By the time the lights went up in the Chicago’s United Center arena, the floor looked like a ransacked Party City. Loose feathers of all colors were scattered everywhere, gathering in piles around the water fountain and forming a multicolored carpet out the doors. It was a reminder of how Harry Styles fans see his Love On Tour concert. It’s not just an average arena concert, it’s an all-out event. It’s a pop fan’s version of Met Gala where they compete to see who can put together the most colorful and the most outrageous outfits. Along with hot pink cowboy hats and sequin-adorned jumpsuits, I saw people wearing full-on costumes. A group of friends dressed up as hamburgers and hotdogs rushed by, followed by a gaggle of women in full Teletubbies suits, forming a group of friends clearly committed to the bit.
It’s understandable why there’s so much commotion around a Styles concert. Though he’s a pop artist, Styles is our version of a modern-day rock star. With minimal stage production compared to his chart-topping peers, he manages to sell out stadiums across the globe. And similar to rock bands like the Grateful Dead or Phish, Styles’ fans follow him around the country, wearing the number of Love On Tour concerts they’ve attended like a badge of honor and racking up Styles tickets like sports trophies.
It seemed as though at least half of the attendees at Styles’ final Chicago show had seen him perform more than once. One woman next to me in line — wearing an obligatory hot pink feather boa and fully ready to shell out $35 for a “Watermelon Sugar” cocktail — told the bartender this was her second time seeing Styles in Chicago and her fifth time seeing him overall. She seemed almost ashamed of her relatively low Love On Tour concert count, noting how one of her close friends had attended every single night of his 15-night Madison Square Garden run. Though the show I attended was in Chicago, it was clear most of the crowd had traveled far and wide to see the concert. On stage, Styles took a poll of the audience demographic. When asked who lived in Chicago, there was a fairly loud collective shout. But when he asked who didn’t live in Chicago, the roar was deafening, proving just how many fans had traveled hundreds of miles for the event.
Styles himself is clearly aware of how dedicated his fan base is, and he makes it worth their while to attend with expert-level crowd service. Every time someone screamed at him or held up a sign while he sang, he’d point at them and give them a thumbs up, knowing full well that the split-second interaction will be their highlight of the year. Halfway through the show, Styles stopped the concert and instructed the lights to be turned up. He told fans who brought signs to hold them up so he could comment on a few of most absurd ones, making sure to get the fans’ name as well. One sign read, “I’m here with my therapist!” which prompted some back-and-forth banter. Another sign read, “I skipped my grandma’s funeral for this,” to which Styles lightly scolded the fan for, but she then assured him that her “grandma was an asshole, so it’s okay.”
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When it came to the music itself, it became clear just how seasoned of a performer Styles is. He used the entire stage, running back and forth to ensure every section of the crowd was engaged. He also didn’t lose sight of where he started and launched into a solo version of One Direction’s “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful,” which put the crowd into a frenzy and prompted a 60-person conga line. Styles of course made sure to run through his hits; he played his Fine Line single “Adore You” early on in the night and ended the concert with a rendition of his record-breaking No. 1 hit “As It Was,” which the crowd was screaming along to so loudly it was almost hard to hear his vocals.
The conga line wasn’t the only proof of how coordinated Styles fans are. Before the show started, one fan came around to everyone in our section and handed us a colored sticky note, instructing us to hold it over our phone’s flashlight during a certain song. When the song played, the entire crowd lit up with different colored lights, showing how each section had an assigned fan passing out a certain colored paper. During another song, about 50 people in the pit broke out into a coordinated dance routine, clearly something that had been practiced and seemed to be the norm at his concerts.
Though Styles was clearly the star of the show, opener Jessie Ware was also a major highlight. The singer put on a show-stopping performance, complete with intricate choreography and disco-leaning music from her 2020 album What’s Your Pleasure that fit in perfectly with the crowd’s fervent energy. It was the last tour stop that Ware will join Styles on and it also happened to be her birthday, so Styles led the sold-out stadium in singing “Happy Birthday” to the singer, who seemed to be taken by the gesture.
Ware wasn’t the only musician who joined the crowd. Lizzo briefly made an appearance in the VIP section. But much to the chagrin of the fans who flocked to the barrier to say hi, the “Truth Hurts” singer did not come up on stage to recreate their iconic joint Coachella performance, something I was admittedly also hoping for.
By the time the concert ended, feathers were strewn everywhere and fans either flocked to line up for an Uber or to the nearest bar to recap the night with hoarse voices from all the yelling. After the entire ordeal, it’s understandable why so many people follow the singer around the country on tour. Styles is interactive and puts on an engaging, awe-inspiring, and wildly fun concert. But for anyone who is planning on catching an upcoming show, I have one word of advice: earplugs. If not for the loud music, but for drowning out the chorus of ear-piercing screams that are pretty much constant throughout the show. Trust me, your ears will thank me later.
Find Harry Styles’ Love On Tour dates here.