When Harry Styles first began his post-One Direction solo career, he lived in fear of the other shoe dropping. In a new interview with Better Homes and Garden, he discussed the cleanliness clauses baked into his early contracts, parameters of perception he had to operate within that threatened to directly impact his budding career if he slipped up.
He says that when he signed his first contract after going solo, and those clauses disappeared, he burst into tears of relief: “I felt free,” he said.
But even during the making of his 2017 self-titled debut album, the singer felt pressure to make music that would be taken seriously after years of One Direction being seen as a manufactured boy band and nothing more. Then there was the added interrogation of his personal life as a teenager and young adult that saddled him with a shameful feeling of needing to hide his sex life — the one thing he felt was his own.
“For a long time, it felt like the only thing that was mine was my sex life,” Styles said. “I felt so ashamed about it, ashamed at the idea of people even knowing that I was having sex, let alone who with. But I think I got to a place where I was like, why do I feel ashamed? I’m a 26-year-old man who’s single; it’s like, yes, I have sex.”
It was while making his third solo album, Harry’s House, that Styles said he really figured out how to remove the weight of the past. In the forced stillness of the pandemic, he explained, “Suddenly, the screaming stopped.” Rather than contorting himself around how he may be perceived externally, the musician found a sense of home and peace of mind in his own autonomy.
“I think everyone went through a big moment of self-reflection, a lot of navel-gazing, and I don’t know if there’s anything more navel-gazing than making an album,” he quipped. “It’s so self-absorbed.”
Styles described the LP — out May 20 — as his most fun and most intimate to date. He added that, while making it, he barred himself from listening to anything besides classical music so that he could shape the record as if it were a blank canvas.
Styles added that he’s reached a peak where “finally, it doesn’t feel like my life is over if this album isn’t a commercial success.” Still, it’s almost a given that it will be. The project’s lead single, “As It Was” had already kicked off its dominance on streaming and radio before the singer debuted it live over two weekends headlining Coachella.
Of the song, Rob Sheffield wrote: “‘As It Was’ comes out almost exactly five years after he began his solo career. (He dropped “Sign of the Times” on April 7, 2017.) Yet it sounds like an artist who’s just getting started. ‘As It Was’ is more than a creative peak — it’s a fearless leap into a new era.”