In 1966, The Beatles became embroiled in controversy for comparing themselves to Jesus. Nearly fifty years later, Harry Styles caused almost as much uproar by comparing his band One Direction to The Beatles. Styles may have added the caveat that he was speaking strictly “fame-wise” and “we don’t stand anywhere near them in terms of music,” but from the tabloid reaction, you might have thought it was Styles, not John Lennon, who claimed to be bigger than Jesus.
Despite that reaction, I can’t imagine many will feel enraged that, in 2017, Harry Styles has released a music video in which he walks on water, moves the oceans and ascends towards the heavens. The video for “Sign of the Times” illustrates Styles’s apocalyptic lyrics – with lines like “You can’t bribe the door on the way to the sky” – by setting him on a dramatic shoreline seemingly experiencing divine phenomena.
It begins when a coastal wind begins to lift Harry off his feet, until he is whisked into the air just in time for the first rousing chorus to kick in. We watch him hover over shore and sea, swooping over forests.
jesus: i’m the only one who can walk on water
harry: hold my beer pic.twitter.com/W7pbAYutay
— cyan (@harryfalsettos) May 8, 2017
He then runs along the water itself, discovering he can create waves and tides, before being sucked, smiling, into a celestial sky bathed in golden light. I am a particular fan of the moment where he flies through the air with his hands in his pockets.
Christocentric identification in pop is nothing new and Styles joins a long list of pop stars showing off their Messiah complexes. Jarvis Cocker criticised Michael Jackson for his “Jesus act” at the 1996 Brit Awards. Tupac and Nas have both posed as Christ on the cross. Justin Bieber has insisted he wants to live like Jesus, delighting Beliebers by entering his Believe Tour by descending from the ceiling on angel wings. Though many may consider him a musical saint, in 2013 David Bowie irritated religious commentators by dressing as Christ in the video for “The Next Day”.
Kanye West has also been criticised for his Messiah comparisons on his album Yeezus, which features the track “I Am A God”. HIs sometime collaborator Jay Z has long been calling himself J-Hova, and even Beyonce has aligned her capacity for love and forgiveness with the divine, though while her “Don’t Hurt Yourself” includes the lyric “when you love me, you love… God herself”, she has repeatedly distanced herself from the claim with an in-video caption card reading “GOD IS GOD AND I AM NOT”.
While Styles’s dabble in this area is perhaps slightly more subtle than most, he joins a long line of (mostly male)Messianic pop stars. Now can someone please direct me to the national radio phone-in competition where I can enter to win a trip for two to paradise with Harry Styles?