Fame’s Burning Flame
Harry Styles has always been a very sensitive sort - a kind, empathetic soul. Apparently, he was born with this irresistible magnetism and charm. It seems that his life goal has always been to entertain and make people happy. At 16-17 he was, for the most part, an open book, emotionally. He didn’t really have a shell - that self defense most of us develop before our teen years. While emotionally open, he always kept his private business to himself - never really divulging any important facts about himself, his friends, or family (that may be one thing that saved him.) All of these factors helped him to become a huge star - it was his destiny - his life ambition and dream - and it nearly destroyed him.
I was struck by Harry’s choice of words in his album documentary: “It felt like a little secret. It’s fun to feel like no one knows where you are. It made such a difference, from being in a busy city.” (BTA 4:46) “I just, I really enjoy being private more. Starting the way that everything started. I get to kinda claw a little bit of that back. I don’t feel like people know everything about me, now. And there was definitely a time where I felt like people knew everything about me and I realized I didn’t like that.” (BTA 7:43) “I kind of also wanted to let the work do the talking a little bit. I mean, definitely, part of my ego wanted to see if I could write something that people liked without knowing everything about me.” (BTA 8:17) (Special thanks to @cuethetommo for providing these quotes and a sounding board.)
Harry had never been one to complain, but those who know him well could probably tell you the invasion of privacy tortured him. If I’m right in my interpretation of Only Angel (that the angel, the “bad girl” and the singer are all pieces of Harry) crawling across the floor and breaking a finger from knocking fits the “claw a little bit of that back” image. (Only Angel post here) Harry has been fighting a war to keep hold of himself, both internally and externally.
The first time I saw the video of Harry crying on Twit-cam, I was amazed at his inner strength. (He had run out of breath during What Makes You Beautiful and Googled, “Harry shit,” because he was so disappointed in himself.) Crying over internet hate, on a public forum, may not be considered “manly” but hiding is always easier for fragile egos. I believe this was Harry’s first epiphany on the true nature of fame - especially the type of fame he was headed for. In the early days, all his band-mates talked about how sensitive he was. I believe it was Niall who just recently said Harry is the one most likely to cry (then emphasized that real men are not afraid to cry - good for you Niall.) Unlike many sensitive people, Harry did not hide behind a shell, or false front. He had the inner resolve and character to be himself, but the burning heat of fame would force him to hide, soon enough.
The iron closet, along with Swifty for him and Eleanor for Louis was the beginning of the end for open Harry. Harry (and Louis) were told they couldn’t be themselves any more. What they were wasn’t “good enough” to make it in the boy-band business. One Direction was a phenomenal success. The boys were having a great time on stage, but the work load was highly burdensome. Everything they did was under a microscope - the fans on one side, 1DHQ on the other. They were all under enormous stress and pressure. Front-man Harry was very often on duty (either being very dangerously mobbed by fans, or getting papped with his latest “love interest”) when the other boys had a much too short break. All the boys did their best to shield sensitive Harry during interviews, etc, but it was his burden to carry. Too often, the fans only wanted to devour him as if he were a piece of cake. They would happily take, take, take until there was nothing left of him save a hollow, albeit pretty, shell. (No wonder the lads so appreciate fans who only want to nurture and support them.) Thanks to 1DHQ, the Harry they “loved” was little more than a pack of lies. Take a very sensitive, gay, emotionally open, people pleasing, teenage boy. Tell him that who he is isn’t good enough. Hide his true form - wrap him up in a bunch of heterosexual bacon (strongly signaling his female fan base that he wants to have sex with them) and dangle him in front of a huge, starving wolf pack. What you have is a perfect recipe to create a self-loathing, hollow, messy, emotionally stunted, self absorbed, distant, cynical, disillusioned jerk.
Harry began to build a thick shell around his heart and emotions. He compartmentalized his professional life from who he really was inside. I believe he also began to have a battle within himself that remains to this day. Harry loves to entertain - there is no drug capable of replacing the high he gets on stage. In order to be on stage, however, he has to participate in fame and celebrity life - a life that was eating away his very soul. He never really changed. He never gave up his soul and there are several reasons why he was able to survive the ordeal as a pretty well adjusted person:
- Inner strength, resolve, character and a powerful sense of self.
- A loving, nurturing, supportive partner in Louis, his “Sweet Creature.”
- He always kept a healthy sense of humor - ability to poke fun at himself - not taking himself too seriously. (This applies to the other lads too.)
- He always kept his personal life, business, and that of his loved ones, private - even when he was still very open, emotionally.
- Supportive band-mates (brothers really) who understood exactly what he was going though. I well remember Liam saying he would be. “Mr. Harry Styles” for a day to give him a break.
- Niall, Liam, Louis and Harry all remained dedicated to each other. They maintained a strong, unified purpose and identity, even after Zayn left. They were working for the good of their brothers, not only themselves.
- Harry poured much of his angst into his art and songwriting - he had a creative outlet to help him process everything. Harry needs this in particular, because mere words fail him for getting to the very heart of a matter. “Sometimes it’s easier to say something to an instrument.”
Harry has written a number of songs that are specifically about his negative experience with fame. While many of his songs make allusions to fame, I think those listed below are quite pointed:
- Don’t Let Me Go (The demo is so early, his voice hadn’t even fully matured yet.)
- Two Ghosts (More grown up and better written version of Don’t Let Me Go.)
- Stockholm Syndrome (The love interest is fame - love/hate, trapped, etc.)
- Only Angel (Crawling and clawing to get back to himself - to accept himself.)
- Kiwi (I just know the seductress is a metaphor for fame and Simon Cowell.)
- Ever Since New York (Empty, false, facades, etc.)
- Woman (Forced to watch his lover out with the beard - jealousy.)
Of course I miss Harry’s wit on Twitter, his beautiful photography on Instagram - but I very much appreciate why he’s trying to have a much different experience with fame this time around. He’s still in the closet (and he is welcome to stay there as long as he and Louis want or need to.) He’d rather error on the side of revealing too little than too much right now. Many of his music idols have cultivated mystery and it has helped them to maintain healthy ownership of their personal lives. As far as connecting to fans: I’ve never felt a stronger connection to him. 90% of his documentary is Harry as I’ve always seen and known him. Just watching him perform is intimate and captivating - he pours himself out, body and soul. If the first thing I ever knew of Harry Styles was watching him perform Two Ghosts on Corden - I would be hooked. Oh yeah, that connected - hard.
Whatever Harry needs to do, in order to stay true to himself (and avoid becoming a raging, messy, jerk) while he navigates a career in the public eye is okay with me.