Music

Making The Ground Quake: Six Nights On Tour With Harry Styles

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This is the summer I lost my voice. In a six-week span, I saw Harry Styles perform six times in four different cities. My real-life friends are confused. I leave home for a week at a time, flying to some random city halfway across the country. What’s in Nashville? I return with another venue wristband stacked on my wrist, circles under my eyes, and legs stiff from dancing. I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.

If I take a step back, I know my obsession with Harry Styles is curious. It’s not that liking him makes me an outsider. Harry’s voice is the real deal — fans and veteran rock critics like Cameron Crowe and Rob Sheffield all vouch for his talent. Harry is politically active, he donates portions of his tour merch sales to local charities, and has charisma for days. The man is easy to like.

But the kind of fervor with which I love Harry Styles is more unusual, at least among my real-life peers. I’ve always liked One Direction, but I will admit that my passion for Harry Styles has ramped up a bit in the last couple of months. One ticket to the Nashville show multiplied into six, balcony seats were sold for the pit. I’m embarrassed to let my parents borrow my phone to take a photo of me in my graduation gown because the last eleven pictures in my camera roll are Harry memes.

There’s also the inescapable fact that this kind of fandom is often seen as a pathology. It’s hard to avoid applying this kind of logic to myself, especially when I have people telling me that it “makes sense” for me to “turn to Harry right now.” For the first time in my life, I’m not in school. Career-wise, I don’t have anything long-term lined up. I’ve got Love, Simon-levels of anxiety and angst, even though I should have figured all of this out by now. Whenever I try and analyze why I have this much affection for Harry, I always settle on the same thing: Something’s got to be wrong with me if I love something this much.

But what if I’m not wrong? In the temporary community of the pit, surrounded by my friends who are doctors and lawyers and journalists and mothers and healthy queer adults — and, yeah, high school students — all of us screaming along to Harry’s lyrics and sweating and pouring our hearts out to him, I’ve never felt more free. Toward the beginning of every show, Harry tells the crowd to “feel free to be whoever it is you want to be in this room tonight.” With the house lights off, it doesn’t matter what we look like or who we were before we got to the venue. Harry has the microphone, but we’re louder. Every time we open our mouths to scream, the ground quakes.

June 6, Toyota Center, Houston

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Mexico City Two, Live On Tour.

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My first Harry show comes together in typically chaotic fashion. The day before, my friend S posts that she’s giving away free tickets, after upgrading her own seats at the last minute. Houston is four hours away from where I live, but S’s tickets are a gift from an angel, and a boring Thursday is transformed into a mad rush to get everything together.

I’m going to the show with D and M, some of the only One Direction and Harry Styles fans I know in real life, though D would want me to tell you she’s more of a Niall girl. The four hours to Houston fly by as we speculate on which Houston clubs Harry would like the most and sing along to One Direction deep cuts.

I’d seen Harry once before, in Austin for a solo show in the very tiny, very oversold Moody Theater, and D and M had been to One Direction shows. But in Houston’s Toyota Center, Harry is absolutely on fire. The stage is a 360 setup, with people sitting in the raised seating behind the stage, and Harry utilizes every square inch of it. He runs to the back and waves, careens off to the far side, somehow not tripping over his corded mic or giant white flared pants. If you watch enough interviews, you’ll quickly realize how fidgety Harry is, always picking at the skin around his nails, rubbing his nose, swinging his feet. But onstage, his energy runs boundless.

I hadn’t realized it, but after a couple months of watching live streams of his performances at earlier tour dates, I kind of move my body the way Harry does, without even realizing it. I jab my fists in the air and yelp and shake my shoulders during “Only Angel” and bob up and down with the rhythm in “Carolina,” knees bending, keeping time with my imaginary guitar.

Of all of my shows, this is the one where I have the haziest memory of Harry’s actual performance. Raised off the floor, almost level with Harry onstage, with the whole arena visible from my seat, I am too distracted by my own performance. D, M and I dig our nails into each other’s arms during Harry’s cover of “If I Could Fly.” He’s singing about home, the people he loves and wants more than anything to return to. The whole car ride back to Austin, my blood feels electric. My hands are shaking.

June 12, Bridgestone Arena, Nashville

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Houston, Live On Tour.

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I tell my aunt in Franklin that I’m taking a 7 AM Uber to Nashville to get some sightseeing done before the show. The Bridgestone Arena is conveniently located near the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Ryman Auditorium offers tours on some weekdays. I have grand plans to Experience Nashville on my last full day there, but I have my rideshare drop me off in front of the Bridgestone.

My ticket for Nashville is general admission pit. Ticketmaster said that each side of the pit holds around 250 people, and pit tickets (being the closest to the stage, and the closest to Harry) are the most highly desired. Pit is also a great way to make friends, which I definitely want to do, since I am attending the concert solo. Fans will line up as far as a week in advance, sleeping in camp gear as close to the venue as they can. The Bridgestone warned people not to line up before 8 AM before the day of the show, but I’m not surprised that when I get there, I’m number 55.

The girls in front of me traveled to Nashville, too. G from Florida, K from Mississippi, N from Texas. They’re all around my age, early twenties, and we’re easy and immediate friends. We’ve got ten hours to kill before the venue opens and it’s hot — this is the South in June, after all. The sun is relentless. But I’ve got sunscreen, some new Harry merch, and some new friends to hold my spot while I make Starbucks runs for us. The Bridgestone also keeps its lobby open for campers during the day, which I’m told is unusual, but it’s much appreciated. They have bathrooms and snacks and water for sale. The gift store clerk rings up my Powerade and tells me to have fun.

Number 55 got me second row, center stage. I can’t believe how close I am to the stage. The pits are small, but once we’re all filed in, incredibly roomy. When I saw Harry in Austin last year, I was in a general admission floor that holds 1,000 people for a regular show, but was probably more like 1,500 that night. This time, not only am I second row, but I have room to dance.

Just before we all went in, someone in the pit line handed out rainbow flags and stickers. I put the sticker on the back of my phone case with no hesitation, and grabbed the rainbow flag to wave proudly during the show. Flags are one of the hallmarks of a Harry Styles show — during his cover of “What Makes You Beautiful” Harry grabs pride (and, as of recently, Black Lives Matter) flags to wave and dance around with. The only time I cry during the show isn’t even during Harry’s set. Kacey Musgraves, Harry’s opener, performs “Follow Your Arrow,” and seeing the pit wave their flags to the rhythm and shout “kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into” is enough to make me a weepy mess before Harry even comes out.

Before Harry’s set, I get drinks for N and I. The quickest way to the exit is walking down the barricaded catwalk through the center of the arena, where Harry will walk, making his journey to the B-stage at the back, shaking hands and getting glitter thrown in his hair. Harry will be here in less than an hour. But for now, it’s me and two vodka Red Bulls, a crowd full of friends and strangers, and even if they’re not here for me, I walk down that catwalk and feel adored.

Harry comes out and sings and dances the show I already know by heart. During “Only Angel,” Harry makes fun of my dancing onstage, and I might have forgotten it if not for the videos on Tumblr that capture his blistering eye contact for all of eternity. I give my water bottle away to someone who needs it. I sing along, I wave my flag. For an hour and a half, I leave my body and become part of the movement and energy of the pit, the lucky 500 who got to be close enough to feel Harry cast his spell.

When the lights come up, I find myself crying again. We stay until the security guards tell us to move along. Stepping over the craters of crushed plastic cups, abandoned signs, and out of the harsh lights illuminating the smoke and condensation in the room, I feel like I’m the first girl on the moon, or the last left after the apocalypse.

June 21 and 22, Madison Square Garden, New York City

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Sydney, Live On Tour.

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Harry Styles can’t get Madison Square Garden to shut up. He’s playing “If I Could Fly” on the B-stage in the back of the arena, accompanied only by his guitarist Mitch Rowland, and mid-way through the song, they stop. Harry holds his finger to his lips and leans back, like he does every show, and waits for the crowd to stop screaming along. It’s funny, because he can never get us to be quiet. The girl next to me wails Harry!!! Her friend shushes her. Harry wants us to be quiet! The screamer replies, But he can actually hear us now!

Madison Square Garden is loud and huge. It’s one of the most iconic venues in the country, and Harry Styles sold it out twice. Both nights, I’m in the back of the floor, with a view of the whole crowd and arena for the first time. I spot Anna Wintour (sunglasses on) and Harry’s mom in the crowd. With this new view, I notice things about the production that I didn’t before. During Harry’s cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” the lights are brought down in a big X above Harry’s head. The screen visuals for “Two Ghosts” are a watercolor forest, and feature some dripping pink liquid that looks like melted bubblegum. These are my third and fourth Harry shows in two weeks, and my exhaustion is starting to show a little bit. I get hangry in Penn Station and snip at D for taking too long to finish her beer.

There’s a song on Harry’s album called “Ever Since New York.” It’s one of my favorites — I like all his softer songs, but this one especially. The lyrics are inscrutable in a way I find comforting. With Harry, as with a lot of pop stars, fans and media outlets are obsessed with pinning songs directly to their writer’s experiences or ex-relationships. There are speculations about what the song is about, but thinking about it too hard feels like an invasion of privacy. “Ever Since New York” is tender, and about as personal as the purposely enigmatic Styles gets. It’s just about being sad in the city.

Of the two nights, I connect more with the mood of the night one performance. I’ve seen enough shows to sense when Harry’s feeling a little melancholy. Harry sings “Ever Since New York” to all of us at the venue, but also to his mother, and on the one-year anniversary of his stepfather’s death. It’s the third song on the setlist, but the mood hangs over me the rest of the show, and even into night two.

I hurry out of the venue right after the last riffs of “Kiwi” and skip the subway to walk the streets of New York in a ankle boots and a sequin shirt, looking like Harry Styles’ weepy kid sister. I put on “Ever Since New York” and “Two Ghosts” and let Harry sing to me about how weird it is to be in this city again, disappointed I don’t feel the same passionate emotions as last time, not sure how to get closure when I can’t bring myself to feel much of anything at all.

July 13 and 14, The Forum, Los Angeles

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Detroit, Live On Tour.

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What they don’t tell you is that a lot of Harry Styles fans are not teenage girls. The teens who filled the seats at One Direction concerts have grown up, for the most part, into women in their twenties. Most concert reviews I read about Harry are obsessed with the audiences full of teen girls, with their hysterics and screaming, Beatlemania 2.0. Sure, there are some teens here. But I came to Los Angeles to hang out with a group of adult women, some from LA, some from Paris and London and Atlanta and Bushwick. I’ve known these women through social media for months; this is the first time we’re meeting in person and hanging out for a sustained amount of time.

We spend the day of the Saturday show together, eating breakfast burritos, drinking mimosas, and laying out by the pool at A’s apartment. I have a pit ticket, and part of me wonders what I might be missing not lining up all day like I did in Nashville. But all my people are right here.

The Los Angeles dates are the last ones of the tour. Harry’s album came out in May 2017, and he’s been touring for 10 months. I know it has to end sometime soon. Still, it’s hard to say goodbye to these rooms and these people that let me feel more carefree than I ever have.

Kacey Musgraves has been performing a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” for most of the dates after Nashville. It’s not a new cover; she’s been doing it at shows since 2016, but the lyrics finally hit me in Los Angeles.

“I remember when / I remember I remember when I lost my mind / There was something so pleasant about that place / Even your emotions had an echo / In so much space / And when you’re out there without care / Yeah, I was out of touch / But it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough / I just knew too much”

The crowd sings along with Kacey almost as fervently as they do for Harry. Apart from “Crazy,” a few of her other songs strike me in a way they haven’t before. “Space Cowboy” is a breakup song, but tonight, it’s a song about Harry Styles. Harry is a private person, more than most pop stars, even, and when he isn’t doing touring or doing promo, he disappears for months at a time. Kacey doesn’t dedicate the song to him, but when we sing along, we’re doing it for him — “Yeah, we had our day in the sun / When a horse wants to run there ain’t no sense in closing the gate / You can have your space, cowboy.”

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Mexico City One, Live On Tour.

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The Forum was sold out — not even Stubhub had pit or floor tickets available the day of the last show. The pits were oversold and overcrowded, all of us pushed against the edges of barricade, packed together one last time.

We realize that we might never hear some of these songs performed live again. Whenever space cowboy’s next tour is, I’ll be surprised if he performs the sleepier, more personal non-singles — your “Ever Since New York”, your “Two Ghosts.” On this tour, Harry has been performing two songs that were cut from the album, the folky stomper “Anna” and fan favorite “Medicine.” The morning of his first performance of it in Switzerland this spring, I woke up after a night out sick with shame and self-loathing. “Medicine” made me feel better.

“Can I read your sign?” Harry Styles asks a girl in the crowd. “I’m gay. And I love you.” The crowd screams in return. “I love you too! And we’re all a little bit gay, aren’t we?” My eyes well with tears, and I look over to see my friend MC nearly doubled over sobbing in the pit. Harry moves on, talks to the crowd some more, and performs “What Makes You Beautiful.” I cry for the rest of the song, thinking about how the lyrics are different coming out of my mouth, how I danced to this song at my high school prom, I danced to it at college parties, and for six nights in the last six weeks, I got to dance to it some more.

Harry’s last song of the night is “Kiwi,” a bombastic, old-school-Arctic-Monkeys-esque ode to a coke-snorting, black-dress-wearing actress who may or may not be having Harry’s baby. A young fan ushers all of us into a circle and walks around with her arm out, pointing her finger like an orchestra conductor, letting us know when to jump in the middle. When the chorus hits, we rush into the middle, smash our bodies into each other, scream, and carry each other away. Someone throws handfuls of glitter into the pit, and the makeup that S rubbed onto my cheekbones before the show melts down my face with sweat and tears. It’s the first-ever mosh pit at a Harry Styles concert. I can’t believe I’m here for it.

We mosh. We’re a circle of girl-aggression and energy and emotions. We break for every verse, jump back in for the choruses. Harry asks us to dance as hard as we can, because we’re not going to see these people tomorrow. I dive straight into the middle, scattering glitter across the room as I fly.

At the end of the song, Harry sinks down to his knees and rises up, tongue out like a demon, and performs “Kiwi” two more consecutive times. You can hear him running out of breath and see him sweating through his velvet (velvet!) suit, but I like to think those last two performances are his gift to us. He wants to give us so much that we are exhausted, run himself and us into the ground before he disappears backstage. Legs growing heavy from 12 minutes of jumping in my Doc Martens, glitter shaking from my hair and itching my shoulders, the two bottles of water I had during the show sloshing around in my stomach, I almost forget about him onstage. I keep making my way back to A and MC in the pit, grabbing hands and screaming along to the song.

I want to jump onstage and tell Harry how much he means to me, as a figure for me to project what I needed to hear and see, a frenetic, sparkling body I could possess for two hours at a time, a room where I could meet other weirdos like me. I wonder what we sound like up there to him, a sea of smashing bodies, the beat of our feet against the ground, louder than the drums, louder than Harry himself. Maybe he was the one with the microphone, but we made the ground quake.

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Toronto, Live On Tour.

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