Harry Styles has attracted more male fans, but will they be less toxic than his original stans?

Known for a protective relationship to fans, it hasn’t exactly been reciprocal, not when it comes to his love life

By Alison Stine

Staff Writer

Published August 23, 2022 6:15PM (EDT)

Harry Styles performing on the Main Stage at War Memorial Park on May 29, 2022 in Coventry, England. (Joseph Okpako/WireImage/Getty Images)
Harry Styles performing on the Main Stage at War Memorial Park on May 29, 2022 in Coventry, England. (Joseph Okpako/WireImage/Getty Images)

Harry Styles has always had a rabid fanbase, and now he's attracted even more. But dealing with his fandom hasn't been so simple for the musician-turned-actor.

"As It Was" is Styles' biggest song to date, including 10 consecutive weeks of topping the charts in the United States. It's also the song that has seemingly attracted more male fans to Styles, according to the musician.

In a new interview, Styles tells Rolling Stone the song has brought "definitely the highest volume of men that I would get stopping me to say something about it."

Closing a recent concert in New York with "As It Was" brought the stadium crowd to their feet. The thunderous reaction surprised even the famous One Direction member. Styles explains to Rolling Stone, "There was something about it where I was  . . . not terrified, but I just needed a minute. Because I wasn't sure what it was. Just that the energy felt insane."

"As It Was" is a melodic goodbye to summer, with the bittersweet chorus "You know it's not the same as it was" and a synth hook reminiscent of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven." The track begins with the sample of a tiny voice: Styles' own goddaughter saying "Come on, Harry. We want to say goodnight to you." As American Songwriter puts it, the sample "puts a warm feeling in your heart as you are invited into 'Harry's House.'" 

The song itself – the first single from "Harry's House" –  might not be the lure for new male fans; rather it could be its omnipresence. The catchy song is receiving a lot of radio play, the perfect soundtrack for the nostalgia of the end of summer as well as perhaps for present pandemic times. We aren't the same, whatever happens moving forward, and Styles sings it. 

Fandom beyond the music

But with multiple movie roles coming out soon, Styles is everywhere himself too, as he's making the publicity rounds in advance of their premieres. 

First up is the Olivia Wilde-directed psychological thriller "Don't Worry Darling," out Sept. 23. In it, Styles stars alongside Florence Pugh as a young 1950s couple who moves to company town Victrory, California, where something possibly more sinister lies beneath its picture-perfect veneer.

After meeting on the set of "Don't Worry Darling," Wilde and Styles began a relationship, which the latter has addressed in various interviews. In particular, he's expressed disappointment over the way some fans have reacted, particularly on social media, which Styles calls a "s***storm of people trying to be awful," where Wilde has been the subject of vitriol. 

Rolling Stone writes, "Anonymous tweeters acted appalled at their age difference (as if a 28-year-old man dating a 38-year-old woman isn't completely normal) and criticized the director-actor dating dynamic (as if there isn't a long history of beloved Hollywood couples meeting the same way)." 

Wilde isn't the first romantic partner who's been on the receiving end of toxic treatment from Styles stans, who for some reason can't bear to see anyone with him. It's a parasocial fallout to his fandom, one that seems to want to dictate who he dates . . . and what art he puts out.

Case in point is Styles' second movie coming this fall. "My Policeman," the historical drama based on Bethan Roberts' novel, is set in the 1950s and stars Styles as a man who falls in love with another man and is forced to keep their relationship secret.

The premise of this film, along with Styles' gender-nonconforming fashions, has led much of the public – including Candace Owens – to become fixated on his sexuality, and what they feel that entails. And it's those assumptions that have sparked additional criticisms.

"I think everyone, including myself, has your own journey with figuring out sexuality and getting more comfortable with it," Styles tells Rolling Stone. The musician has never been explicit about his sexuality, which has led to some to accuse him of queerbaiting: the hinting of queerness as a marketing tactic. "Sometimes people say, 'You've only publicly been with women,' and I don't think I've publicly been with anyone," Styles says. "If someone takes a picture of you with someone, it doesn't mean you're choosing to have a public relationship."

Known for his close and protective relationship to fans, it hasn't exactly been reciprocal, at least not when it comes to letting Styles have his own personal life. His romantic partners in the past, including famous women like Taylor Swift and Kendall Jenner, have been the target of harassment by fans, even receiving death threats

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Coming to prominence initially as part of the boy band One Direction, perhaps it's understandable that Styles' first fans were teenage girls, a group he has stalwartly defended. He told Billboard in 2017, "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 . . . 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?"

As Styles has broken away from his earliest image, his fan base is shifting too. Styles tells Rolling Stone, just because he seems to be getting more fans at his concerts who are men now, it isn't a value judgement. "[I]t's not like men was the goal," he says. "It's just something I noticed."

Let's hope these new fans are not quite angry about Styles' personal life and artistic choices as many of his current ones are.

By Alison Stine

Alison Stine is a former staff writer at Salon. She is the author of the novels "Trashlands" and "Road Out of Winter," winner of the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others.

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Commentary Don't Worry Darling Harry Styles Movies Music My Policeman Olivia Wilde One Direction Queerbaiting