On March 25, 2015, I received my acceptance letter from Vassar and was overwhelmed with happiness. Yet that same day, the heartbreaking news that Zayn had left One Direction, the most successful boy band of all-time, left the world and me devastated.
Fans around the world mourned this news as if it were the death of a family member because, in its own way, this marked the beginning of the end of the band. A band that I had loved unabashedly ever since I heard the infamous song “What Makes You Beautiful” during my freshman year of high school.
Exactly a year later, Zayn released his solo debut album, “Mind of Mine,” which achieved critical and social acclaim. Now, around a year later, Harry Styles debuted his monumental first solo single, “Sign of the Times.”
March 25 has been a significant date in my personal life and in the music industry, and Styles’ debut solo single illustrates tremendous growth in both range and style from his years in One Direction.
Harry Styles has always been the most popular band member. This is an undisputed fact by all, and I am sure Styles is aware of it himself. His charismatic nature combined with mesmerizing curly hair has made him one of the most sought-after bachelors in the world.
Due to his undeniable fame, Styles could have dropped anything and it would have debuted in the Top 10 on the Billboard Charts, no matter how terrible it was.
When I first saw the track’s cover art and release date on his Twitter, I was honestly expecting a three-minute, auto-tuned mess. Zayn’s debut single, “Pillowtalk,” topped the charts for weeks, and while it showcased his range and newfound style as a solo artist, it completely lacked depth. It was clearly made for Top 40 charts. Yet I didn’t blame Zayn for going in this direction. While his album as a whole better exemplified his capabilities, “Pillowtalk” was still a disappointment to an avid fan of One Direction and pop music.
Before I listen to new music, I try to be in a headspace where I can fully take in the song and all of its complexities. Thus, I grabbed a coffee and a muffin from the retreat, and sat down in a silent Rose Parlor on a cold Friday morning. As I braced myself for a similar sound to that of Zayn’s, I pressed play on Styles’ track.
I immediately noticed that it didn’t sound like anything produced by One Direction. His normally powerful, commanding voice sounded vulnerable and fragile. As Styles choked out, “Just stop your crying it’s a sign of the times. Welcome to the final show / I hope you’re wearing your best clothes,” there is an essence of the sublime in the terrifyingly beautiful nature of his vocals. I was truly blown away.
The five-minute, 41-second track is a rollercoaster that you never want to get off of. It starts off slow and builds up into a powerful chorus that showcases Styles’ vocals, which are accompanied by classic rock instrumentals. There is a sense of cataclysmic ecstasy in the percussive sounds that preclude the chorus, which easily is my favorite part of the song. The track then once again shifts, with Styles belting “We’ve got to get away” for the last minute. After it finished, I took a second to pause, collect myself and then pressed repeat.
The song is a journey, one that I am very willing to take with Styles. Its journey details his avoidance of coping with emotions, which is something many people grapple with each day. Toward its end, he says, “We don’t talk enough, we should open up / before it’s all too much. Will we ever learn? We’ve been here before. It’s just what we know.”
Styles continues to throw out everything you could ever want from a song. The only thing that could make it even better would be hearing it live.
From someone who sings about what makes girls beautiful or the little things that make someone special, Styles impressively strays away from this platform while still appealing to his fan base. This ode to classic rock has the depth that Zayn failed to achieve in “Pillowtalk.”
While it has only been out for a few days, I am confident that it will not quickly disappear. Rather, this will eternally serve as a comparison to his years in One Direction, his first album and subsequently the rest of his promising career both as an artist and as an actor.
With “Sign of the Times,” Styles really does it all. He is able to showcase his impressive vocals, steer away from his previous sound and set precedent for the rest of his album and career as a solo artist. I immediately made everyone that I knew listen to it and experience this greatness for themselves.
When I first mentioned that Harry Styles had released a new song, everyone gave me an “Are you kidding me, I’m not going to listen to that!” look. Yet, after hearing the track, one friend texted me the next day saying that it was all she could listen to.
If you hate anything and everything associated with the band One Direction, I urge you to give this song a listen. It might surprise you.
The sole reason that I did not give Styles’ song the golden five stars is spite. I’m still mourning One Direction and their breakup, and I will not be generous with my ratings of any solo tracks or albums until I have bought a front row seat to their reunion tour. I am still regaining my voice from going to back-to-back shows three years ago.
I really have invested too much of my teenage years defending and glorifying this band to all who will listen, but I’m not about to apologize now. Styles has demonstrated his capability as a solo artist with “Sign of the Times,” and I cannot wait to hear the beauty that will accompany his record. So stop your crying and listen to the song of the times!