The singer uses the power of positivity to delight the Brixton Academy

Harry Styles went from One Direction to one of the biggest solo pop stars in the world

Towards the end of his One Night Only gig at London’s O2 Academy Brixton on Tuesday, his first UK gig in four years and the first UK outing for his acclaimed new album Harry’s House, Harry Styles spotted an 18-year-old years called Jess in the crowd.

I had chatted with her just before the concert started, as intrigued as Styles by what she was holding.

“Jess’s sign,” he told the audience of 5,000, “says, and I could paraphrase, ‘My boyfriend slept with my best friend’.”

Cue loud boos, a chorus of solidarity from the mostly female crowd, most of whom have followed him since his One Direction days.

“It’s brutal,” he told Jess, to cheers. “What I will say is you’re better off without him, clearly.”

The audience went wild, Styles dedicated his next song to her – a sweet acoustic track called Boyfriends – and, for one night only, the student and part-time supermarket worker became the most envied and celebrated woman. of the place.

This interaction sums up why Styles is so popular.

Harry Styles on stage at Brixton Academy

Harry Styles on stage at Brixton Academy

He is the male friend that all women want, the one who is by your side. Her USP — aside from her zeitgeisty defiance of gender norms and her obvious beauty — is emotional intelligence. Unlike boyfriends, who, as the lyrics to her song of the same name say, “think you’re so easy, they take you for granted, they don’t know they misunderstand you.”

Harry’s House is his third solo album, and the one he describes as “the most me”. It may also be the one where its appeal finally catches up with its media profile in terms of sales.

The nostalgic, synth-infused As It Was became America’s most streamed single in a day, with 8.3 million streams, when it launched in April – and it could land the top three spots on the UK charts more late this week.

You could say he’s the first high-profile solo male pop star the UK has produced since Ed Sheeran.

Harry Styles on stage at Brixton Academy

Harry Styles on stage at Brixton Academy

The album has only been out for a few days, but as he hopped and strutted from side to side of the stage, past the outline of a giant neon house and a group of five musicians (again mostly female), Styles was confident that this crowd would already know the lyrics by heart.

They didn’t let him down, because he was pointing the microphone at them again and again. There was taste in their take on the poppy’s slightly risque last line, happy cinema. “I bring pop to cinema,” he sang. “You break out when we get intimate,” they repeated.

Styles has been touring since he was 17, first with One Direction and now on his own — and he’s good at it. In Brixton, he was having fun at the start of a tour that will take him to stadiums across the UK ahead of further gigs in Europe and the US.

But it’s not rock ‘n’ roll as we once knew it.

In an interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music, Styles said he doesn’t drink alcohol on the road and sleeps between 10 and 12 hours a night. A pin-up for more sober times.

He also shared that the months he spent locked down in Los Angeles and London during the pandemic were the longest he had spent in one place in 12 years. (His family has previously shared how he went to the X Factor audition at age 16, became a member of One Direction, and “never came home again.”)

His post-Covid message, he told the Brixton crowd, was: “We go out and be nice to each other. Be nice, the world needs it.” But in some ways, the pandemic may have brought some relief and space for reflection after 12 tumultuous and turbulent years – and it shows in this joyful and reflective album.

Harry Styles on stage at Brixton Academy

Harry Styles on stage at Brixton Academy

In addition to pop, Styles has wowed the fashion crowd. Sequins, feather boas, cowboy hats and polka dot dresses – he wore them all. For this unique Brixton special, however, he opted for white trousers and a polka dot T-shirt. But many of his fans had dressed up. Pink abounded. Abi Kohen, 23, described her sparkly outfit to me as “like a disco ball having a baby with a pink emu.”

She and her friend Georgia May-Campbell, who live in London, spent thousands of pounds on tickets to five Styles concerts over the summer, with outfits already planned for each. They met while training to be nannies, bonded over their love of One Direction, and have seen Styles in concert more than 20 times.

Even more dedicated were the fans who showed up at the Academy two days before the concert. Simona Todissco, 28, arrived at lunchtime on Sunday with her friend Marika Candiotti from Manchester (others told me they were from South Wales, Spain, Glasgow, Colchester, Lowestoft and Norway). Tents were not allowed on the streets of Brixton, but a local woman took pity on the couple and gave them blankets as the rain fell.

It’s the kindness sought by Harry Styles, which he also returned on stage. I lost count of how many times he said thank you to the audience. He dedicated Love of My Life, the tender final title of his album, to “every one of you”. And he stopped the gig twice, after noticing a distressed fan in the sweaty melee.

Harry Styles on stage at Brixton Academy

Harry Styles on stage at Brixton Academy

He’s so polite – a pop star to make his mother proud. (She was at the concert and received huge cheers.) But her appeal lies in her authenticity.

North Londoner Gavin got fired up as he told me how Harry had ‘rebuilt’ his anxious teenage daughter with his positive messages. “As Bowie taught me about sexuality and that’s okay,” he said, “he made a big contribution.”

Styles brought the night to a crescendo with the rock-filled Kiwi from her debut album, and Jess went off on a high, still waving her boyfriend sign aloft, but less devastated by her ex’s betrayal after that. pep talk from his hero.

“He said I didn’t need him,” she told me. “And if I have to take advice from anyone, it will be Harry Styles.”