Harry Styles’ New Single ‘Sign Of The Times’ Is A Ballsy And Calculated Chess Move
So what exactly is the Harry Styles masterplan?
On Friday, One Direction alumnus Harry Styles dropped his first solo single, ‘Sign Of The Times’. It was always going to be a massive moment: the suavely-dressed, slick-maned heartthrob of the world’s biggest pop group finally striking out on his own. But it was the way he did it that caught many by surprise.
He eschewed the fist-pumping EDM or minimal pop of his One Direction peers for something completely different: a patchwork of classic British influences that feels more 1987 than 2017. Fans were momentarily stunned by the track – which nearly reaches six minutes in length – and then quickly jumped back on board the Styles train.
‘Sign Of The Times’ is – to put it mildly – a freaking huge song. The chorus has the grandeur of Bowie’s ‘Life On Mars’, the instrumentation uses George Harrison’s guitar slides, the piano gives nods to Elton John and The Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’. His vocal meanwhile, blends the full-throated emotion of Mercury with the best of Chris Martin’s a cappella – with some George Michael posturing thrown in for good measure. As a pastiche of the last 50 years of British rock, it’s astonishing.
It’s also a ballsy and heavily calculated chess move.
Styles could have easily have cranked out an EDM feature and soared to the top of charts, but instead he’s playing the long game – and his long game is ringing in a new and poppier era of Britpop.
Britpop – one of the defining genres of the ’90s – was born when US rock collided with late ’80s British shoegaze, and spawned acts like Oasis, Blue, Supergrass and The Verve. It quickly evolved into the cultural period of ‘Cool Britannia’, when suddenly everyone was slapping a Union Jack on everything and over-articulating their accents. They both faded from view around the turn of the millennium, and there hasn’t been an artist since that has captured that essential ‘Britishness’ that Britpop (obviously) championed and required.
Until now. Styles is boldly presenting himself this generation’s Mick Jagger, or family-friendly Gallagher brother. Freed from the shackles of One Direction, he now has a clear shot at making this happen.
The purpose of ‘Sign Of The Times’ is clear: to elevate Styles to the league of great British male artists, and carve out his place among them.