In this interview, I spoke with Isabel on one of the most well known artists of our generation, Harry Styles! She discussed the meaning of his slogan ‘TPWK’, his artistic journey, and what’s in store for him lately!
1. When had you first come across Harry’s or One Direction’s music? What sort of meaning did you draw out of their work that kept you listening?
I discovered Harry’s solo music around the time of the release of his first single ‘Sign of the Times’. I clearly remember instantly falling for the sad piano ballad feel of the song, and saved it to several playlists immediately. It wasn’t until about a year later that I was pleasantly surprised to stumble across his first solo album. Truth be told, he had more or less slipped from my mind in recent months. I happily listened through the whole thing and found myself instantly charmed by the 70’s rock style and defining lyricism he achieved. That was the moment I said “Hm, maybe there’s more to be known about this Harry guy…”
2. Let’s pivot to Harry’s current brand message and foundation ‘TPWK’. What does this stand for and exemplify to his fans, or anyone else for that matter? Are there any additional slogans of his that I hadn’t mentioned?
‘TPWK’ of course being an acronym for Treat People With Kindness, is probably one of the simplest and most powerful slogans I’ve ever seen from a mainstream artist (or honestly, any artist) At first sight, it seems a little cheesy, but when you pause and take in the enormous and extremely impressionable audience of young people he has, you’re looking at literally MILLIONS of people being reminded that kindness is one of the most powerful tools we collectively possess. Musicians, actors and other public figures have more influence on the development of generations today than we probably all realize or want to admit, so to have someone with that large of a platform, not only preaching love and respect, but making sure he’s the first one to follow his own lead and set an example is huge. It’s corny, but I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve avoided petty disputes or lashing out at someone because I remind myself that TPWK comes first!
3. Linking back to the beginnings of Harry’s career, what do you think anyone who followed One Direction has taken away from their body of work followed by their breakup? Speaking from your own findings, try to describe some of the positive and negative responses the band members received.
Funnily enough, I never truly followed One Direction while they were still a band. In the early 2010s, I was the perfect age to lean into their music and image, but for whatever reason, I found myself avoiding it, probably because I fancied myself as very much ‘not like other girls’ and ended up skipping the One Direction frenzy all together. However, in current days, I keep up with all five previous members and have tremendous respect for each of them. They all went on to pursue very different styles of music, Harry and Louis Tomlinson generally being the ones I listen to the most. Niall Horan remains off the radar as probably one of the most unproblematic artists of our time and Zayn...Zayn is just off the radar! I just hope he’s happy whatever he’s doing! Liam is by and large the member who received the most backlash on his solo career. I understand that his music isn’t for everyone - personally, it’s not my style either - but I often feel that the levels of maliciousness frequently directed at him are fully unwarranted. I’ve never understood internet trolls. try to keep my head down and mind my own business. If I don’t like something, I don’t associate myself with it and that’s that.
4. For those that had only gotten into Harry’s music after he’d gone solo, how would their relationship with him differ, if at all?
Although I didn’t keep up with One Direction in their glory days, it would have been impossible for me to miss their impact. My early teen and tween years were spent surrounded by them, and I can clearly recall the sweetheart boy next door image that Harry represented. He was a normal, stand up guy whose image didn’t push the boundaries much, and people liked that. For those reasons, I think he probably did lose some of the support he had from a conservative audience, once he began finding his footing as a solo artist, testing the limits with gender defying clothing and lyrics that sometimes allude to provocative experiences with men. He’s never confirmed or denied anything about his sexuality despite constant questions about it, always preferring not to label himself, but he’s hailed as an LGBTQ icon for his frequent androgynous clothing choices sexual ambiguity and the constant love and support he shows to the queer community. I think for any the fans he lost by changing his image to be more authentic to himself, he gained more. People who are drawn to authenticity, or queer people who feel a connection to him when they see him waving pride flags around onstage for us. Harry makes sure we have a safe space to be ourselves and to some people, that could mean everything.
5. Now that everyone from the band has built their own solo career, do you believe that there is some sort of divide between the fandoms for each? Do the majority of fans continue to support all members?
In my experience, I see most people support, or at least respect each of their solo careers, but that could be because I choose to only surround myself with those people within a fandom community. However, I am aware that there’s definitely a subset of people who choose to be a fan of only one of them, and frequently disrespect the rest of them. It’s definitely something that happens, and it’s definitely disheartening to see, but I think most of us tend to ignore them instead of feeding into it, because that never ends well. As Harry always says, TPWK.
6. Harry Styles is undeniably one of the biggest world renowned singer-songwriters of our generation. Specifically, how will his motivational impact leave an imprint on pop culture?
I think Harry’s influence isn’t only bringing forth a generation of people who are kinder and more empathetic, I think he’s shifting the industry for male artists especially, and what’s ‘masculine’ and redefining what masculinity even means, but that goes on to extend past the music industry, and to the rest of the world. We live in a time where society for men is changing, things that were previously taboo such as wearing traditionally feminine clothes, or being openly emotional or warm are becoming less and less unorthodox because of a movement being pioneered before our eyes by amazing, gender stereotype-defying humans. Harry Styles is on the front lines of that, and I don't think music history will forget it.
7. Can you recall moments in which Harry's music helped shape or brighten for you?
I find Harry's music to be the soundtrack of my life a lot of the time. It seems to be my go-to listening music wherever I am or whatever I'm doing, from trips halfway across the country or simply sitting on my bedroom floor painting. Last year I went through a really difficult period of mental and physical illness, and I relied a lot on music to get me through that. The amount of times I had his songs on repeat for the comfort and familiarity they brought me can't be counted.
My best friend and I listen to his music whenever we hit the road together, and his second album in particular seems to be the perfect mix of upbeat and melancholy for road trip music. Some of my favorite memories are simply singing along on the top of my lungs while cruising down the road. The little moments like that, they come together in hard times to remind you how happy you've been and how happy you will be again.
8. On a lighter note, would you like to leave us with shameless promotion for any current and upcoming work of his?
Stream HS1 and Fine Line! Buy your tickets to Love on Tour because when this pandemic is over, that's gonna be one party you don't want to miss. Go watch Harry's new music video for Watermelon Sugar if you want to be transported to a dreamy 70s paradise, and most importantly...TPWK!