Arts and Entertainment

There’s a ‘Fine Line’ Between Love and Hate

Harry Styles experiments between genres and emotions, and in doing so, grows both as an artist and a person.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Cover Image
By Cadence Li

The lights are down, and the stage is set. A figure emerges onstage with one of his chipped black nail-polished hands clutching an electric guitar. He waves. The crowd of 50,000 in Madison Square Garden erupts with ear-piercing screams and love declarations. Sporting a white silk pussy bow blouse and matching floral bell bottoms, the superstar converses with his fans in the audience and dances around the stage, rocking out to his own songs.

Harry Edward Styles began his musical career on the 2010 U.K. X-Factor audition stage. The 16-year-old boy emerged from the television music competition in third place alongside four others: Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, and Louis Tomlinson. They would go on to become the pop boy band and worldwide phenomenon known as One Direction. But it wasn’t until the band’s breakup in 2015 that Styles’s true style (pun intended) began to shine. As a solo artist, he now has the freedom to write, produce, and release musical pieces under his own name.

Styles released his sophomore album “Fine Line,” a collection of 12 tracks spanning many genres, on Friday, December 13. From indie and ‘70s soft rock to R&B and electro-pop, Styles evolves his future career by looking toward the past; the album is an acoustic rock compilation imbued with folk and funk. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he draws inspiration from his favorite rock stars like David Bowie, Pink Floyd, and Fleetwood Mac. But what distinguishes this soloist from simply spinning melodies reminiscent of his role models is the intriguing blending of sounds in each of his songs. Styles isn’t afraid of expressing himself, and his fearlessness is working. The album has already reached over one million streams, debuting at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 and number three on the U.K. Albums Chart.

The album’s cover is outstandingly unique. Harry stands in the center of a distorted room—its warped composition is due to the fisheye lens of photographer Tim Walker, whose disembodied hand juts out from the bottom left corner. Despite its stark contrast from Styles’s 2017 album, which showcased the artist’s bare back in a pink-tinted bath, it’s obvious that “Fine Line” is still very much his aesthetic—perhaps even more so, as he is seen photographed in a dramatic pose, with both the outfit and background in complementary and camp-like colors.

First teasing his fans with the release of his album’s singles “Lights Up,” “Watermelon Sugar,” and “Adore You,” Styles belts about his experiences across the love-hate spectrum in upbeat tunes. Released on National Coming Out Day, “Lights Up,” his first hint at his new album, is filled with melancholic harmonies that accompany Styles as he sings “All the lights couldn’t put out the dark / Runnin’ through my heart / Lights up and they know who you are [...] Do you know who you are?” The song’s strangely charming chorus alludes to Styles questioning his own identity. The British artist has always been open about his support for the LGBTQ+ community, and to his fans, this number represents the unlabelled fluidity of his sexuality. Following that, his track “Watermelon Sugar” was dropped, and it left fans as excited as ever with its upbeat bassline, cryptic lyrics, and fruit-related title (leading us to draw parallels to “Kiwi,” a track from his first album).

After that, the “Adore You” music video was released on YouTube. Featuring a voiceover by Spanish artist Rosalía, Styles sings about his love for his significant other and the lengths he would go to express it. As of when this article was written, this is the only video he has released with an audible plot line and with him as an actor. The video portrays a strange boy on the island Eroda (“Adore” spelled backwards), judged by his sulking peers for his blinding smile. He finds solace in a fish that’s swept ashore. They do everything together until one day, the fish grows too big and inevitably has to return back to its school in the ocean. Here, Styles plays the boy in the video, conveying how sometimes to show our utmost adoration for something, we must let it go.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are tracks such as “Falling,” “She,” “Cherry,” and “To Be So Lonely.” With common themes of hatred, heartbreak, and longing, these numbers feature a punchier tune rather than the brighter, happier sounds that other tunes “Canyon Moon,” “Sunflower Vol. 6,” and “Golden,” sport. These tracks, however, aren’t all rainbows and sunshine either. “Golden,” for instance, opens the album with a breathy rendition of the honeymoon phase of a relationship but includes lines with dark undertones of self-identity like “I can feel you take control / Of who I am, and all I’ve ever known.” “Falling” is a fan favorite body-swaying break-up ballad that exudes the self-questioning, self-inflicted agony that has been building up throughout the album.

A significant addition to the album is the song “Treat People With Kindness.” The phrase has long been Styles’s slogan for his tour and merchandise. Advertising for this album included an interactive website on which fans could type in their name and receive random compliments in return. Perhaps with small acts of kindness like this, Styles is right when he sings “Maybe we can / Find a place to feel good / And we can treat people with kindness.”

The finale “Fine Line,” after which the album is named, epitomizes the thin line between love and hate at their extremes as Styles beautifully sings and brings together the plethora of emotions conveyed throughout the rest of his songs. Nearly seven minutes long, “Fine Line” covers an array of feelings. He sings about one-way vulnerability (“Put a price on emotion / I’m looking for something to buy”) and makes evident the fine line between love and hate when they’re each at their extremes (“You’ve got my devotion / But man, I hate you sometimes”). It’s wistful with hints of sensuality and ends with fading echoes of “We’ll be alright,” almost bringing the listener closure and assurance after the journey of emotions his album has evoked.

Styles proves himself to be a more confident and well-versed songwriter in “Fine Line.” He’s open about his personal relationships and emotions; he allows himself enough space for creativity in beats and melodies while still remaining true to his signature swagger. He stepped out of his comfort zone for this album, and it paid off. Having arguably mastered the art of tear-jerking ballads and summer pop rock hits, the album’s bittersweet sincerity documents the 25-year-old’s whirlwind of experiences with love as he continues on the path to finding himself.