Having begun his career as a member of the global sensation boyband One Direction, Harry Styles is no stranger to fanfare. However, despite the unquestionable success of his first project, it’s been his work as a solo artist that’s truly illuminated his capabilities – both in terms of his vocal strengths and undeniable stage presence. With clear inspirations ranging from Cyndi Lauper, the Rolling Stones, and Fleetwood Mac, his music has, two albums in, been both homages to great ’70s rock stars as well as places to define, then redefine, his own status and stature as a singer and performer.
While his first album was a solid introduction to a more matured sound, it was his sophomore effort in Fine Line that truly showcases the eclectic artistry Styles possess, from bombastic classic rock numbers to radio single catnip, to indie-pop infused with light synths and vocals/ that float above the instrumentation.
With the release of his latest single “As It Was” from his forthcoming third album Harry’s House, the singer has once again added another layer to his persona as he evokes elements of the ’80s while infusing his own personal, modern stamp. To celebrate the much-anticipated release, we ranked all of his solo songs to date, from least worthy of re-listen to the very best he has to offer.
23. Meet Me in the Hallway
The opening number of the singer’s eponymous debut album as a solo artist, “Meet Me in the Hallway” is both indicative of what Harry Styles is capable of while simultaneously restrained in showcasing the strongest elements of his abilities. It’s subdued and a little forgettable, while still shining a light on his clear and passionate influences which he’d go on to utilize to much greater success in the following song. Still, the production is smooth and his vocals smoother, in a dreamy, mid-tempo song that works more as an ancillary note to the album as a whole rather than a declarative statement. It’s fine, but there are 22 much better ones. [Allyson Johnson]
22. Treat People with Kindness
Perhaps the most accurate thing to be said about “Treat People with Kindness” is that it’s a really good singalong song for long drives. Unfortunately, the most memorable aspect of the song is Phoebe Waller-Bridge showing up with enigmatic, flirtatious energy in the music video. The exuberance and big band energy are infectious, it just almost needed to go even bigger in production, sound, and performance. There’s nothing subtle about this song so lean into it. [AJ]
“Should we just search romantic comedies on Netflix and then see what we find?” a voice asks at the beginning of “Woman,” the meandering, lyrically sparse penultimate tune from Styles’ first album. “Woman” isn’t the most unobtrusive Styles song to nod along to: it keeps the beat with a slightly distorted grunt noise that Styles once said even his own step-dad thought sounded like a duck’s quack. But as perhaps the most experimental tune on his debut album, “Woman” still manages to work as both an artistic stepping stone and a vibes-forward slow jam. In many ways it feels like a languid precursor to “She,” the full-blown rock opus that guitarist Mitch Rowland slays on “Fine Line.” But bass-fueled “Woman” is hazier and more out-of-focus, like a night spent stoned on the sofa watching, well, Netflix rom-coms. [Valerie Ettenhofer]
20. Sweet Creature
Written by Styles and Kid Harpoon, “Sweet Creature” strength is found in the striking yet fluid contrast between verse and chorus. Another of his songs influenced by classic folk, it contains some of the singer’s strongest vocals that allow him to be earnest and emotive while also showcasing a range and texture that demonstrate his voice at its very best. Following the messy confusion and euphoria of young love, Styles sings, “I know when we started, Just two hearts in one home, It gets harder when we argue, We’re both stubborn, I know, but oh.” [AJ]
19. Only Angel
If there’s a key moment to pick out of “Only Angel,” it surprisingly might be the choir-influenced opening that builds in anticipation rather than simply launching right into the number’s rhythm. With possibly the clearest influence from the Rolling Stones, the jaunty guitar and Styles’s rolling vocals come together to create a high-spirited and lively number. Perhaps too sparse ultimately, it’s one of his songs that have greater ideas as opposed to final execution. [AJ]
18. Two Ghosts
A polarizing song it would seem for Harry Styles fans, “Two Ghosts” is sweet and steady, influenced strongly by country and folk. The beautiful intro with its electric refrain is an immediate draw, it might be slow in tempo but the overall laid-back atmosphere permeates through with enough electricity to keep it from being forgettable. There’s a delicate subtlety to it not found in many of his other bigger songs, but it’s that delicacy and the folk and bluegrass element that allows it to be the perfect backdrop to a spring day. [AJ]
17. From the Dining Room Table
“From the Dining Table” brings Styles’ first solo album to a melancholy, and at times, petty, end. It presents itself as a self-reflection with its slow melody and Styles’ soft voice, but the lyrics point to blame and longing, the story of a fight that might have been over ages ago. Styles cycles through questioning the end of something, frozen in place (such as the title) unsure how to move forward. But the song’s somber confusion ultimately provides a sweet conclusion to an excellent first album. [Katey Stoetzel]
16. Ever Since New York
Detailing the pain of personal grief and familial struggles, “Ever Since New York” is a moving and loose song in a folk style. With rhythm and electric guitars, synths, and soft percussion, there’s a sincere vulnerability found in a song that, again, utilizes repetition as a means of driving forth the key emotion of the number. With some of the most open and insightful lyrics of his career, he sings “I’ve been praying, I never did before/ Understand I’m talking to the walls/ And I’ve been praying ever since New York.” [AJ]
15. Adore You
What can be said about “Adore You” that hasn’t already been said? For some, the track was an inescapable and generic product made for the radio with a robust guerilla marketing campaign to bolster it. The quirky music video about a fish and the fictional village of Eroda (that’s Adore spelled backward) smartly preceded the album, drawing in attention and anticipation for all of Fine Line.
For others, the song contains a classic appeal in its lyrics, perfect for a beach day or lakeside mood with your favorite person. How one feels about “Adore You” depends largely on mood–a good litmus test to one’s reception of Harry Styles and former boyband singers in general as they craft new images. Regardless of taste, “Adore You” reassured fans that the lustiness embedded into Styles’ solo career would continue to deliver. [Ingrid Allen]
Amid the serious ballads and glam rock detours of Styles’ first album sits “Carolina,” a shimmy-inspiring ditty that proved early on just how fun the artist’s solo career would be. Sandwiched between the soaring melancholy of “Sign of the Times” and the breakup lament “Two Ghosts,” the song is a miniature oasis punctuated by rhythmic calls of “oh yeah!” and a near-constant stream of “la-la-la”-s. It’s an infectious tune not just because it’s catchy, but because its subject is the stuff daydreams are made of. Styles introduces us to a girl he digs, who likes to read and has family back in Carolina. Then, in a total inversion of expectations, he says, “I met her once and wrote a song about her.” An astronomically famous pop star writing a song about a meet-cute with an average woman is already a surprise, but the singer also uses the track to directly tell the song’s subject how he feels, quipping, “How would I tell her that she’s all I think about?/Well, I guess she just found out.” It’s a delightfully cheeky idea from a guy whose boy band origins involved making every girl think each love song could be about her. [Valerie Ettenhofer]
Strictly speaking “Falling” is as about as standard as a standard ballad can be. With its mournful piano chords and remorseful vocals, “Falling” is perfectly suited to Styles as a singer and performer. Slow and measured, it’s a pop-rock ballad at its best with its catchy hooks, longing choruses, and a singer whose sincerity spills through. The bridge is excellent with one long power note cascading into the final moments of the song. It might not be his most original number, but it’s incredibly effective due to it being tailor-made for the performer. [AJ]
12. To Be So Lonely
Neither a dance anthem nor a pure ballad, “To Be So Lonely” can be mistaken for one of the slighter tracks on Fine Line, but it shouldn’t be. The song’s wry, plucky intro–apparently composed on a six-string ukelele called a guitalele–gives way quickly to a pain-laced plea to an ex. “Don’t blame me for falling/I was just a little boy,” the song begins, and it’s an especially loaded statement coming from a musician whose love life was broadly speculated about when he was still just a kid. The deceptively peppy instrumentals make it easy to miss some of the song’s more aching details, but it unfolds like a message to an ex-lover about a friendship that never quite recovered post-breakup. Styles rarely performs this live, but when he does, audiences bellow its most pointed line–”I’m just an arrogant son of a bitch”–back at him. Clearly, the unresolved emotion between the lines of “To Be So Lonely” hits a nerve. [Valerie Ettenhofer]
11. Fine Line
In the titular track of his second album, Styles slows things down for “Fine Line,” a song that, like his very best, manages to break free of the proposed statement he’s been making with his music since breaking out as a solo artist. Melancholy and composed, it’s yet another longing, love note that drips with heartache with the emotions pulled from the falsetto vocals, singing “You sunshine, you temptress, My hand’s at risk, I fold.” As the final song on the album, all the stops are pulled out through the instrumentation that backs his sentiments, the percussion building to a crescendo that spills with crashes of cymbals and cries of the horns, culminating in a moment shocking in its haunting catharsis. [AJ]
Another instance on Styles’s debut album where he takes clear inspiration from ’70s rock legends, “Kiwi” allows an edge to the instrumentation, fret slides opening the song into a bigger band sound. Vocals reach to meet that volume to create the classic rock, stadium performance feel. A song that is begging to be performed live that is built to thrive on an attentive audience, “Kiwi” also stands out since Styles’s adds a roughness to his typically smooth vocals, using the repetitive lyrics as a means to play with growls and hollers as he chases after the rumbling electric guitar. [AJ]
9. Canyon Moon
A hidden gem, this track is tucked right after the effervescent “Sunflower Vol. 6” and before the exuberant “Treat People With Kindness.” If you stop and listen to it, though, “Canyon Moon” is one of Harry’s best, as he croons woefully about wanting to return home. Filled with touching anecdotes about being in a house with a family—perhaps Harry dreaming of domestic life—the song is reminiscent of drifting and dreaming for the good times.
The musical score is a unique mix of reggae meets tropical meets an almost country sound, a mixture that stands out in Harry’s discography. Its instrumental nature, though, is stripped back in order to let Harry’s voice shine through as it layers over itself in a harmonious chorus. The bridge is once again a high moment of the song as Harry does a sort of call-and-response with himself, setting up the song perfectly for concert settings. “Canyon Moon” is a nice treat to round out the middle of Fine Line before he moves into the final two triumphant songs on the album. [Kellie Innes]
8. Sunflower, Vol 6
Showcasing an expansive variety of vocal expressions and rhythms, “Sunflower, Vol. 6” gives way to playful instrumentation with a knack for experimentation. Breezy and laidback, the song is patient in its pace with a chill, almost Sufjan Steven-esque (back when he had fun) sound. The pre-chorus where he delves into a laidback falsetto is a particular standout, though it’s the ending breakdown with hollers and off-kilter instrumental colors that lend the song the spark that allows it to stand out from many of his other numbers. [AJ]
7. Watermelon Sugar
Even as a more recent appreciator of Harry Styles, it was impossible for me to avoid his post One Direction output as a casual enjoyer of pop music. “Sign of the Times” was a proclamation that the boyband music was behind him and “Adore You” was a natural extension of that. “Watermelon Sugar” was the first single of his that seemed to let out more of Style’s personality. The funky guitar and bombastic horns give the song laid-back but playful energy. Style’s showcases the rasp in his voice as well and even his higher register in a low-key seductive vocal. Everything builds to an energetic crescendo, extremely very on the theme if you subscribe to one of the more cheeky interpretations of the lyrics. Seeing the type of performer that Styles has evolved into, “Watermelon Sugar” is a major inflection point. Plus, it is catchy as hell and a perfect listen as we head into summertime. [Jose Cordova]
6. Sign of the Times
There is an anthemic quality to “Sign of the Times” that makes it stand out early in Styles’ first solo album. It’s the end of something again, but it’s appropriately apocalyptic (“stop your crying, it’s the sign of the times,” “the end is near”); at the same time, it’s encouragingly hopeful, Styles’ constant use of “we” pointing to a togetherness mindset in the face of whatever hardships they’re going through. It’s a nice balance of rock and melancholy. [Katey Stoetzel]
5. As It Was
One of Harry’s shortest songs to date, “As it Was” nearly broke the internet with its release a few weeks ago. Immediately jumping high on the charts, “As it Was” launches listeners immediately into a song tinged with a bright pop reminiscent of David Bowie and a driving rock reminiscent of more modern artists like The Weeknd. It’s a great combination of sounds and vibes reflecting Harry’s ability to be somewhat of an enigma himself, balancing the line between boy-bander and full-fledged rock star as well as energetically masculine and coquettishly feminine. No moment exemplifies this better than after the low-voiced, fast-paced bridge bursting into a classical drumbeat followed by chimes ringing throughout the song’s conclusion.
Not only is “As it Was” one of Harry’s best musically, but also lyrically it’s one of his most vulnerable. Harry’s most heartbreaking lyric falls in verse two mimicking a phone call where an unnamed person alludes to Styles self-medicating, “As it Was” reflects on the passage of time and how love transformed him. It’s a great kickoff not just to the fusion of free-spirited and gritty tunes to come on Harry’s eagerly-anticipated third album, but also to the new era of Harry. [Kellie Innes]
Likely placed as a transitional piece between “To Be So Lonely” and “Sunflower Vol. 6,” “She” remains an underrated gem, covertly in line with his bohemian image as much as “Watermelon Sugar.”
Standing out as a very British track towards the end of Fine Line, the groovy prog-rock composition further supports the comparisons of Styles in more than just his aesthetics to Bowie and Mick Jagger. Interpretations of the song lyrics range from gender identity to daydreaming of infidelity, showcasing that abstraction is one of Styles’s strengths during a time when many of his pop peers would rather dwell in confessional storytelling.
Perhaps his artsy boy ways would threaten the masculine allure of the Bond franchise or his name never came up for the powers that be, this song immediately came across as a great proof of concept for Styles as the next singer for the theme song, an acclaimed duty, previously held by Sam Smith, Adele, and Billie Eilish in recent years. “She” engenders hope for a hypnotic accompaniment to Bond-esque kaleidoscopic visuals in Styles’ future. [Ingrid Allen]
Styles’ most perfect breakup song to date is a soulful, drifting retrospective on the aftermath of a failed relationship. Although the song’s chorus bristles at its subject’s new beau–”Don’t you call him baby”–the gentleness of the arrangement implies a growing sense of acceptance over the romance’s end. Shot through with tender acoustics and accompanied by vocals so intimate that it almost feels like Styles is whispering, “Cherry” is a goosebump-inducing triumph. It’s one of the only songs in Styles’ discography whose subject is a complete certainty, as it ends with a voice note from Styles’ ex-girlfriend Camille Rowe, spoken in French. More importantly, though, it overflows with bittersweet details about the scattered debris of lost love, with Styles even admitting that “there’s a piece of you in how I dress.” “Cherry” was clearly written while the tears were still drying, but despite that, the singer has never sounded sweeter. [Valerie Ettenhofer]
With a smooth, understated opening, the first song on Harry’s sophomore album Fine Line seems to project the same subtle, Indie vibes as his first album. Within the first fifteen seconds, though, Harry ramps up the energy with a resounding shout as listeners are plunged into a rock/pop song that you can’t help but tap your foot to. The incessant drumbeat propels the song forward and also anchors it to a steady rhythm, allowing Harry’s vocals and the guitar line to fly.
Underneath the tune and melody that are undeniably dripping with sunshine—hence the song’s title—Harry’s always-personal lyrics reveal a deep sense of loss. He begs throughout the song that he fears being lonely, a theme projected in his self-titled first album and the rest of Fine Line. Everything reaches a euphoric peak in the bridge as Harry finally professes “I know that you’re scared because I’m so open,” and a guitar break wails into the ending of the song. “Golden” is the prime example of Harry’s expert fusion of endlessly energetic and joyous music with reflective and oftentimes revealing words. [Kellie Innes]
1. Lights Up
What makes “Lights Up” such a tremendous achievement from Styles is how it, more than his other songs, doesn’t align immediately with any obvious reference point. While we have a clear affection for his throwbacks and homages, the first released single off of his sophomore album is indicative of what the singer can do untethered from the classic rock and dandy paradigm. It is modern, it’s sensual, and fresh while still consisting of elements that have become a mainstay, such as his call and repeat choruses and refrains that lean into repetition. Like the video, the song exudes the heat of humid summer nights and busy crowds,
Decidedly modern, “Lights Up” utilizes Style’s upper register with controlled pitch. Its sparse verses progress with subtle momentum until the chorus hits and rallying voices and vocal layering culminate in something transfixing and transformative, an indication of all that Style’s is capable of in the pop scene today. Better still, it manages to catch new and old listeners off guard, a testament to his ever ongoing evolution as an artist. [AJ]