In all my years supporting Harry Styles, whether as a member of One Direction or as a solo musician, I am ashamed to say that I have never seen this man perform live. Yeah, sort of. The closest I ever got was taking a 1AM Megabus from Baltimore to New York to see One Direction perform at the Today show in 2013. My friends and I managed to get closest to the band, directly behind and across the street from the Toyota Summer Concert stage with a huge, red orb obscuring our view.
Still, despite my limited experience, I’m largely skeptical of Styles as a good live act. I’ve seen enough of his television appearances and recordings of his shows to know that he doesn’t exactly have the Mick Jagger-esque vibrancy he always tries to emulate, and that his Prince-esque costumes (although he somehow still looks good) in his ugly plunging jumpsuits) aren’t as glamorous as people say. His live singing is either disappointing or just fine. And he always lowers his songs by multiple keys or avoids high notes entirely, seemingly to keep his voice from cracking.
And just in case you think my opinions are totally misinformed, I’ve also heard several stories from recent concertgoers and people who attended his Coachella set in May that while the atmosphere was good, he’s no Bruce Springsteen.
That said, my most recent bot to pick with the British heartthrob has less to do with how magnetic an artist he is or not, but how well he can select songs, particularly his choice to pull out “What Makes You Beautiful”. feed. as his only tribute to his One Direction days on his current tour (entitled Love on tour).
When a friend told me he played this 2011 tune during his recent stay at Madison Square Garden, I was both alarmed and offended. I saw him perform One Direction’s breakout single on a livestream of his Coachella set (terrible, I might add). He also did it on his first solo tour in 2017. But I hoped this was a short-lived stunt that he would eventually learn just doesn’t work when performed by him alone with his mature, serious voice.
Perhaps he wanted to show the world that he could successfully sing the bridge, which Directioners will remember was always a struggle for him. According to setlist.fm, he has performed the song on all 15 MSG shows and will likely continue this tradition as he tours the rest of the country.
To be clear, my problem isn’t with “What Makes You Beautiful” itself, which I still think is a solid pop song. And I understand the excitement of hearing that first guitar riff nearly a decade after it was released. But it’s arguably the 17th best One Direction song in their five-album catalog and the most uninspired choice for a 1D callback. I wonder if Styles assumes his fans won’t be so enthusiastic about the 50 other hits the boy band had during their six-year career. Does he think his audience now consists of people who weren’t deeply obsessed with One Direction? Why not make a deep cut for Geriatric Directioners like me?
It would still be a safe but more interesting choice if Styles chose an acoustic ballad from one of One Direction’s later albums, such as “Night Changes”, “Story of My Life” or “You and I” – although he would have to call in Zayn to hit that high note. I also think Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag” would be a brilliant choice given the band’s cover of the song in their 3D concert film and its current popularity on TikTok. However, my ideal pick would be “Stockholm Syndrome” from the group’s fourth album FOUR, which is still a fan favorite despite not being released as a single. At least in 2017 he had the foresight to perform it during Harry Styles: Live On Tour as a counterbalance to the bland choice of “What Makes You Beautiful.”
At this point in his megawatt career, I understand Styles nodding to his boy band period in any form or fashion is a gift. Technically, he doesn’t need to remind us of his x Factor start if he doesn’t want to. However, if he’s paying tribute to 1D, at least do it in a way that really honors the group and their musical contributions, not a silly karaoke performance where he spends half the song into the mic like someone’s drunk dad with a really horrible arrangement. The guys – maybe not Liam – and Simon Cowell deserve better than this!
Stay obsessed! Sign up for the Daily Beast’s Obsessed Newsletter and follow us Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.