harry styles
With his 2017 debut in the rearview, many fans are seeking a more experimental style of Harry Styles. (Illustration by Claire Maske, Skidmore College)
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harry styles

Two years after Styles teased new music, the follow-up to his successful 2017 debut album has been shrouded in mystery.

Laced with soul and vulnerability, Harry Styles’ self-titled solo debut album, “Harry Styles,” rings true to his inner being. In exposing his emotions and tapping into the trials of his personal life, Styles released a unique, coming-of-age album, largely set apart from today’s typical mainstream hits.

The album, heavily influenced by ‘60s and ‘70s soft rock, hit platinum in the United States, made no. 17 on the Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Albums of 2017 and charted no. 10 on Billboard’s 50 Best Albums of 2017: Critics’ Picks, and received many other accolades as well. The success of the ex-One Direction star’s first real attempt at a career on his own has left many wondering how his second album will fare.

After the “Harry Styles” tour came to an end, Styles made an Instagram post which said, “I’m off to write more music and I hope I’ll be seeing you again very soon.” At the two-year anniversary of the album release, Styles tweeted, “Two Years. Thank you for everything. I love you, truly. H #HS2Year.”

Sparking conversation of possible double meaning, #HS2Year was spread across Twitter by fans longing for a second album. Millions of album-hungry fans are digging for clues and grasping at straws, outrageous or not, trying to decipher what the upcoming album may contain.

Many of these theories are based on current events and his recent happenings, but I’ve analyzed four predictions for Styles’ next album, currently referred to as “HS2,” based on the first album and his more current appearances. Styles is notorious for being mysterious and keeping out of the media’s eye, but there are hints and clues which could lead to uncovering the secrets around everything that will be “HS2.”

1. Continuum of Reflection with Extended Confessional Themes

The lyrics of each song on his debut album tap into Styles’ personal life and dig into his hidden wounds. “Harry Styles” is unhinged, raw and overflowing with themes of romance and lost love. Underlying the dominant themes are quick flashes of melancholy, heartbreak, revelation and jealousy.

Each song in the album lyrically expresses and exposes Styles’ personal thoughts and emotions; “From the Dining Table” is a deep cut into heartbreak as Styles describes his lonely nights in hotel rooms and missing someone’s call, while “Woman” compares his jealousy to a beast. “Carolina” details a love encounter with a young woman from — you guessed it — one of the Carolinas and “Only Angel” is about a woman with the contrasting qualities of being an angel and a “devil in between the sheets.”

These lyrics are a sharp turn away from English-Irish pop band One Direction’s more watered-down lyrics. The band — which consisted of heartthrobs Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne and formerly, Zayn Malik — was generally geared towards upbeat, uplifting love songs. All five of their albums are known for following repetitive themes, so breaking away provided Styles a place in his career to be more expressive and explore some of the less optimistic parts of his psyche.

With Styles’ solo album came vulnerability in the lightest sense, and HS2 is not far behind in potentially holding more deep reflections in releasing aspects of his personal life. In an interview with Elvis Duran and The Morning Show discussing his first album, Styles said, “All I know, really, is that I wanted to write through the whole album, I wanted it to be really honest. I didn’t want to hide, and I just wanted to write what I wanted to listen to.” With that being said, HS2 could potentially (and most likely will) hold more revealing, personal songs.

Styles will likely continue touching upon heartbreak and romance, but personal growth and time could bring out other deep revelations, making him enter into an era filled with (hopefully) new themes. 

2. An Edgier, More Daring Aesthetic

The “Harry Styles” album cover and tour aesthetic incorporated unique, well-executed branding elements, but edgier, more alternative elements could be in store for HS2.

Pink-tinted milky water and bare exposure of Styles’ necklace-clad back adorn the “Harry Styles” album cover, which follows the underlying themes of vulnerability, simplicity and sorrow, further evidenced by Styles’ lyrics.

On tour, he commonly wore suits and outfits custom made by Gucci, Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein, Givenchy, Alexander McQueen and fashion student Harry Reed, among other famously-known brands. While his suits are notable for being sharp and sophisticated, his attire on the road was diverse and colorful, some pieces incorporating touches of various cultural influences.

The album cover and tour attire were simple and effective, but Styles is becoming more well-known for breaking societal gender norms and leaving fans and critics in shock. At the 2019 Met Gala, Styles could be seen wearing a sheer black top with lace detailing, high-waisted black trousers, heels, painted nails and earrings, bringing feminine qualities to men’s fashion; at the 2020 Gucci Cruise in Rome, Styles arrived with an off-white suit, a clutch, pink-lensed glasses and more painted nails.

The HS2 tour, album cover and overall aesthetic could mimic these recent style choices. His simple approach in reflecting vulnerability and anguish in his original album cover was a choice well-made, but his style has become bolder and even more deliberate with two years having passed, which could make the branding and his image edgier and bolder than ever before.

3. More Mellow, Soulful Vibes but With a More Diverse Genre Influence

“Harry Styles” is leveraged by ‘70s soft rock, indie folk, rock and pop, giving the album a distinct mix of sound. “Rolling Stone” goes as far as to declare the album as “California mellow gold,” a possible reference to Beck’s album, “Mellow Gold,” which incorporated a variety of styles ranging from rock to psychedelic and country.

A couple of songs from Styles’ album are more heavily influenced by rock, including “Only Angel” and “Kiwi,” while instrumentals and pitches from songs like “Two Ghosts” and “Sign of the Times” borrow more from the subgenres of folk rock and pop rock, respectively.

For his first solo album, Styles took a far leap away from his roots in pop, fostered by his time in One Direction. For an artist gone solo, he and his producers released an album with a distinct, unique taste, and I expect these newly risen elements to be enhanced in the next album.

With such a sharp transition from what Styles is used to, there may have been something holding him back from fully breaking into other genres and delving into experimentation, despite his successful dive into soft rock.

For his next album, I anticipate more rock, alternative, indie and psychedelic subgenres and possibly funk and new wave, based on what he is already digging into. Branching into these would still stay true to what he is gearing his work towards, which seems to be very specific, without straying too far from where he is building up from.

4. Collabs with Today’s — and Yesterday’s — Heavy Hitters

The first album ran entirely solo, maintaining Styles’ oath to keep the lyrics and messages honest and true to himself. Recent duets with Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks and an earlier duet with Kacey Musgraves has listeners desperately seeking more collaboration on “HS2,” and his covers of “Wild Thoughts” by DJ Khaled, “Ultralight Beams” by Kanye West and “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart” by Ariana Grande reflect his insane vocal flexibility and ability to work and experiment with different genres.

“Harry Styles” seemingly pays homage to the work of Elton John, Fleetwood Mac and late ‘60s and ‘70s soft rock artists with its instrumentals and acoustics, so collaborations with artists in that realm and genre seem like the ideal fit. His artistic flair and vocal range, however, would further enable him to experiment beyond his comfort zone, potentially with artists in alternative rock, folk and other genres.

With his current music sitting somewhere between soft rock and indie and his career-spanning experience in collaboration, “HS2” has the undeniable potential to include Styles working with other artists. While the album may not be as collab-heavy as Ed Sheeran’s new album, which features more than 20 artists (yes, on a single album), I expect a few collabs with Styles being even more comfortable in his own skin as a solo artist.

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