This week, three of music’s biggest pop stars (Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Harry Styles) released brand new music videos. While Swift becomes a man for her video “The Man” and Lady Gaga becomes an alien warrior in “Stupid Love,” Harry Styles went for a more subdued and dark tone for his newest video for “Falling,” which was released on Friday. Dressed in a Gucci lilac tulle top with a handful of fabulous jewelry on his fingers, Styles’ style has continued to be androgynous, boundary-pushing and, most importantly, inclusive.
Many gay men, including this one, take their pop star fandoms very seriously. Strong, creative women like Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Robyn and Madonna have all inspired me through their music and, more importantly, through what they stand for. That of course includes their strong advocacy and support for the LGBTQ community.
With the release of Harry Styles’ single “Lights Up” and his latest album, Fine Line, which dropped in December, I started having similar fandom feelings towards him. I was never a One Direction fan and though I enjoyed “Sign of the Times” from his debut solo album in 2017, I didn’t really pay much attention to him otherwise. I started thinking about why that was the case and as I dug deeper, I realized that I had never really gotten enthusiastic for any male pop star before. Ever. In my entire 33 years.
So why is that the case? The answer is actually simple: because no mainstream, male pop star from my childhood or teens ever made me feel like I could be a fan of theirs. I grew up in the ’90s and early 2000s. Imagine a young 10 year-old cisgender, heterosexual girl at the time who has posters of both Britney Spears and ‘N Sync on her walls. Surely she’d have slightly different feelings as a fan of each because as a heterosexual female, she most likely has some attraction to ‘N Sync, which the band and their label definitely welcomed and marketed towards.
But as a gay kid (or more accurately, a kid who was gay but didn’t yet know it), I only ever felt comfortable having that Britney poster up because I knew that her or Madonna or Beyoncé (or whatever female pop star I looked up to) would be proud to have a gay fan–or at least a fan who felt different and knew that he didn’t want to just sleep with them. On the other hand, I couldn’t be sure that ‘N Sync or Usher or the Backstreet Boys (or whatever other male pop star at the time) would embrace having a gay fan, or more specifically, a male fan who was attracted to them. I’m not saying these artists did anything wrong — they were products of their time. For crying out loud, ‘N Sync member Lance Bass actually was gay but didn’t (or wasn’t allowed to) come out until after the band disbanded.
But while these artists may not have done anything wrong, Styles is doing things right. His music video for “Lights Up” features him half naked in a crowd of both men and women, as he dances and grinds on people of both genders (and people in between). His fashion is often androgynous or even traditionally female, including pearls and pink nail polish. Even his outfits from last year’s Met Gala, which he co-hosted with Lady Gaga, grabbed headlines for their gender fluidity, especially his Gucci sheer, frilled black blouse and tailored trousers.
On his first solo album, his song “Kiwi” has the chorus, “Oh, I think she said ‘I’m having your baby, it’s none of your business’.” On Fine Line, the song “Cherry” is about his ex, French model Camille Rowe, finding happiness with a new guy. But just when you think lyrics like, “Don’t you call him what you used to call me” may be a little creepy, Styles instantly evaporates all that when the song ends with one of Rowe’s voicemails, meaning she’s most likely supportive and aware of the song. Or at the very least, Styles is paying tribute to her in a respectful way.
Finally, Styles has talked openly in interviews about his enlightened views on gender, making him a poster child for non-toxic masculinity. In a 2018 interview with Timothée Chalamet in Vice’s i-D, he said, “I’ve become a lot more content with who I am. I think there’s so much masculinity in being vulnerable and allowing yourself to be feminine, and I’m very comfortable with that.”
Of course it goes without saying that there have been male pop stars before Harry Styles who have similarly tried to redefine masculinity and present gender fluid images like Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Elton John and Prince. And Styles definitely emulates and channels them, both in his stage performances and also in some of the music itself. But coming from a boy band background, Styles also has a more mainstream, pop element to his persona as well. While “Kiwi” may be more high-energy rock, “Lights Up” and “Adore You” are more sweet and soulful pop tracks.
Styles also isn’t the only male artist being inclusive of his LGBTQ fans. Other mainstream male pop stars like the Jonas Brothers, Tyler the Creator and The Weeknd have also made safe spaces for their LGBTQ fans and have welcomed them with open arms, although they themselves are a little less explicit than Styles when it comes to their own personas and sexual fluidity. And of course there are also more mainstream out and proud artists having success like Lil Nas X, Halsey, Brandi Carlile and Troye Sivan, who are making trailblazing statements in their music and on the red carpet.
Perhaps I’m alone in my feelings, but it’s definitely been fun experiencing my pop star fandom towards a male artist for the first time ever. Our culture is shifting to allow many more Harry Styles-type of artists to not just exist in, but exist authentically in, which allows other artists as well as their fans to do the same. This is also why I’m not a fan of calling the art of singers like Styles “queer-baiting.” He doesn’t want a label, so we shouldn’t force one on him. He’s just presenting us his true and honest self, which has allowed me to be a more true version of myself, as well. So I’ll be proud to be one of Harry Styles’ screaming, adoring fans when he comes to the Forum in September, celebrating that I finally feel safe enough in the space he’s creating to authentically be myself as well.