Like a lot of popular musicians, Harry Styles has always been somewhat inscrutable. Floppy-haired and imminently handsome, the former One Direction member has enjoyed a lot of public love. In terms of teen worship, Styles reigns supreme, courtesy of the boy band that made him famous. But the question always remained: How would the pop star function, free of his One Direction confines? And, more importantly, who among the One Direction members would earn a lasting career? Could Styles measure up to his bandmates Zayn Malik and Niall Horan, both of whom embarked on solo careers last year? On Tuesday, Rolling Stone published an interview with Styles that seemed to address these questions. The answer: Harry Styles has this handled. Not only is he a self-aware 23-year-old with immense respect for his bandmates, but he's also kinda, sorta...a feminist? When prodded about his mostly young, mostly women fan base, Styles bristled.
"Who's to say that young girls who like pop music — short for popular, right? — have worse musical taste than a 30-year-old hipster guy? That's not up to you to say," Styles told Cameron Crowe, who penned the profile for the magazine. "Young girls like The Beatles. You gonna tell me they're not serious? How can you say young girls don't get it? They're our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going."
Styles doesn't have to display this kind of respect for his fan base. When stars make the move from teen icon to adult artist, they often make the mistake of burning down the house that made them famous. Miley Cyrus told Ronan Farrow in 2015, "I don’t love kids... they're so fucking mean" in reference to her legions of younger fans accrued via her Disney Channel show. To reject your seemingly "idiotic" fanbase is a quick way to find a new, more mature audience. Styles is in the middle of such a transition — he's swapping out his youthful croon for an older, more folk-rock sound. (The two new songs he debuted on Saturday Night Live ring of James Taylor and Brit rock influence.) But he has no disdain for the teen mobs that adore him. Instead, he seems aware of that the condescension directed at his fan base is likely more than a little gendered.
This attitude is also miles away from that of his former bandmate Zayn Malik. As Crowe himself points out, Malik said of One Direction's music: "[One D is] not music that I would listen to. If I was sat at a dinner date with a girl, I would play some cool shit, you know what I mean? I want to make music that I think is cool shit. I don't think that's too much to ask for."
Malik's statement isn't inherently problematic. It's okay to want to make music that you love. (Styles himself extended his friend this generosity in the interview. "If you're not enjoying something and need to do something else, you absolutely should do that," Styles said.) But by rejecting his music, Malik rejected the people who enjoy One Direction. He might as well have jeered, "You think that shit is cool? Well, it's not. It's dumb." Add to that the fact that One Direction fans are predominantly women, and the statement lands with a resounding oof.
This all seems to prove our theory that Harry Styles is here to stay. If we're handing out superlatives to the One Direction crew, the 23-year-old is Most Likely to Succeed For Years and Years to Come. (Also probably Best Dressed. No offense, Zayn.)