There is a commonly-held belief among the Harry Styles fans I know: Protect Harry at all costs.
Harry is hyper conscious of the adoration of his fans, and returns the sentiment back to them. He also knows that without his fans, who have followed him since One Direction was formed in The X Factor UK in 2010, he wouldn’t be where he is today.
When the driver of the Uber I took to the concert learned I write about music, he grilled me on my credentials. He was surprised that someone going to a Harry Styles concert knew the names of some of the not-at-all-obscure musicians he name-checked, and wanted to know who the most famous person I have interviewed was, and the precise steps I had taken to find myself covering music for New Zealand’s public broadcaster. A month ago, backstage at Spark Arena to interview an international artist, someone from NZME asked me which fan competition I had won to get there. All too often, young womens’ interest in music is automatically dismissed as frivolous and illegitimate.
Harry knows this, and also understands how ridiculous that idea is. In an interview with Rolling Stone earlier this year, the singer defended his fans, the majority of whom are young women in their teens and early twenties.
"Who's to say that young girls who like pop music - short for popular right? - have worse musical taste than a 30-year-old hipster guy?" he said.
"That's not up to you to say. Music is something that's always changing. There's no goal posts. Young girls like The Beatles. You gonna tell me they're not serious? How can you say young girls don't get it."
Standing in Spark Arena waiting for Harry to come on stage, the audience’s anticipation was palpable. Chants of “Harry! Harry! Harry!” swept through the arena in waves, and groups of fans set off the crowd around them, and the screaming rippled through the room. Not for the first time, I found myself completely bewildered as to how anyone could possibly sneer at such passion and joy.
Opening with ‘Ever Since New York’, Harry was joined onstage with a full band, half of whom were women, which, unfortunately, is a rare sight. While he is not necessarily shedding his boyband past (he knows 1D is what catapulted him to stardom and that fans would turn their back on him if he abandoned 1D completely), he is keen to be taken seriously a rock musician, and the band were set up the front with him, rather than hiding in the shadows at the back as the The Weeknd’s band had been.
The screaming reached higher decibels as the crowd saw their true Prince Harry ("Nothing but respect for MY Prince Harry") in the flesh, dressed in a black Gucci suit and shoes. I have to admit that seeing which floral Gucci suit he would wear was something I was most looking forward to about the show, so I was a little disappointed that last night’s suit was relatively unadventurous.
After performing ‘Two Ghosts’ he introduced himself, saying, “My name is Harry.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,”
“My job this evening – and I will do my very best – is to entertain you. And your job is to have as much fun as possible. Whoever you are and whoever you want to be, this is your space.”
Harry knows how to make every one of his fans feel seen and appreciated. When he spotted a woman dancing in the stands he imitated her dancing and pointed her out. She turned to her friends, mouthing “Me! Me!” in disbelief. He pointed to one of the few men in the crowd and said, ‘May I say you look fabulous, yep, you in the green shirt!”
Every time Harry scanned the crowd, people at the front would wave at him, trying to get his attention. I stood about a head taller than the rest of the audience and when he and I locked eyes, I surprised myself by waving frantically to him, grateful that his dimpled grin was directed at me for what could have been anywhere between two seconds and a lifetime.
At one point, my friend, who has a ‘WOMAN’ tattoo on her arm after his song of the same name, turned to me with tears in her eyes and sobbed, “He’s just so close!”
‘Sweet Creature’, ‘Carolina’ and ‘Only Angel’ were early highlights of the set, but it was his hits from his One Direction day- that got the loudest cheer from the audience. ‘What Makes You Beautiful’, 1D’s most popular hit, was given the soft rock treatment with his band, and was the perfect lead in to ‘Kiwi’, a song with lyrics that include a woman telling Harry, “I’m having your baby, it’s none of your business”.
Earlier the singer had said he was excited to play the song to a room full of Kiwis, but apparently the audience’s reaction to the song was not enough. He stopped the band, and the crowd continued to sing the lyrics for him, but still he joked, “My ego is very large and I cannot take it if you’re not going to go for me on this one.”
And they went for it all right, though it had seemed impossible for them to get even more excited than they had been all night. The wait for the encore was brief, and Harry returning on stage to play a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’, before closing the show with ‘Sign of the Times’, a song that is easily a contender for single of the year.
He ran back on stage a few times to bow and blow kisses to the crowd, and he seemed genuinely appreciative of his fans, saying, “Where ever you are and who ever you are, I love you and I cannot wait to see you again.”
Last night Spark Arena felt very much like a safe space for young women to completely embrace their obsession with music, with boybands and with this floppy-haired lad from Northern England, and we were celebrated for it. It was a welcome reprieve from the rest of the time, when our enjoyment of music is questioned and ridiculed. I left the venue with one thing ringing in my ears: Protect teenage girl fans at all costs