The first clue was the feathers. Pink feathers, blue feathers, red feathers, feathers in the air, feathers swept into little piles on the ground. In the square mile surrounding Wembley Stadium they were everywhere, strewn across the streets. I’m not sure when girls started wearing bright feather boas and pink cowboy hats to Harry Styles shows, but traditions spring up organically around artists with a fan base as spirited and committed as his. Between 13 and 17 June, Styles played four nights at Wembley, and all through that week, whenever I saw young people stepping on to the Tube, giggling in matching cowboy hats, I’d think: I know where you’re going. As I arrived on Friday 16 June, I saw dozens of fans without tickets outside: best friends sat on kerbs, singing along, holding hands.
Styles is well-practised at performing in such cavernous spaces by now, thanks to his time in One Direction and his six years as a solo artist: this show – “Love on Tour” – has made its way around the world for the past 21 months. It is brassy and sunny with an upbeat “disco” section of songs from his most recent album, Harry’s House. At Wembley, in heart-print Gucci dungarees, Styles is slick and charismatic, bounding effortlessly across the huge stage.
I caught his first tiny gig at the Garage in Islington, and subsequent smaller shows, but these had an air of chaotic novelty, of seeing someone somewhere they shouldn’t be. Styles’s fans have their own tricks to make big gigs feel as intimate as possible: flowers are thrown on to the stage during a line in “Grapejuice”, a dance routine emerges for “Treat People With Kindness”, British crowds scream the lyric “Leave America!” during “As It Was”. Among the traditions are a sign-reading audience interaction segment in which Styles helps fans come out to friends or parents (he even has a special soundtrack for the occasion) and, inexplicably, a “gender reveal” for a pregnant member of the audience. It’s hammy – but fun, and feels far more spontaneous than it has any right to, two years on.
Wembley Stadium, Greater London, HA9
[See also: Harry Styles and the paradox of male sexuality]
This article appears in the 21 Jun 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The AI wars