive weeks after its release—a week longer than his self-named debut. While Niall Horan’s Flicker also made No. 1 in 2017, Zayn Malik’s latest album only reached No. 61, and Liam Payne’s LP1 hit a mere No. 111. Louis Tomlinson’s debut album is set to release later this month.

As a band of young, attractive, and talented boys with good hair and chemistry, success came easy for One Direction in the early 2010s. With such a dedicated and prominent fanbase, it would seem natural that all of the former bandmates would also succeed as solo artists. So why has Harry Styles overshadowed the rest of One Direction?

In a lot of ways, the answer lies in Styles’ new, vulnerable album.

Fine Line distinguishes itself from the more poppy, generic One Direction music that Styles found fame from. This solo album allowed Styles to contribute to the writing of all his songs, as opposed to just a handful that would eventually be shared with and sung by his One Direction bandmates. He’s been able to break out of the cookie-cutter sound of One Direction and experiment more in his music—and it’s working well for him.

Styles has described this album as his most honest, and it shows through his lyrics. Styles’ heartbreak and sadness shine through in a testament to his recent breakup with ex-girlfriend Camille Rowe.

The album starts off with the song “Golden,” in which Styles expresses his fears about his relationship, singing, “I know that you’re scared / Because hearts get broken” and “I don’t wanna be alone,” foreshadowing the rest of the album. A few tracks later, “Cherry” starts off with the lines, “Don’t you call him baby […] Don’t you call him what you used to call me,” as the couple has broken up, and Styles’ ex has presumably moved on. This song tugs on the heartstrings, even featuring a voicemail clip of Styles’ ex-girlfriend, Rowe, speaking in French at the end of the song in a nostalgic look back at their relationship.

“Falling” is by far the most emotionally vulnerable song of the album. Styles blames both “drink and [his] wandering hands” for ruining his relationship and asks himself, “What am I now? / What if I’m someone I don’t want around?” As he repeatedly sings that he’s “falling again,” the ballad is both heartbreaking and honest. Styles is struggling to find his true self.

In contrast to the more heartbreaking songs on the album, “Canyon Moon” feels slightly out-of-place, more poppy, and not as powerful as the rest of the album as he reminisces about happier times.

The titular song “Fine Line” concludes the album, simultaneously sad and hopeful for the future as Styles sings, “We’ll be a fine line […] We’ll be alright.”

The album is primarily pop-rock, but also delves into the psychedelic: the opening of “She” is, in my personal opinion (though my dad laughs when I say this), Pink Floyd-esque. It seems influenced by classic rock, making it a far cry from his One Direction work.

Fine Line captures the ups and downs of relationships and life. Styles doesn’t focus solely on the heart-crushing pain of his break-up, but also discusses nostalgic memories and the hope that, in the end, things will be okay. If you listen carefully enough, and play the songs chronologically, the highs and lows shine through, not only in Styles’ words, but also in the alternating slow and upbeat tracks.

This authenticity was lacking in his debut album, Harry Styles, and it’s a big reason for Fine Line’s greater success. But Styles’ music isn’t the only thing attracting success—it’s also his carefree, unapologetic way of life.

In a tearful interview from the 2012 documentary, One Direction: A Year in the Making, Styles said he wished he didn’t care about what others thought of him. More recently, he’s become more open about being himself. Styles can often be seen wearing bright patterned suits, painted nails, earrings, and similar bold fashion. Despite criticism from his former bandmate Liam Payne, Styles pulls off the looks confidently.

Styles is also a notable ally to the LGBTQ+ community, often waving rainbow flags at concerts, and even helped a fan come out to her mother in 2018. In another song from Fine Line, titled “Treat People With Kindness,” he urges people to be kind in a world that is often anything but.

Styles sends a message loud and clear to his fans, telling them to be themselves. In One Direction, Styles was labelled as a “womanizer,” but he’s since broken free of that and defined himself as an icon that won’t be easily forgotten. Styles uses his platform to spread positivity and authenticity, and that resonates strongly with fans, fashioning him into a role model for more than just the prepubescent Directioners who first supported him.

Since One Direction’s breakup, Styles has hosted SNL and The Late Late Show, performed live with Stevie Nicks and at the Rock Hall of Fame, released two No. 1 albums, and even appeared in the movie Dunkirk.

Regardless of whether or not One Direction gets back together (though my inner eighth-grader sure hopes they do), it’s safe to say that Harry Styles won’t go down in history as just the flirt of One Direction.

Instead, he’ll be remembered as a successful artist who managed to get out from under the preconceptions of the boy band he originated from.

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