I am trying to imagine an arena or theater full of teenage girls singing along to Harry Styles’ “Kiwi,” a song from his new self-titled album. The refrain is “I’m having your baby/It’s none of your business.” The word kiwi isn’t mentioned, but we can guess that the young lady involved was from New Zealand, and Harry– whose album is much worse in every way than I could have imagined– may or not have knocked her up during a one night stand. It’s an angry song, because this is a “Sign of the Times.” Harry is very angry. Girls aren’t being nice to him. And he’s a put upon boybander. Show some respect! Is that my baby? he wonders. We don’t know.
And so we have “Harry Styles,” number 1 this morning in downloads across the globe. We’ve heard “Sign of the Times” and the dreadful “Sweet Creature.” We’re aware of “Ever Since New York,” which rips off Badfinger. We heard the catchy “Carolina” on the Today Show. There are only 10 songs on “Harry Styles.” They are all about Harry. They don’t make a lot of sense. Some of them are sung very badly. But it won’t matter, not for this weekend. Teengirl pop hysteria dates back to Rudy Vallee, to Frank Sinatra, to Elvis. Somehow it’s gotten less savvy over time. Witness Justin Bieber.
Harry is not bringing Sexy back. There’s no Timbaland-Timberlake type R&B that slyly reworks old idioms. “Harry Styles” is just on the nose. Either he got laid or he didn’t get laid. It’s black or white. If he’s by himself, he “played with myself.” All the songs sound like something else. The dreamy “Meet Me in the Hallway” (I just left your bedroom/Give me some more) has echoes of 10 different songs from the 70s. “Two Ghosts” is an indirect rip-off of the Allman Brothers’ “Melissa.” (Gregg Allman’s lawyers should take a good listen to it.) “Woman” is the marriage of “Bennie and the Jets” to 100 cliches, all from the 70s.
But hey– the “Harry Styles” album is not meant to be a musical breakthrough. It’s a souvenir. It’s a sign of the times. And the times, you know, are not good.