Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Music
25 May 2022

Euphoria at Harry Styles’s intimate album release show

What happened at the pop star’s first UK gig in two and a half years before a small crowd in south London.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

Approaching the entrance for Harry Styles’s “One Night Only” performance at Brixton Academy on 24 May, I looked down to see discarded duvets and inside-out umbrellas lying on the ground near my feet — detritus left behind by the fans who had camped outside for more than 48 hours in wet weather to secure a spot at the front of the crowd. Such displays of dedication are typical at a Styles concert, but there is a particularly feverish note of excitement surrounding this gig. It is his first UK show in two and a half years, and at a much smaller venue than is usual. (Styles is due to play two nights at Wembley Stadium in a matter of weeks, to a crowd 20 times the size.) His new album Harry’s House was released on 20 May. It has become a tradition for the singer to perform each new record in full to a small audience to mark its release, so this intimate show is an enviable ticket, the cause of much joy and heartbreak among fans.

Since the boyband One Direction dissolved in 2016, Styles has released three solo albums of glossily-produced, lightly alternative pop songs that sound undeniably slick and confident on record, but really come alive at his shows. When the sheer power of Styles’s sexual charisma on stage comes into contact with the unrelenting enthusiasm of his audience — the meeting of an irresistible object and an unstoppable force — something almost chemically euphoric happens in the room. It was hard to resist the intensity of the collective scream emitted when he finally appeared before the crowd, wearing a T-shirt covered in large black polka dots, tight white flares and a chunky blue necklace. The opener, “Music For A Sushi Restaurant”, a charming bit of playful noodling on the album, became an ecstatic, infectious dance party in person, while “Daylight” and “Cinema” similarly took on new dynamism. “Late Night Talking” — the sexiest song on the record — was a standout.

As this was a showcase for the new record, each track was played in order; inevitably the gig lacked the surprise and spectacle of a major stadium show. But though Harry’s House had only been out for a few days the audience dutifully reacted to each new song as if they’d been listening to it for a decade. There were tears at “Matilda”, a bouquet thrown on to the stage in time with the “Grapejuice” lyric “I was on my way to buy some flowers for you”, and the most explicit lyrics on the record were amplified by the crowd. (There was something uncomfortable in hearing a crowd of 5,000 young women scream “choke her”, even if Styles made a joke of it by looking up to his mother, his sister and his girlfriend, the film director Olivia Wilde, in the circle and saying: “I never thought I’d say ‘Cocaine, side boob / Choke her with a sea view’ with my mother in the audience.”) A fan holding a sign saying “MY BOYFRIEND F*CKED MY BEST FRIEND – BOYFRIENDS SUCK” provided a segue into the knowing, harmony-laden ballad “Boyfriends”, which shows how much Styles’s vocals have matured since he began his solo career. During the album closer, “Love of My Life”, an ode to England, Styles twirled around wrapped in a Union Jack thrown on stage.

The encore was reserved for fan favourites from his other albums. There was “Adore You” (as the crowd sang “Just let me adore you”, Styles gave a little faux-coy shrug and said, “…OK!”); his biggest hit, “Watermelon Sugar” (introduced with the sentence, “If you ever find yourself in a position where you feel confused or scared, remember: we can always sing along to a song about oral sex”); his debut single, “Sign of the Times” (which was interrupted to remove a fan who had collapsed from the crowd); and his country-inflected solo version of One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful”. “Kiwi”, a pastiche-y rock song that often results in mosh pits and used to be played two or three times at his early gigs, made for a satisfyingly chaotic closer. As the crowd gradually dispersed, there was an atmosphere of relief and luck. One young woman in front of me opened her phone to post to social media. “I LOVE HARRY SO SO SO SO MUCH,” she wrote. “I’M SO GRATEFUL FOR THIS MAN.”

[See also: Harry Styles review: Harry’s House is a summery, poolside record]

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Content from our partners
How to navigate the modern cyber-threat landscape
Supporting customers through the cost of living crisis
Data on cloud will change the way you interact with the government

Topics in this article : ,