Harry Styles ignited a major moment earlier this week with his debut solo single — “Sign of the Times” — which turned out to be a radiant, artistic musical surprise.
There were no real clues that Styles and his five co-writers were about to drop a fully-realized colossus of a new classic, evoking both the majesty of British 70s glam rock (à la very early David Bowie) and the cosmic-hymn zen of John Lennon’s “Imagine” as the main nods.
Stylistically, (no pun intended), Harry’s winning combination of vintage sartorial swagger meets shy cheekiness, always arced towards a young Mick Jagger. Months ago, a photo shoot actively pointed to that.
So, two years after 2015’s Made In The A.M., Zayn’s much hyped — but actually, navel-gazing — moody R&B solo debut album, fellow ex-boy banders, Louis Tomlinson’s dance ditty, and Niall Horan’s tedious “This Town” — it is Styles who has established the most interesting and convincing new solo orbit away from One Direction. And he did it instantly.
Mot much had been heard from Harry since MITAM, apart from the odd sighting. As it turns out, he was spending a lot of time in Jamaica recording his highly anticipated first solo album.
Then, came the intriguing ads for the single last Friday (March 31). These revealed a back-facing image of Styles amid a watery red surround. The date of the announcement deliberately tied-in with the 30th anniversary of Prince’s immortally iconic Sign ‘O’ the Times album. That in itself, is not so much a bid for musical credibility, more like an advanced reservation in an uber-credible parking space.
Fortunately, Harry delivers. With the exception of only a few naysayers, critics are raving, with most lauding the song as real “art.”
Billboard’s Jason Lipshutz neatly described “Sign of the Times” as “one of the more ambitious opening statements in pop this decade…[a] stab at something both immediate and timeless.” He went on to say the new song is “resolute, determined, wholly committed to its messaging and sound, radio trends be damned.”
He also enthused over what he called the single’s lack of “incomplete features” and gushed over “the patience and attention to detail of ‘Sign of the Times.’”
Andrew Unterberger, from the same publication, waxed over the bombastic, grand Brit rock song, as a new notable debut in pop music.
— billboard (@billboard) April 8, 2017
After kicking off with three simple, signature piano chords, Harry’s voice drives the emotional heart of the song, as the drums, strings, and guitars gradually filter in. “Signs” lifts off multiple times during its 5:41-minute journey and “bursts into the sky like a godd**n rocket” which “instantly blows away any and all boy-band baggage,” HDD writes.
The title lyric — “The Times” — refers to unspecified storms in a relationship which are likened to the vague uncertainties of our time. It works.
In fact, everything about Style’s solo debut works and brims with confidence. The non-ironic mining of British rock history — Bowie, Pink Floyd, Lennon, Elton John, The Beatles, through to Richard Ashcroft, The Verve, Pulp, Oasis, Suede, Blur, Coldplay, and more — is luxuriated in.
While applauding the “epic arena rock,” The Atlantic also noted “the early Bowie signifiers — the guitar sound, the cabaret vibe, the space theme — aren’t subtle.”
It added: “Neither is the church choir that enters around minute four.”
— The Atlantic (@TheAtlantic) April 7, 2017
As expected from the way Harry Styles-inspired trends quickly took over Twitter after the single rolled out on Friday, its impact on platforms was massive — with one exception, a glitch on Spotify.
Harry’s “Sign of the Times” broke Adele’s record as the fastest single to reach No. 1 on iTunes in the U.S., which it did with a 90 percent lead on the charts. “Signs” shot to No. 1 in 19 minutes before skyrocketing in 90 countries around the world.
Meanwhile, fans (and not just “Directioners”) went wild on social media, wowing over the power ballad in jubilant posts.
— Music News & Facts (@Musicnews_feed) April 7, 2017
An accompanying audio video on Style’s Vevo channel has already punched in over 8 million views. Is “Sign of the Times” destined to be a hit? It already is.
Next weekend, Styles will be the musical guest when Jimmy Fallon hosts Saturday Night Live on April 15, which will be a massive boost for the song. As will the highly anticipated music video to come. A No. 1. debut on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart next week seems assured.
For other superstar names in the solo male artist pantheon: Justin Bieber, Drake, Bruno Mars, The Weeknd, Ed Sheeran, Justin Timberlake, Shawn Mendes and Zayn, it’s time to welcome Harry Styles to sit at the top table.
However, unlike some media outlets who think male artists must be pit against each other, in reality, there’s plenty of room for all.
Indeed, many would muse it is healthy for artists to be creatively inspired by peers in the game, to shake up the scene and keep things fresh and interesting.
[Featured Image By Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images]