You can’t blow the roof off a venue that doesn’t have one, unless you’re Harry Styles – it seems. Two minutes into the first night of his double-header at London’s open-air Wembley Stadium – which famously has only a partially retractable cover – and 90,000 people start scat-singing along to the wordless second verse of the sprightly ‘Music For A Sushi Restaurant’. As thundering, ‘In The Air Tonight’-sized drums reverberate around the pitch, thousands scream this rhythmic and seemingly universal language of “scuba-duba-dubub-boo” into the sky.
It makes for one of many extraordinary reminders that seeing Styles perform at a stadium is like entering a parallel universe: heart-shaped sunglasses and pink, super-sized cowboy hats are as good as compulsory, to the point that those not wearing this uniform are outnumbered. Everywhere you look, there are people dancing, while throngs of feather boas shed into rainbow clouds each time the crowd jumps along to a huge pop chorus. There’s hysteria, sure, but their relationship with the 28-year-old artist feels more considered and, crucially, reciprocated – when shrieks greet Styles’ entrance to the stage, he pokes his tongue out and says, “I haven’t even done anything yet!”
It’s certainly fair to say that 2022 has been something of a vintage year for Styles. In April, the former One Direction member headlined Coachella, while his third album, ‘Harry’s House’, became the fastest-selling record of the year on both sides of the Atlantic a month later. Lead single ‘As It Was’ even topped the UK charts for seven weeks; its played giddily at hyper-speed tonight, as Styles’ tight and nimble backing band build the track’s thumping melodies into a glorious synth breakdown. Their drums, guitars, piano, bass and percussive elements alchemise into a consistently fantastic brew of sound, particularly throughout the 70s’ folk twang of ‘Canyon Moon’, to which they add a little disco sheen.
This epic, two-hour show gradually builds itself up to become an exuberant victory lap, and Styles approaches the magnitude of the occasion with real thought and care. As ‘Satellite’ fades out, he nods to Wembley Stadium’s history by mimicking Freddie Mercury’s iconic “ay-oh!” call-and-response routine, which defined Queen’s appearance at this venue’s monumental 1985 Live Aid charity concert. There are clearly unrehearsed moments of heartfelt sincerity, too: during ‘Golden’, with disbelief painted across his face, he steps back from the mic, continuing to sing but letting the audience take the lead instead, not out of bravado but some kind of humility.
Styles also skilfully balances the untouchable precision of his celebrity with the kind of rogue, boyish charm that catapulted him to stardom in the first place; mega-hit ‘Adore You’ extends into a funky jam, giving him enough time to hop, skip and twirl along every inch of lit-up walkway and blow kisses at those that line the barriers. Later, when a portion of the crowd teams together to hold up signs requesting him to perform the expansive title track of 2019’s ‘Fine Line’ album, Styles jokingly flips them off. Thousands of faces grin deliriously back at him.
This emotional push and pull is endlessly captivating. Styles’ ruthlessly determined, party-starting energy only truly softens during the quiet reflection of ‘Harry’s House’ standout ‘Matilda’, an acoustic rumination on dysfunctional family relationships that he sings with glassy eyes and a full heart. “Tonight, please feel free to forget everybody else in order to finally be who you’ve always wanted to be,” he tells us shortly afterwards.
‘Late Night Talking’’s full-blown pop chorus is riotously fun, but it’s the euphoria of ‘Treat People With Kindness’ that is truly unstoppable: communal joy washes over a crowd that is packed with women and LGBTQ+ youth sharing a space that’s been carved out primarily for them. The stadium floor soon turns into a vibrant playground: pride flags are held aloft as fans run laps around the rear section of the pitch, while others join winding conga lines or ring-a-roses circles. Strangers hold each others’ hands and make new friends. They are all clearly having a blast so palpable that it actually feels groundbreaking: it is only when you witness this much uncomplicated glee that you realise how rarely you see it.
These near-cinematic scenes continue into the encore, as Styles’ rousing debut single, ‘Sign Of The Times’, climaxes with fireworks, both literal and metaphorical. It almost seems beautifully – and emotionally – inconceivable that, as the ballad hits its bombastic ending, the heavens suddenly open, simultaneously engulfing us in a baptism of rain and a moment of genuine triumph.
Harry Styles played:
‘Music For A Sushi Restaurant’
‘Treat People With Kindness’
‘What Makes You Beautiful’
‘Late Night Talking’
‘Love Of My Love’
‘Sign Of The Times’
‘As It Was’