Most importantly, Harry Styles believes in you. Less important, but also true, so do I.
I know two things: 1) Harry Styles is the most prolific pop star of my generation and 2) Death is certain.
An industry nerd and a quite dedicated Harry Styles connoisseur (if the One Direction tattoo placed delicately on the back of my right arm says anything), I spent the last month and a half waiting for Harry Styles’ Rolling Stone cover and profile to drop.
Unable to keep quiet about the information that my job required me to lock away, I shared the news that Styles was to cover RS with my sister, yet another Harry Styles fan. We kept a vicious watch over the publication’s website, awaiting this heavenly piece of content to drop.
Yesterday, Rolling Stone gifted me with the visual and textual pieces of glory I’d been painfully awaiting.
The visuals and pictures are stunning, placing Styles in a realm of gender nonconformity that only Prince, Bowie and Mercury were able to access, claim and master. Lace frills brush against the popstar’s masculine jawline in an intimate portrait as pink satin shirts with bows adorn his body in other stills.
Make no mistake, the twenty-three-year-old’s refusal to conform isn’t new, nor is it a marketing ploy. The singer’s inherent brand of feminine masculinity’s been present since his One Direction days, when his long hair and women’s jeans paraded on stage in front of thousands of fans a night.
For as long as I’ve been a fan, the sensation’s constantly subverted stereotypes, rejecting toxic masculinity through his open affection for his male friends (kissing James Corden square on the mouth on television is just one example my mind finds right now) and his visible support for LGBTQ freedoms and women’s rights. Styles even almost named his debut solo album Pink, after Paul Simonon’s iconic quote, “Pink is the only true rock & roll colour.”
If anything, this “newer” Styles, the one the world’s now seeing, feels the most authentic. However, it isn’t Rolling Stone’s inclusion of Styles’ ability to subvert binaries which most stunned me. It was Styles words about teenage girls.
When probed about needing to appeal to a “more respected” (ie: older male) demographic as a solo artist during his Rolling Stone profile, Styles subverted the question, rejecting the notion that the teen girl demographic is less valid and inherently worthy of respect than any other demographic by saying,
Who’s to say that young girls who like pop music – short for popular, right? – have worse musical taste than a 30-year-old hipster guy? That’s not up to you to say. Music is something that’s always changing. There’s no goal posts. Young girls like the Beatles. You gonna tell me they’re not serious? How can you say young girls don’t get it? They’re our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going. Teenage-girl fans – they don’t lie. If they like you, they’re there. They don’t act ‘too cool.’ They like you, and they tell you. Which is sick.
Styles’ answer sewed back together the broken hearts of teenage girls and young women around the globe. He did what few male- and female- pop artists do, he stood up for and validated teenage girls and young women.
His words may seem surface level, even shallow, to someone who’s never been a teenage girl. But for those who have, Styles’ words are a direct form of validation from someone who’s on top of their game. His words are a salve; a nod of mutual respect.
Now twenty-two, tiny tears clung to my eyelashes as I read, reread and then saved the singer’s words about teenage girls to my digital mood board (saying “mood board” makes me C R I N G E). They reminded me of my own struggle as a teenage girl, when everything I did, liked, and said was under intense scrutiny due to my gender. They reminded me of a time when I was invalidated just ’cause I dared to exist.
Pop music was my dirty secret as a teenager. Correction: the Jonas Brothers and One Direction were my guilty pleasures as a teenage girl chilling in the suburbs.
During the day I’d roam the halls of my Long Island high school, socialize, buy the gooey cookies from the cafeteria, attend my AP classes like the academic whiz I was and actively take on the role of the mom friend as my friends made stupid choices (a short list of these choices: streaking, coming to school drunk, sneaking out, hopping in cars with strangers to go through the Wendy’s drive thru).
But when I was in the confines of my own room? It was Jo Bro and One Direction time.
You see, large and glossy paper posters of the Backstreet Boys, N*SYNC, the Spice Girls, the Jonas Brothers, and One Direction have all graced my walls during one point in my life. I’ve had Spice Girls action figures, One Direction glitter pens, and my favorite: a life size cardboard cutout of pop sensation Zayn Malik. I’ve fallen for every pop music franchise that has been constructed for and marketed specifically to my demographic.
However, I knew my love for pop, as a teenage girl, meant that I was a walking target for misogyny.
I knew that my gender lessened my validity and intelligence in the eyes of critics. It also didn’t help that male pop stars had (and do still have) laissez fare attitudes towards their largely teen female fanbases, never defending them when harsh critics came for them and valued all the music they listened to as lesser and inferior just because of their gender. Teenage girls, then and now, are seen as nothing but a cash cow that artists and critics abuse and demean while they simultaneously exploit us.
If ever found out, I’d hide my pop passions behind the guise of liking these pop groups “ironically,” because irony was safe, it sheltered me from veiled sexism and criticism. I’d seen the whispers and the laughs thrown at the girls who wore their One Direction and Justin Bieber tour t-shirts proudly to school. But I had also seen cheers and fist bumps shared between teenage boys who wore their Yankees, Jets, and Nets jerseys to school.
I was scared to be myself and unabashedly love the things I loved, but hiding my passions and likes was tiring.
One day, I just stopped caring. As a teenage girl, everything I enjoyed was going to be demeaned simply because I was enjoying it, so what was the point of hiding? It felt freeing to just not care (it also gave me more time to talk about Zayn Malik and Harry Styles, so win/win).
It took me a while to get there and realize that hey, I’m valid and I don’t deserve the shit I get because of my age and gender, but I got there, even without the wise words of the daringly handsome gender bending pop sensation that is Harry Styles.
I’m just really happy he finally acknowledged just how demeaned and invalidated teenage girls are, namely in the realm of pop culture, so a whole new generation of women and girls will realize they’re valid and important, no matter what anyone (ahem, mostly men) say.
Young women are so smart. We love what we love for a reason. We’re a sought after demographic for a reason, we’re the bomb.com.
We actively engage in the media that we love unlike any other demographic and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Pop music and pop culture’s the one thing in a phallocentric world that’s meant for us, so why should we be embarrassed about actively consuming it?
Liking what we like doesn’t make that thing inherently lesser. Having young women as an audience doesn’t lessen the importance or value of a product and if someone thinks that, then guess what? They’re a misogynist and should be schooled ASAP (please send me their twitter handle or email address- I just want to talk).
Young females are transforming the way media is being consumed. Gendered franchises and marketing techniques must adapt, media must adapt, society must adapt, to the new wave of forward thinking that belongs to pop culture loving young women that are reaching maturation. So, explain to me how we’re not valid and respected yet? (I mean, the answer is clearly sexism, but come on now people).
Harry Styles is right*, girls are valid, our interests are valid and we’re not going anywhere. In fact, we’re just getting started and we demand your respect.
*For once, I’m agreeing with a man, but let me clear this up, it’s not just any man, it’s Harry Styles.