Gosh, darn it! I should be writing a paper! But this performance has brought out the former singer in me and I wanted to give you some references to what I meant about his vocal technique and stage movement that I talked about in this post. If anyone even cares…I love vocal technique and I love performance altogether and I also love watching people grow in them. There’s always room to learn. PS: I actually like this guy. I want him to succeed. That is mainly why I’m doing this, to show you what I, as a classically trained singer hear in this. I already know I’m going to get so much crap for this if anyone even reads it.
AUTHORS NOTE: I originally wrote this post in April of 2017, a night or two after his performance. Since then, the original SNL video that I originally used for this post has been taken down by the official SNL YouTube channel. I regret to inform you that no duplicate video of that original performance exists. I did not want this post to die or be left worthless. I think it is a very important discussion that is worth having and also because this post has become my baby. I’ve never been more proud of anything that I’ve written. So I have no choice but to provide you with the recordings above.
My times are all off but I think you might be able to watch the videos then read the analysis without paying any mind to the times that I provided.
Please note that this is not a post meant to hate on or harass Harry Styles in any way. This was simply a post meant to inform those who were confused as to why people thought the performance was cringe-worthy or downright bad. It is also my take on the performance as a trained vocalist/performer and possibly to provide a little bit of insight for those who were confused as to why he looked so disappointed in himself at the end of the performance. Although, that is explained in further detail in this post, which delves deeper into the psychological aspects of live performing.
Disclaimer: I am not a professional singer or performer by any means. I am only a woman who trained in singing and stage performance for several years out of pure enjoyment. I still have a deep love for it and adore watching people grow in both.
PS: If anybody has a full-length, no-zoom video of the performance that I could possibly place in this post, that would be greatly appreciated!
*I’ve also added some links to YT videos. Check them out if you wish!*
0:05-0:25 You can probably start from the beginning of the video but around the five-second mark, you can see him in the background, walking down to the mic. He proceeds to back up and shuffle back and forth for a few seconds. Now, I can look past this opening, in fact, I don’t see anything necessarily wrong with it. The camerawork is great, the lighting is great, and he’s obviously nervous. He’s fidgeting. That’s not a bad thing! No way! I would be worried if he wasn’t nervous.
0:23 He’s completely dead-faced. He has absolutely not emotion on his face. Not a glint in his eyes, not a smile. There is literally nothing there. Whether he was trying to go for some sort of serious look or if it was just nerves, I can’t tell.
0:27 We’ll talk about vocal technique later because that’s when it becomes a much bigger issue. All things aside, his opening line is actually really good. Not going to lie, I was very impressed with his opening when I first watched this. I still am. It’s got power behind it, it’s got vibrato, it’s got a fair amount of emotion. However, he does start off the song belting. That’s never a good idea and it’s part of the reason he gets into trouble later on. He started out too strong.
0:33 Around this point he is avoiding eye contact with the audience in a very strange way. It almost looks as if he’s already not happy with the way he sounds and wants to start over. Again, a lot of what happens in this video can be boiled down to nerves, which are a total nuisance when it comes to live singing. They wreak havoc on your vocal chords. Not even kidding!
0:34 For the next several seconds, he has his eyes closed. Now, many performers are able to do this and still make a performance out of it. Him doing it is a very obvious attempt at avoiding looking at the audience. Again, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. At least he tried to make a performance out of it.
0:53 He opens his eyes and immediately shifts them away to avoid eye contact and closes them again a few seconds later. Again, breaking the already unstable connection. You just can’t do that in as intimate of a setting as SNL.
I realize that theatre and Hollywood/music industry (whatever you want to call it) performing is very different but they’re both performing nonetheless, so they do share some qualities. You never want to close your eyes on stage at all, if ever due to the fact that it breaks your connection with the audience. I’m not saying that you should never blink but the eyes show much more emotion than you could possibly imagine. Use them normally. If you’re going to close them, either use it as a genuine moment or keep it limited. Closing your eyes might seem more intimate, it’s not. Think about it. Eye contact is much more intimate. And believe it or not, looking in certain directions can show certain emotions or produce certain emotional responses in the audience. There’s a lot of power in that.
0:56 He looks down. Again, breaking eye contact. Putting his head down is something that he does multiple times throughout the performance.
1:00 Okay, I’ve heard a lot of people saying that the original track is playing behind him during these parts. I can’t be certain but I’m pretty sure the lady on the piano is singing with him here. From what I can hear, he is hitting the high notes but they’re very soft and breathy coming out.
1:10 This is the first etch of a worried face that we see. You see how the inner eyebrow is arched upward and his forehead is ridiculously stretched? If he’s doing that to reach high notes…well, we’ll get to technique later. And he still has his eyes closed!
1:28 His face. His eyes. His jaw is tense. He’s already unhappy with himself. Guess what, Harry? You’ve still got about four and a half more minutes!
1:30 Okay, this is where I’m going to start talking about vocal technique. I will say, he has a ton of potential as a singer. However, do you see that HUGE breath he takes at 1:31? Yeah. That’s not good. If you read my rant, that’s a little thing that singers refer to as ‘breathing from the chest.’
This is usually one of the first habits that singers are taught to drop as soon as they start vocal lessons. But your lungs are in your chest, so where else are you supposed to breath from exactly? Your diaphragm. You need to sing from your diaphragm. The musical/singer term for this is Breath Support. It helps you hold notes longer and helps you not to get lightheaded. In other words: the belly should be what is moving; in and out, in and out. Not the chest or the shoulders. Do you see his shoulder movement there? This is limiting the amount of oxygen that he could potentially take in. It’s similar to holding your breath under water. Don’t hold it in your cheeks, hold it in your chest. You’ll stay under longer. It’s definitely a core workout and is something that needs to be learned.
However, he’s finally getting into the song. He’s making eye contact and he’s moving a little bit.
1:44 He still has the nervous, worried, panicked look etched across his face. Also, this is something that I just noticed: If you watch his eyes throughout the entire video, he is trying to look everywhere except the audience. He’s looking above them, he’s looking below them, he’s looking way off to the side. If he looks directly at them for a split second, he immediately finds a different point. Harry, did you ever give presentations at school? You have to give everyone an equal amount of attention. That means looking at the audience and in every direction at least once. Especially if it’s a solo.
2:00 That face. He does not look happy. For what reason? We may never know. If I had to take a wild guess, he’s already judged how the performance in going to go from here on out and, in his eyes, it’s not going to go well. Once a singer digs themselves into that pit, there is no coming back from that abyss. He’s judging himself before he’s even had a chance to redeem himself and honestly, you have time Harry! You have about three more minutes! It hasn’t been THAT awful.
2:07 Again, he’s not happy. That is not acting. He’s not a theater performer, he’s not required to act. Why would he be acting?
2:09 What is this? He literally cannot look at the audience.
2:15 Aaaaand we’re back to eyes closed. Harry Styles, open your eyelids!! Let the world see your beautiful, green eyes! You know they’re the rarest type, right?
2:17 This is where we start getting into stage movement. Do you see that arm swing? He does that two times in the span of about 10 seconds. Now, I’ve seen him do that before during 1D concerts but this is a very awkward and hesitant motion. He’s uncomfortable, he’s trying to figure out what to do with himself.
2:35 Lovely face, Harry. Now, please tell me what the hell you’re doing…this is where we get into the weird side of vocal technique. Face movement and expressions? Really? Oh, yes, really!
Constricting your face in that manner makes it even harder to get notes out. Especially when singing high! The faces that he’s making should be reserved for singing low, baritone notes. When you’re singing high, your face should be relaxed (eyebrows slightly raised, eye open, jaw relaxed, and mouth LONG - I’ll talk about this later).
2:45 Okay, so he redeemed himself a little bit. He hit the notes a little bit better - albeit constricted - and he’s starting to engage the audience ever so slightly. He’s smiling a little, there’s a glint in his eyes, he’s getting into the beat a little bit! FINALLY! YES!
2:50 No. This arm-swinging. No. This has to go. He clearly does not know how to move to this song. Not saying that I do but perhaps he didn’t know that he should have blocked out a few things before performing.
Block = a theatre term for figuring out what you do while on stage.
Here’s the thing about stage movement; it’s very different from average, every day moving around. It has to be deliberate. You have to know what you’re doing, otherwise, it looks very awkward and very sloppy. Stage movement requires preparation. We’ve seen him perform. He usually develops tiny trademark moves for most songs. That is what I’m talking about here. He had that Little White Lies dance thing, the Girl Almighty knees thing…etc. He has not figured out specific movements to do for specific moments/beats in this song. I’m assuming he wasn’t anticipating that. Also, people are most likely to awkwardly move their arms on stage if they don’t know what else to do.
2:53 Did you see that eye roll? Classic performer ‘I Made a Mistake’ or ‘I Broke Character’ face.
2:55 Did he actually smile? Praise Jesus! …No! Harry! No! Don’t close your eyes! Don’t constrict your face! You were doing so well!!
3:05 …another arm swing.
3:13 I don’t know why but this makes me sad. He’s so closed off and tight. Relax, Harry. You’re fine. Relax!
3:15 There you go, Harry! You’re doing it! You’re making eye contact, you’re moving a little, you’re singing better even if your breathing is still crap. This entire section is probably the best he does throughout the performance in terms of stage presence. You can’t miss that still worried/nervous/panicked look on his face though.
3:25 Nice note/riff. There you go.
3:30 Almost did the arm-swing, but he’s starting to do more movements. Thank you! There’s that talented performer we all know and love!
3:37 Stop looking so worried! You’ve got this!
3:43 Oh God…big, deep, chest breath there. Did you see that? And did you see how he lifted his body up a little? He is literally, physically reaching for that note. Harry Styles, open the back of your throat! It’s much easier that way! Oh, sorry…you don’t know what that means?
You know how open your throat feels when you yawn? That’s what I mean. This space in the throat makes it easier to produce notes, especially high notes. Again, it’s a strange feeling and takes some getting used to. It’s a very strange thing to describe but your throat basically has to go from a whimper to a yawn. He’s literally constricted everything that could make singing so much easier. He’s making singing so much harder than it needs to be by staying in the ‘whimper format’. If you open your throat, no matter what note you’re singing, it will come out easier.
3:50 Did he just startle himself? He looked away and then back at the mic and jumped. Did he forget the mic was that close? I have no comment on this…I just found it funny :)
3:52 Haha! He is so done! At this point, he’s probably wondering “why the hell did I make this song so long?!”
4:00 That was…cute? Doesn’t quite match the song though. Can he smile a little? Please?
4:03 Okay, good! He’s moving around a little. That’s good!
4:10 I don’t know what the hell that was but I appreciate the effort, Harry.
4:12 Oh good Lord…what happened? I think this is a good time to talk about vocal technique and the lips/mouth region. Yup, there’s a lot more to singing than people actually think. If there’s one thing that Harry’s actually pretty good at, it’s using his lips when singing. Let’s be honest, he’s got great lips. He utilizes them pretty well. Sticks them out in a pucker fashion. That’s good! That’s what you’re supposed to do in order to get the best sound! So, I don’t think I have to talk about that aspect all that much. The mouth a whole, however…
It is a common misconception that, in order to reach high notes, you have to stretch your mouth horizontally. Again, nope. He is limting the space in which his mouth opens. When you sing high, you want your mouth to be open LONG. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend stretching your mouth outwards, horizontally for any singing. It’s uncomfortable and strains the face. Unless you are singing the E vowel (which is the grossest vowel to sing, if you were curious). In which case, you do have to stretch your mouth a little bit but open it vertically at the same time. Elongate your mouth, open it vertically, up and down. The sound comes out much easier and fuller that way. Relax the mouth and untilize the lips more than the inside of the mouth (besides the tongue for obvious reasons).
4:53 Okay…I think he’s pretty much given up at this point but he has to finish the song. He can’t just walk off the stage. But yes! Good note there! Just loosen your lips a little bit, and relax your jaw and throat.
4:57 Okay, okay there buddy. Calm down. Take a deep breath. You’re fine. I know this is the part where people are saying “Omigosh! I thought this sounded so much better! Such raw emotion! Such passion!” …no. He just strained his voice like crazy. That is not passion. In this case, it’s a good thing he stopped, even if he was disappointed. He was hurting his voice.
5:12 This is what I’ve been wanting to talk about this entire time because it is something that has always bothered me about the way that he sings but I wanted to save it for the last few moments because that’s when it comes into play the most in this performance. Do you see that head tilt he’s doing? Where he’s tilting his head backward? Yeah…that’s a big no, no. You are never supposed to tilt your head in that way or ‘reach for’ a note like he is doing. It’s unnatural.
When you tilt your head in that manner, you are straining the larynx. When you strain the larynx, you are putting pressure on your vocal chords. When you put too much pressure on your vocal chords, you run the risk of damaging your voice. Pretty badly in some cases. Do you hear that rough, groggily sound that is coming out of his throat? That’s not passion. At all. That is a straining of the vocal chords in a way that is not good or natural. He’s pressing himself too hard. He’s taking too deep a breath. He’s tightening his throat. There are certain ways to do a rock growl and scream-o and all that fun stuff that singers can do in ways that are healthy and comfortable for the vocal chords. What he just did there…that was not intentional. Nor should it be. What he is trying to do is belt.
Belt = singing really fricken loud.
Let me hear you say this, please? Yelling is not belting. Belting is not yelling. What is he doing here? He is yelling. This is the type of stuff that got the likes of Demi Lovato and Adele and Kelly Clarkson told that if they didn’t start singing differently, they could damage their chords for good. I really don’t want that to happen to him. He’s got so much potential.
5:28 He is not happy.
5:30 Not the worst it could have been. Not at all. But can be very much improved.