Every Single Harry Styles Song, Ranked
There are some rocks hidden among those diamonds.
We were always going to reach this point.
Harry Styles was always One Direction’s shining light, and while it took him a moment to reach his potential, he’s finally flying. The success of current single ‘As It Was’ and the way the world stopped for his Coachella set this year proves that he’s finally scaled the top of the pop pyramid.
But the singer hasn’t been without his stumbles. His self-titled debut failed to create the frisson of fellow boy band alumni like Justin Timberlake or Robbie Williams, until his 2020 single ‘Golden‘ corrected the path. His gleaming second record, Fine Line, saw him find his footing as one of the most entertaining and engaging popstars around right now. An artist with a flair for everything that orbits pop music from fashion to braggadocious performances.
His third album, Harry’s House, arrives at a point when all eyes are on Styles. Those who worship him are here for the complete Harry Styles package — they want to rinse the music, dissect the videos, and predict the next fashion moves. He has a gravitational pull like no other which will no doubt strengthen with Harry’s House — arguably his most anticipated album yet.
To celebrate its imminent release, let’s take a trip through all of his solo moments to date.
#24. ‘Only Angel’
‘Only Angel’ begins amid a moment of levitation. It’s ethereal and otherworldly, reaching one of the peaks of Styles’ debut album. And then, clunk. It descends into a braggadocious rock song that takes more than a few cues from The Rolling Stones’ playbook. Comparisons are regularly made between Styles and Mick Jagger, but usually limited to their sense of style and charisma. ‘Only Angel’ proves why that’s a good thing.
#23. ‘Meet Me In The Hallway’
‘Meet Me In The Hallway’ is an unexpected entrance. The meandering opener to his debut album is haunting and elongated but ultimately never reaches its final destination. It’s a track-in-waiting, and that’s perhaps the point. An album opener that pitches the ball without ever hitting it.
#22. ‘Girl Crush’
Styles’ only streamable cover is a take on Little Big Town’s ‘Girl Crush’. Shania Twain’s appearance at his recent Coachella set and his covers with Kacey Musgraves showcase Styles’ unexpected country prowess. His textured, warm voice lends itself well to narrative-led songwriting, which could be why ‘Girl Crush’ suits him so effortlessly.
#21. ‘From The Dining Table’
If ‘Meet Me In The Hallway’ pitches the debut album into the air then ‘From The Dining Table’ brings it right back down. It is perhaps Styles’ loneliest song — a dark moment of isolation that’s downright depressing. “Even the phone misses your call, by the way,” is proof of Styles’ ability to deliver a line that verges on corny with earnest conviction.
‘She’ is one of Fine Line’s longest songs and it certainly feels like it. It plods along with a verse that takes over a minute to lead us to the chorus. Once we’re there, Styles entertains a lightly-psychedelic space that shoots for The Beach Boys but lands closer to Kings Of Leon. It takes on a much brighter life when performed live, but on the album, it’s the only true skip.
Styles’ charisma is so magnetic that he can make most songs sound like a riot even though they’d risk boredom at the hands of anyone else. ‘Carolina’ is just that. It’s a sweaty tale about a ‘good girl’ with hints of McCartney and Bowie that’s nothing more than fine.
#18. ‘Treat People With Kindness’
There’s no way to sugarcoat this — ‘Treat People With Kindness’ is annoying. The choir’s chorus is so cheery and jarring that it regularly rubs people the wrong way. And yet, catch this on a good day and it’s somehow delightful. Its blind positivity is completely naive but sometimes it’s nice to lean into it and believe that maybe we could find a place to feel good.
#17. ‘Sunflower, Vol. 6’
Fine Line came just before the pandemic and became a beacon of warmth and familiarity in its throes. Sonically, it’s not a particularly ambitious album, but its appeal is universal; giving it a sense of reliability that made repeat plays easy. ‘Sunflower, Vol. 6’ is the comfiest song of the record. The lyric “kiss in the kitchen like it’s a dance floor,” took on a new life in 2020 as we all took to our homes, soundtracking our isolation with Styles’ tales of escapism.
Styles is a student of British rock ‘n’ roll. Too often, he falls into the space of The Beatles and Rolling Stones but he sounds best referencing Elton John. He gives one of his best vocal performances over the honky keys of ‘Woman’, as he drips with jealousy. “I hope you can see, the shape I’ve been in /While he’s touching your skin,” he sings as if he’s living one of the romantic comedies he references in the song’s spoken intro.
#15. ‘To Be So Lonely’
If there’s one criticism you can lodge at Styles’ lyrics it’s that sometimes he detours into the vague. This is why ‘To Be So Lonely’ piques your attention immediately. Hearing Styles call himself an “arrogant son of a bitch,” is a cool glass of water. The guitars of ‘To Be So Lonely’ say holiday while the lyrics sink into crushing loneliness. It’s a rewarding juxtaposition.
#14. ‘Two Ghosts’
Lyrically, Styles possesses some stunning maturity when it comes to recounting past relationships. He’s rarely spiteful or bitter, rather choosing a balanced perspective. ‘Two Ghosts’ is one excellent example as he depicts a love that’s gone limp. “The fridge light washes this room white/Moon dances over your good side/And this was all we used to need,” he sings with the sort of vivid imagery used by Taylor Swift — the person this song is reportedly about.
Harry Styles spends so much time building tension that it’s a relief when ‘Kiwi’ finally arrives. He chases his rockstar moment on the record a few times but he doesn’t get it right until he loses all inhibition and filter. “I’m having your baby, it’s none of your business,” is just so obnoxious that it feels like Styles is parodying Jagger for a movie. And yet, it’s become one of the sterling highlights of his live shows; a moment for him to truly demonstrate his showmanship.
#12. ‘Fine Line’
‘Fine Line’ masterfully pieces together the transitioning emotions of the album. From heartache to optimism, ‘Fine Line’ traces the steps towards renewal and it reaches that point with glorious results. Styles’ harmonies borrow from the Bon Iver playbook while the instrumental swells in the background. The climax is one of the album’s greatest pay-offs, bringing it home in a flurry of horns and rollicking percussion.
#11. ‘Sweet Creature’
The songwriting influence of Paul McCartney is palpable throughout much of Styles’ music, but never more so than on ‘Sweet Creature’. The song waltzes like The Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’, navigating the perils of young love. Ultimately, it finds comfort in the chaos of it all. “You bring me home,” Styles sings, radiating warmth even if he knows it’s only temporary.
#10. ‘Adore You’
‘Adore You’ felt immediately like an intentional swipe at the mainstream charts. The humid pop song sounded like a hit from the first play and that’s exactly what it became. It proved that Styles could compete in the current pop spectrum while also peppering it with his own alternative tinges. It also helps that the hook, “just let me adore you,” is exactly what every Styles admirer wants to hear.
#9. ‘Ever Since New York’
Styles’ debut wanted to let us in but rarely peeled back the curtain. That’s why ‘Ever Since New York’ smacks you so hard. It’s so unexpectedly intimate that it showcases Styles’ potency as a lyricist when he allows it all to flow out. It’s a tale of hopelessness, reportedly written about news he received about a family member while in NYC. You can feel the loneliness and despair in his desperate vocal performance as he sings, “tell me something I don’t already know”. It’s an emotional sucker punch from start to finish.
Speaking of emotional sucker punches, ‘Falling’ is one of Styles’ most gripping ballads. So often in his music, he is unpacking his identity when he’s dealing with the fallout of a relationship. ‘Falling’ is a poignant capture of that identity crisis. “What am I now?,” he sings as if he’s haunted by the voice rattling around his head.
#7. ‘Canyon Moon’
When Styles is having fun, it’s almost impossible not to be buoyed by his joy. That’s the feeling that ‘Canyon Moon’ exuberates. It’s the sunniest song of his collection — a perky singalong that errs on the side of mawkish without ever quite crossing over. Dripping with nostalgia and promise, it’s about the prospect of going home, anticipating it with giddy anticipation. It’s Stevie Nicks’ favourite song on Fine Line and it’s not hard to see why.
Anyone who critiqued Styles for not revealing enough of themselves would’ve spat out their drink when they heard a voice recording of his ex at the end of ‘Cherry’. Here, he deals with the heartache in real-time as he sings, “I noticed there’s a piece of you in how I dress.” The loss of communication is grappled with throughout as he pieces together fragmented memories amid a percussive storm.
#5. ‘Sign Of The Times’
‘Sign Of The Times’ is a bold lead single. Landing somewhere between a Bond Theme song and a Queen anthem, it’s Styles embracing maximalism, using six minutes to elongate and expand.
Told from the perspective of a mother losing her life during childbirth, it’s both heavenly and depressing as she tries to make sense of life while comforting those she’s leaving behind. Despite the darkness, the optimism shines through as the song continues to elevate higher. Styles’ voice opens up more and more and the instrumental moves with it until we get to his final plea, “We’ve gotta get away.” The path from boy band heartthrob to serious solo star is well documented in pop music, but ‘Sign Of The Times’ is a dismissive left turn.
#4. ‘Watermelon Sugar’
‘Watermelon Sugar’ became the sound of a stolen summer. Hitting its chart peak in the middle of the Summer of 2020 in the Northern Hemisphere, it was a necessary escapist anthem. A fantasy of horny vocals and exuberant horns, it’s a kaleidoscopic burst of colour.
It may be a euphemism for oral sex but beyond that, it’s an expression of anything that feels good which encapsulates what Styles does best. He’s a joyous performer who is equal parts cheeky and serious and ‘Watermelon Sugar’ was what he needed in his arsenal to truly shine on stage. The song’s charisma is so present that there’s only a handful of artists who wouldn’t be swallowed by it. At this point, it’s Styles’ definitive song.
‘Golden’ is about renewal. It begins in a place of heartache and eventually one of acceptance and new love as sunlight floods in. A shimmering moment of positivity, it feels like the first warm day after a bout of winter.
In true Styles fashion, he attempts to shun the sunlight, appearing deadpan in the verse as he sings, “I’m hopeless, broken.” The sun eventually wins out, however, with the song leaping in a haze of psychedelic production. It’s the perfect way to open an album that essentially captures all that summertime has to offer from new love to the exploration of escapism.
#2. ‘As It Was’
Styles has admitted in the past that he’s more comfortable around people than alone. So, what happens when the world shuts down and you’re whipped off tour and left in solitude with your thoughts? ‘As It Was’ is the frantic, anxious exploration of that time. It’s the most upended Styles has ever sounded as he deals with the displacement in a flurry of fragmented thoughts.
He’s simultaneously shutting people out and begging for them to get in touch before his thoughts culminate in a confused spilling of emotion. “Go home, get ahead, light speed internet…leave America, two kids follow her,” he sings, as the song races alongside him. The discomfort makes Styles sound more alive than he ever has. If ‘Golden’ had him running, then ‘As It Was’ is him in full flight.
#1. ‘Lights Up’
There’s no denying Styles is a sex symbol. It’s part of his brand and it’s one that he embraces and plays with in mysterious ways. When he released his debut album, however, it was missing that horny swagger that he brings to his stage show. Then ‘Lights Up’ came. The psychedelic, sweaty lead single from Golden is the result of Styles exploring mushrooms with friends on hot California nights. It takes him outside of his head, finding an undefined spirituality as a choir sings with him, “step into the light.”
“Be so sweet if things just stayed the same,” he sings in ecstasy but in true Styles fashion, he can’t help himself from getting in his head. “Do you know who you are?” he questions, a line that fans have attributed to his rumoured bisexuality. Whether he works it out through the course of the song or not is beside the point though. He’s embracing the moment for what it is. A confusing and pleasurable high soundtracked by a wash of voice and horns.
It’s the moment that Styles finally stepped into his potential.
Sam Murphy is a music writer and Co-Editor of The Interns. He also co-hosts the podcast Flopstars. Follow him on Twitter.