The costumes were on full display: paisley hippie mini dresses, glam cowboys, drag queens, sunflowers (of the Vol. 6 variety), angels, Cher Horowitzs, Britney (mostly circa “Baby One More Time,” but a single “Oops I Did It Again” red latex jumpsuit stood out courageously, a feat among the exceptionally brave), a Fleetwood Mac/Lindsay Buckingham reunion, and countless Harry Styles cosplay cuties — on the cover of Vogue, as Elton John, at the Grammys (on stage and off), in the fictional land of Eroda, in his Love on Tour custom outfits. For two sold-out nights at Madison Square Garden, a concert that doubled as a “Fancy Dress Party,” Styles was the sun — tens of thousands of impeccably dressed music fans orbiting his aura, so bright it bled into the outside world. The entire neighborhood of Manhattan’s Herald Square became a parade of discarded feathers from Party City boas. It was easy to see where the girls came from and where they went. They left a trail.
Here’s where the not-so necessary spoiler comes in: my favorite live music moment of 2021 was watching Harry Styles burst through his most anthemic solo singles. Specifically, it was seeing him for two nights in a row over Halloween weekend, originally sold out in 2019 and postponed from its 2020 date due to COVID-19.
This is my story.
There are few sonic releases on this planet more profound and pronounced than the collective chorus of fangirls screaming their hearts out for their beloved performer. The only sound more significant, more earthquake-inducing and sternum-shaking, is that of thousands of fangirls screaming their hearts out for their beloved performer after waiting two years for the opportunity. A healthy combination of life-affirming anticipation and unimpeachable enthusiasm made his “Harryween” gigs momentous. (Not that I’m biased or anything.)
I bought tickets from fans I met on Twitter in the weeks leading up to the event — something not uncommon in Styles’ fandom, whose loyalists are referred to as “Harries.” Instead of hocking their $100 seats for $1000 on StubHub, these fans chose to “treat people with kindness” and sell them to a real fan for the original cost. (Though, as The Fader’s Larisha Paul points out, there was a TikTok trend of Harries lamenting outside the arena’s doors, despondent because they were scammed out of hundreds of dollars on last-minute tickets. I feel for them. Money is fake. Harry Styles is forever.)
In any case, the desperation for old green eyes paid off. According to CAA co-head of contemporary music Mitch Rose, Styles’ 2021 tour has been uniquely successful. “A lot of tours, the drop counts are showing between 5% to 20% of people not showing up,” he told Pollstar. “For Harry, everybody is showing up.”
October 30, 2021 – Night One
I am a woman. Harry Styles is a God in Gucci.
Outfitting yourself for Halloween requires thoughtfulness. For Harryween, there is the added pressure of knowing that everyone else is going to dress to the nines, and Harry might, like, totally see you. I, vacant of all innovation, went the Clueless route like 9,000 of my peers and wore plaid. After an electric opening set from country crooner Orville Peck, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” blasted from the stadium speakers and I shrieked to the girls next to me, “Harry’s got to be Dorothy.”
Sure enough, Styles skipped across the stage, swinging his hips in a blue gingham babydoll dress and shiny red Mary Janes, at one point exclaiming, “I look cute!” for the audience to cheer on his drag. Over “Cherry,” it became immediately clear that the makeup was weighing his eyelashes down, and he teared and smiled under heavy falsies. It was a great moment, but nowhere near as miraculous as when he let the crowd sing the chorus of “Adore You,” and the lyrical line, “Just let me adore you,” to which he cheekily responded, “Okay!” That’s a kind of charm that’s born, not built.
Of course, it’s not just Styles up there bringing the house down. His live band can never be underscored. They are the lifeblood that pumps and fills Styles’ heart — all while dressed in their Wizard of Oz best: guitarist Mitch Rowland as the Cowardly Lion, bassist Elin Sandberg as Glenda the Good Witch, keyboardist Niji Adeleye as the Tin Man, drummer Sarah Jones as the Wicked Witch of the West, vocalist/keyboardist Ny Oh as the Scarecrow and percussionist Pauli Lovejoy as the Wiz. Their performance grounds Styles’ set, transforming it into a delicious hybrid of rousing classic rock and teen pop spectacle.
In one moment, Styles’ first solo single, “The Sign of the Times,” morphed into a live cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” — no doubt a treat for the large queer audience in attendance. (In line behind me, a recently married lesbian couple caviled their old age  and their sexual orientation, how they wouldn’t fit in with the children at MSG. I only wish I didn’t lose them inside.) The cover was an unexpected standout, as was the inclusion of “To Be So Lonely” — a cut not played at every date — and Styles’ exclamation of “Do you feel fabulous? Good, now we’re going to sing a sad song.” The night ended as it always does, with “Kiwi” and the last bit of sweat dripping from a crowd that could be depleted, but truly embraced the controlled chaos.
October 31, 2021 – Night Two
My body can only take so much. Hours before I walked into New York’s most famous arena, I walked into David Byrne’s American Utopia. If you are familiar with the concert film, it’s noteworthy that the Talking Heads frontman’s tolerance treatise morphs IRL, working a miracle. Byrne manages to teach his audience about empathy without an inkling of condescension.
And then there was Styles, a guy who — if he plays his cards right — could speak to people in a similar fashion at Byrne’s experience. I’m not talking art, I’m talking heart. Charisma and wisdom are not so different, in the way that they can make a person feel like they’re floating. Styles just happened to do it dressed as a Pierrot clown on Halloween. He and his band were once again covered in custom Gucci — nowhere near as delightful as the rumor that they would emerge in full Rocky Horror regalia after some fangirls told me his team might’ve picked something up from a French lingerie store, but appealing nonetheless. The thought of Styles covering “Time Warp” is too enticing to consider in any real detail, but we take what we can get, including his matured, rocking cover of the hit that made One Direction, “That’s What Makes You Beautiful.”
Night two brought other new surprises. I befriended a young woman who flew from Mexico City to the gig, leaving her dad at the hotel nearby. Closer “Kiwi” offered a false start and a joke about “edging” (this ain’t your boy band-era Harry Styles, he’s an adult now, thank you very much). Without the queer theatrics of Dorothy, fans passed out sheets of paper to illuminate during his performance of “Lights Up” so that the crowd would form a rainbow. Styles and his band played “Medicine,” a fan favorite recorded for his debut album but never officially released, the sort of specificity and dedication only an artist like him can have. They also covered Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” a welcomed reminder of her brilliance for all the Britneys in the room and a clear metaphor: Styles is a young teen heartthrob turned adult heartthrob who gets to enjoy the kind of professional freedom rarely given to young women starlets — the kind never afforded Spears.
When the show was over, it was over. Styles waved goodbye, and we departed. There were so many of us that security opened up the emergency exits and ushered us down the stairs. All that was left were the feathers.
Most of my contributions to SPIN are in punk/hardcore territory. Hell, I even have a column dedicated to the stuff and all its weird modern machinations. I’ve been lucky enough to have both fake and real blood spilled all over my favorite shirts. I’ve seen d-beat performed in dozens of languages around the world. I’ve been privileged to be a spectator, a dancer, a participant, a booker, and a fan. It is in those spaces that I first learned the power and limitations of freedom and autonomy: what I have, what the world could be, and who I could become within the communities I support — ideas not too far removed from Harry Styles’ “Do you know who you are?” mantra.
But those realizations can come from anywhere. In the middle of writing this, a young woman named McKinley McConnell went on Ellen to tell the world how Styles helped her come out to her mom at a show not long after Harryween. It’s not an unusual practice. Fans often use his arena concerts as an opportunity to fully express themselves, encouraged by a crowd of like-minded listeners. “He says this speech, and it’s at every stop. And he goes, ‘My job for the next 90 minutes is to entertain you, but your job is to have the time of your life,’” McConnell quoted Styles to Ellen. “‘[It] is to be whoever you want to be in this room, to love whoever you want to love in this room, and just have the time of your life.’”
But she forgot a line. He also tells the room, “I promise you, we’re going to do our absolute very best.” And he does. The band does. We all do.
Because it’s either do your best in the live music space – support one another, dance and drink and sweat for 90 minutes without a break – or suffer reality. And lockdown, for the concert-goer, felt like the absence of life. Unless a monitor collapses or the Chase Bank sky bridge nosebleed seats gives away and pierces my jugular, providing an instant death, I’m not going out without a couple more Harry Styles gigs under my belt. It’s the best I can do.