Harry Styles has always wanted to stage-dive into a crowd.
After the dive, it took Styles several minutes to emerge from the circle of fans that surrounded him to climb back over the barrier and onstage, leaving in his wake an epic story to be detailed and rehashed on Twitter, adding to the overwhelming narrative surrounding the musician days before his first solo release: Harry Styles is as big as ever, and he still knows how to surprise us — even when doing so means knocking into fans with his boots during that impromptu leap off the stage.
Some have been waiting to hear what Styles could do solo since his turn as a 16-year-old contestant on the British “X Factor” in 2010, where he met the four other young singers who would join him on a sky-high ascension as the boy band One Direction. “Sign of the Times,” the first single from Styles’ self-titled album, was a sweeping, decidedly un-boy-bandy statement on how he sounds when it’s just him.
A caveat that feels necessary: To praise Styles’ new sound is not to disparage his former group’s. Both this new guitar-heavy, occasionally Bowie-esque pop rock and the more danceable bubble-gum tunes that preceded it are worthy in their own right. (As are the One Direction men themselves; their 2011 acoustic version of “One Thing” should have been enough to convince you. Don’t @ me.)
Those who are surprised by Harry Styles’ stylings, or the deference he showed fans in his Rolling Stone cover story, or the fact that he wore a badge that said “treat people with kindness” during his “SNL” stint last month, shouldn’t be. There have been signposts along the way — his extremely pleasant tweets or the times he’s pointed out when something objectifies women, for example — that have hinted Styles was not your average pop superstar. Now that the spotlight’s on him, it’s easier to see than ever.
During the cozy iHeartRadio set on Monday, Styles performed for a small crowd of lucky fans. He admitted in a Q&A with Z100 host Maxwell, though, that he had been nervous about the kind of reception his solo efforts would get, and felt grateful for the positive reaction so far.
With his backing band to support him, Styles played “Ever Since New York,” which he had performed publicly only once before, on “SNL.” He told the crowd, who already knew the words by heart, that he’d written the tune just blocks away.
That song and one other, “Two Ghosts,” that he played for the first time in front of a crowd (“Well, I played it for my mum,” he clarified, “We played it for all our mums”) seem to speak of relationships gone sour. The uptempo “Carolina” hinges its chorus on Styles repeating “She’s a good girl!” while his bandmates chime in with boppy “la, la, la”s behind him.
After the stage dive, the show ended. The crowd mostly parted, with some fans sticking around in the hopes of snagging a selfie or other brief, validating connection with Styles on his way out of the venue. It would be an early day for him and his crew tomorrow on the “Today” show, where they’d be playing for several blocks of shouting fans on a brisk Manhattan morning. All in a day’s work for Styles, but still, in a way, just the beginning.
Tune in to your local iHeartRadio station, or Hot AC station, on Friday, May 12, at 7 p.m. for the broadcast of Harry Styles’ performance.