It’s 7:00am on a Monday morning, and we’re ready for our commute, but it isn’t to work – a sea of girls are huddled together, wrapped in duvets, pillows, and throws, chatting through their chattering teeth.
Despite London’s cold, frosty weather, everyone is exchanging stories and photos, speaking of past experiences. Like the fisherman’s tale, the stories seem to be hyperbolic by nature illustrated with sentiment and pantomime.
There is still a twelve-hour wait and who are we waiting for?
The collected fans are head-to-toe in his album cover’s pastel pink, as others swoop around with gay pride flags fashioned around their necks like capes. Girls reach outside the venue in a blur jumping on one another for hugs as they greet old and new friends.
One girl sits, applying fake eyelashes for the first time as strangers she’s never met help her glue them on. Further down, an older girl with black painted lips and fishnet tights clips a dangling chain attached to her earrings to her nose ring to complete her look.
While some are smoking cigarettes, others are grasping on to their mothers for warmth. Wide eyed with excitement, whether applying a new coat of lipstick or trying to shove their heads into a new Harry Styles sweater sold at the merchandising table. We have all come together as one buzzing with grand emotion, with one common interest in mind, waiting underneath London’s Hammersmith Apollo.
Harry Styles, former member of boyband One Direction, is making a name for himself as a solo artist. His debut album, released on May 12, climbed the Billboard 200 album chart with over 230,000 sales by the end of the launching week, and makes history for the biggest debut sales for a UK male artist, particularly in the United States.
He has also made his acting debut in Christopher Nolan’s film Dunkirk. Spoiler alert – he outshines the actual main character of the film. He recently thanked The X-Factor for his big break. “It’s amazing every time to come back and I thank the show for birthing me and for having me back every time.”
Harry Styles had two shows in London at the end of October. Girls attending the second show have been camping out since the night before, underneath the nearby bridge in order to snag a front row spot inside the venue. You would think having tickets for one of the most on demand concerts of the year would be sunshine and rainbows, but simply being in the same room as your idol isn’t enough.
You have to be close enough to the front row in case of the event your idol sweats and you want to be blessed enough to be showered in it. But such fandom goes beyond sleeping under a bridge while the first show goes on. One of the security guards told me she seen girls camping out since the previous Wednesday, nearly a week before the first show.
“I have never seen someone do something to this extreme for a celebrity before. These girls are mental but I respect their dedication,” she said.
People complain that girls of this generation are ‘chaotic’, as ‘fangirls’ tend to sob or scream with hysterics. But the truth is it’s not chaos, rather pure joy and excitement branching out in the wispy air.
Why is it such a crime to be a fangirl and have a celebrity obsession? In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Styles was asked if he was worried about “proving credibility to an older crowd” to which he responded: “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? How can you say young girls don’t get it? They’re our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going. Teenage-girl fans – they don’t lie. If they like you, they’re there. They don’t act ‘too cool.’ They like you, and they tell you. Which is sick.”
His response supporting his “less credible fans” reawakened me as the fangirl I truly am.
When someone says the word fangirl you usually think of a someone aged 12-15 who is overly obsessed with a particular book, movie, science fiction, or music type.
Despite the implication, your average fangirl is an adult. The lines for a midnight showing of Star Wars are usually filled with grown men. I remember in High School most of my 18-year-old friends were arguing who was Team Edward or Team Jacob. But even as I remember it, fans that rave about vampires and space aliens don’t get as bad as a rep as those who rave over boybands.
When someone collects comic books, it is seen as a hobby but someone who collects CDs and magazine covers of their favourite artist is seen as a phase that will soon be outgrown. Well, let me tell you, as a 14-year-old, I was obsessed with Harry Styles and eight years later at 22, this obsession has not been outgrown – if anything it has grown with age.
I would be lying if I said one of the reasons for me moving to London from North America was so that I could one day bump into Styles on the street and for him to fall head over heels with me with eyes filled with love at first sight – just like he’d always done in my head.
I know every single word to all of One Direction’s songs and not just by the virtue of me being a 14-year-old sentient human girl in 2010, I was obsessed. I enjoyed it immensely and if you put a gun to my head asking me to name who my favourite in the band member was I would say quicker than my beating heart: Harry Styles.
As The Urban Dictionary likes to put it, “A rabid breed of human female who is obsessed with either a fictional character or an actor. Often seen as immature.” It’s funny when you hear someone talk about a ‘fangirl’ in a negative sense. But when people find out about my intense interest in Harry Styles, I beat them to the punch, by calling myself a fangirl.
Is it immature to respect and admire someone as they openly share their journey with us? Is it ‘girly’ to salute and praise heroes whose songs and books and television shows are what make this world go round? Yet, a man can casually maunder on about his love for Rihanna or Kayne West, without it being seen as immature or obsessive.
I’m not telling you this so you can make a judgment call on my moral sense of being. I need a chance to provide you some substance on how I can shamelessly say that I am no longer a 14-year-old girl but a grown woman who still has a fully-fledged crush on Harry Styles.
My mom said I would get over him in a year or two but she was wrong. In the eight years of my obsession, I have managed to ignore any kind of societal warnings to this unpreventable sickness – I still listen to One Direction’s songs so often that I sheepishly dim my brightness and hide my phone screen from peeping eyes on my commute.
Like anyone, there are times I get a bit down and feel lonely. But whenever I watch or listen to Harry Styles strutting out into the world making things happen on his own terms, his indomitable spirit is therapeutic and the best type of healing any self-doubter can experience.
After hearing One Directions first single, What Makes You Beautiful, for the first time I googled the band on the spot. I remember being so upset in the car ride up to Disney World after finding out they had been a band on the hit UK show, The X-Factor, and had not truly made a name for themselves yet.
I had that one song on repeat for the entire drive. I watched their music video and my eyes immediately drew attention to the curly-headed mop that belonged to the 15-year-old version of Harry Styles and my obsession began.
I read everything about him. I utilised every possible thing I could get my hands on – YouTube, magazines, tweets, interviews, photos – I needed to get inside the head of a boy who had such an impact on my own. The truth was, I followed everything he did, compulsively.
The difference between then and now is my understanding of reality. My teenage self-was consumed with this beautiful boy, because I was hormonal; a lustful obsession. I was engrossed with his hair, his smile, his face, his tattoos as they rapidly grew. I imagined being in relationships with him when real ones didn’t pan out. I wasn’t following the band for their music, but for Harry himself.
But now instead of seeing him as a sex icon I truly admire Harry Styles because of his achievements and charisma as a celebrity. When I was younger I hated every other girl who shared my passion for Harry Styles, because I believed he was mine and only mine to enjoy.
But now, I celebrate when I meet another brother or sister who shares my values. Every other girl was competition, now I see them as an excuse to make a new friend. I wish everyone loved and admired Styles as the beautiful kind-hearted human being he truly is. Everyone should live by his values.
Now I look at him and thank him silently for everything he’s unknowingly given me. And when I listen to his old songs as a band or in his solo career, like a drug in my euphoria, I’m convinced all is right with the world.
Somewhere in the deep depths of my room, I had found a diary from the year 2013. I quickly swept through the pages to find the entry about the day I had met Harry Styles. I should have burned it, but I’m sharing it now as a sweet memoir to my 18-year-old self:
I had an unexplained form of energy that races through my body. It felt like jamming a knife into a circuit breaker, the jolts of electricity sparking through my veins. It caused my hands to shake, as well as my voice if I talk about it for too long. What I have assumed to feel like an eternity, the time has finally arrived.
Someone once told me that time was like a river, fluid, and at that moment I believe it. Every glance of time I took it seemed to be distorted, like it came straight from a Salvador Dali painting itself.
I stood with more confidence I did not know I even had, before I walked into the room where the boy band I have been obsessing over for nearly three years at the time stood only a few yards away. A sharp breath of air escaped my lungs the moment I glazed my eyes over my favourite band member, Harry Styles.
His face held an effortless form of beauty, so imperfectly perfect. He did not seem to be real despite the fact he was right there. This was it, only minutes from now where he would believe in love at first sight. Girls jumping and crying all around me. I praised myself for staying so collectively calm.
The new reality I had conjured in my brain had seemed to be coming to life, more so than I had already believed. Those were the thoughts swimming in my head when I caught his eyes, his angelic face; I studied his expressions as they passed by – surprised, tender, bashful. My heart danced in my chest. I am next in line and I lose the motor control over the entirety of my body. I watch as he slowly approaches me, then that is when I gain control over my own limbs again.
He hugs me tight as he whispers into the hug: “It is very nice to meet you” his words flow as sweet as honey and feels so sincere, as if he was awaiting my arrival.
I felt like he actually meant it until my subconscious beckons me from the pink folds of my brain “he is getting paid to do this.”
These voices fade away as I courageously ask him to hug me for the photo.
Nervously I face the wrong direction of the camera, he teases me by saying “I think you want to be facing the camera love.” When he slithers his hand around my waist, it feels as if it belongs there and to my surprise his lips make contact with my blushing cheek. When it does everyone in the room disappears. It is just he and I, because I pay no attention to anyone else as I provide the camera the biggest most genuine smile I have ever given.
With the adrenaline of the moment I spit out a quick goodbye and thank you before I was ushered out of the room.
When I receive my picture a grin, ear to ear, is drawn on to my face. I dissect every inch, every detail I can find in the photo. The way held me, the grasp he has on my hip, the way his eyes are squinting in a smile as if he is examining me himself, but lastly the way he is smiling into the kiss.
It makes it seem as if it is his pleasure instead of mine. The time seems to be rigid now and I await the desolation of the year’s worth of hope collapse around me. The heartache of losing him when he was never actually mine.
The idea of him, of him and I. How he did not fall head over heels as I was so sure it was going to happen. I look at the kiss over and over until the pain is strained and I relive all the moments that made my stomach flutter.
I look back at that entry and it all so prepubescent. How as a grown woman, I would never over sensationalise a celebrity like that. The amount of celebrities I have bumped into on the streets of London and don’t think twice about asking for a photo. Instead I simply pass by with the satisfaction of knowing these people exist.
Now one question keeps repeating in my head and has been for almost the past 10 years over my own obsession with the 23-year-old soloist. What makes Harry Styles so desirable? How has he stolen the hearts of millions of girls without even meeting them?
After befriending a small group of girls near my spot in line, they gladly agreed to keep my spot warm as I jumped the line to find the answer. Towards the front of the line I met two girls who had flown in all the way from Australia just to witness Harry’s first solo tour.
“He wasn’t doing a tour in Australia and I had to see and support him on his first solo tour. I am so proud of him. The last time I saw Harry perform was in 2015 when he was in One Direction, and they did their last tour in Australia,” one of them tells me.
Harry Styles’ slogan for his tour is “Treating People With Kindness” and around 3:00pm, on that Monday afternoon, he practices what he preaches. His fans are rewarded with hot chocolate and pizza, compliment of Harry himself for their dedication to withstand the elements and sacrifice their day just to see him perform for a few hours.
Girls close to the barriers stand up so they can pass everyone down their line a slice of pizza before helping themselves. “We have to wait for the hot chocolate before we take a photo it’ll ruin the aesthetic,” one girl raves. “I’m lactose intolerant but Harry bought this for me so I have to eat it. Love is pain,” another girl says almost in defeat. My spot in line is right underneath Harry Styles’ name printed in red block letters above the venue.
A shorter girl, shuffling in a pair of wedges that are too tall for her, handed me a Polaroid camera so I could take a photo of her underneath his ostentatious name with her pizza slice, “Can y’all believe Harry Styles bought ME hot chocolate and pizza. It’s almost as if we had a date.” She says this rather fast as if she’s convincing herself only she was the only one who got rewarded with pizza – ignoring the other 300 girls in the queue.
“Why do you like Harry Styles so much?” I took this question around the queue. “This right here,” one says as she points at her pizza slice. “Because he’s a mama’s boy,” another reveals.
“God have you seen his hair? It belongs in a museum!”
“Because he’s all in one! He loves his mum, cares for us his fans, sensitive, and he doesn’t care about his fame. I wouldn’t be surprise if he wasn’t even real. Probably some muppet crafted by the government to steal our money,” another girl laughs.
“He’s unbelievably charming. Every time I watch an interview with him I’m shocked to see how naturally flirty he is,” says someone else. “His love for us – no matter what, he seeks his best to support us – he makes us feel like the celebrity. Example number one he just bought us pizza.”
“His sense of humour. He’s not even a dad yet, but somehow his jokes are worse than my father’s.” I was shocked not one of them mentioned his looks.
It is time to enter the venue and girls trip and slide to get to the front of the stage, like a can of sardines everyone’s stuck in one position with their arms up, camera in hand ready to document the night.
Finally, the lights dim and our eardrums ring from the excitement. The stage is covered by a pink satin curtain, and the audience chants as Harry teases them with his silhouette shown through the fabric as he hums a few notes to his opening song. The theatrical curtain drops and there Harry Styles shines in his flamboyant golden suit with a hint of 70s rock ‘n roll flare.
The light hits him perfectly portraying him as a glimmering star, making the girls push as far to the front as possible. For once the only tears that threaten my eyes are the ones from the same girl elbowing me in the ribcage. I have to stand on my tip toes just for a breath of air. It’s a game of tug-of-war, and if it were any other celebrity, this wouldn’t be worth it.
He plays with the objects thrown on stage, slipping on kiwis, running around hysterically with a pride flag chasing close behind him while spitting water into the audience. They love it. Harry is not afraid to make a fool of himself. He mocks himself with a laughable grab at his own crotch while he performs the song, From the Dining Room Table which a discredited popular belief is about Harry “playing with himself” in a hotel room.
Styles might be one of the biggest super stars on this planet but he is organic and gives the audience what they want – for example singing the same song Kiwi twice in one show, even if it strays away from the original production plan.
Harry is someone girls would proudly bring home to their mothers. He’s down to earth, respectful, a clown all in all, but also has a cheeky devilish side and is not afraid to be a little X-rated.
Unlike Justin Bieber where publicity seems fake, his personal life is very publicised. It makes you think he rebels just for the attention, or Taylor Swift, whose red lips and long list of ex-boyfriends tend to eclipse her music, Harry’s approach to his celebrity persona is very rare. He simply is, and it can be quite refreshing to see a person with such fame handle it so care free like.
For his adult consumers, it’s a breath of fresh air to find a young artist who embodies carefree traits with an allure of mystery. He’s like Tom Hanks for the older generation of women. When you hear press about him, it’s usually about something nice he’s done for the public. (such as pizza and hot chocolate.)
So, 14 songs and 17 fainting girls later, Harry’s show comes to an end. I could see why everyone is so keen over this rock star. Harry was no longer hidden amongst four other band members, but shone brightly as an individual in his golden suit.
He seems to have the utmost respect for the people responsible for putting him on that stage. “I am so proud to be in your presence.” Harry says in the midst of his show. Such solemn integrity could be seen as a hackneyed old saying – which also might sound cloy, but you feel the appreciation – he means every word. Harry blows one final kiss before vanishing behind the stage, leaving use to herd ourselves out like cattle.
Watching Harry Styles live was a religious experience, and by that I mean when he sang What Makes You Beautiful my spirit had left my body and entered a new heavenly realm of pure innocent bliss. That night was a movie; one for the books.
I know I will be singing Sign of Times at the top of my lungs in the shower and buying hard copies of every album he sells until I’m 93 and can no longer hear.
And if he does a reunion concert in 50 years, you bet I’ll be breaking my hip trying to get front row. Because I can’t think of anything more sensible and adult-like than acknowledging and championing what you believe in with no shame.
No matter who you’re fangirling (or fanboying) about, you know they have has something to offer. Because your idol is creating something out there that matters to you. And it does matter, to me.
Will I ever be ashamed of being called a fangirl? Never. Instead I will wear the title loud and proud along with my Harry Styles’ Tour T-shirt.
All images By Isabel Cintron