Harry Styles in Relation to Political Economy Theories

Slide 1:

This aspect of Adorno’s ideas relates more to the One Direction era of Harry Styles career. One Direction was a manufactured boyband with the intention of becoming ‘big stars’ This is opposed to what some may argue is an ‘authentic’ band who comes together in a garage and gig locally because they just want to make music. This makes them standardised as they were created an

Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 14.58.02d molded to fit the needs of the market in order to be able to sell and consequently make money … this also links to Marx ideas about capitalism.

Once formed on X Factor by Simon Cowell, their early career followed the same format as previously popular boybands, even mirroring them musically, in outfit choice and in photo shoots. This is evident in the photos on the right of the screen with Take That, The Backstreet Boys, and Nsync. This makes them standardised as they aren’t presenting anything new instead just conforming to the regular format of what an audience expects a boyband to be.

One Direction’s first single ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ is also very standardised being compared to a power pop/electropop single and tailored to chart. The song uses an opening guitar riff noticeably similar to the Grease single ’Summer Nights’ and has also been likened to Mcfly’s ’All About You.’ The song was also produced by Rami Yacoub who had previously worked with the Backstreet Boys, Westlife, and Nsync linking back to the previous point of mirroring such bands. It was a success as it topped the chart for four consecutive weeks and sold 82,000 copies in the first two days alone. This led the band down the path of creating similar catchy pop tunes such as Live While Were Young and One Thing.

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It was no secret throughout 2015 – the final year of One Direction – that each of the members was trying to break away from the stereotypical boyband member image. Harry Styles in particular seemingly wanted to break away from the rest of the boys’ images through changing his style e.g. wearing a black and white floral suit at the American Music Awards. Columbia Records and SYCO Music who successively signed Harry Styles as a solo artist capitalized on his want for individuality and rebranded him completely with a new look. This was to break him away from the stereotypical boyband member and push his market expansion to target new (and more mature) listeners.

A quote extracted from the NME track review of Harry Styles debut single ‘Sign of the Times’ stated: “Rumours of his ‘rock’n’roll’ sound have been circulating for months, with such legendary names as David Bowie and Queen being uttered alongside the tousled 23-year-old’s.” This suggests the route that Harry Styles was taking in terms of developing himself as his own artist; the new Bowie, bringing an essence of the 70’s into the 21st century. Critics of Styles’ however may express the view that he is just copying Bowie, and unsuccessfully through showing a lack of originality which Bowie thrived off.

In reality, this is pseudo-individualization in practice. The audience believes they are consuming something completely new and raw and in this example, those who choose to consume Harry Styles’ new music believe they are doing so by choice. Instead, Harry Styles has been carefully constructed, with marketers carefully molding his music, style and public appearances to draw in a new (and arguably gullible) audience. For example, by playing music and displaying a style influenced by Bowie shortly after his death when his name is prominent in the media and charts, Styles’ is targeting an audience who now have a void for a new and similar artist.

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Unbeknown to most people, Harry Styles has followed many other artists including Beyoncé, Prince, and Oasis to launch his own record company. The record company is known as Erskine Records LTD and are under exclusive license to Columbia Record, however, Harry Styles is listed as the director of the company. This isn’t Styles’ first venture into business being the director of other companies including HSA Publishing LTD, and Rollcall Tour LTD. This relates to capitalism as it is an investment by Styles’ prior to the release of his new music with the intent of maximizing the profit for himself that can be made from such sales. Similarly, through having his own publishing company, he is maximizing profits as he doesn’t have to split rights and royalties with an outside publisher.

Similarly, with a worth of over $50 million per member, One Direction relates closely to capitalism as they promote consumer culture through their prescience as a brand. One Direction is notorious for the amount of merchandise and products they released or more likely stuck their name on with some products including branded toothbrushes, a four-piece perfume range, and even their own monopoly. This accompanies the standard range of overpriced clothing, 3 movies, autobiography (although it should be noted was ghost-written by Mandy Archer), dolls and numerous calendars. One Direction even went to the extent of opening a 3-week long 1D world pop-up shop in Leeds in 2013 to sell their products.

James Arthur summed up most peoples stance on the 1D brand tweeting ’One Direction don’t sell records they are marketing product. They sell T-Shirts and dolls you moron’ in response to someone who tweeted him saying 1D is the biggest X-Factor success. This is true, they are not an authentic band but rather a machine to exploit fans and make money.

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To take a different stance, Harry Styles could be viewed as the victim of ’The Invisible Hand’ following his role in 2017 blockbuster ’Dunkirk.’ Dunkirk is a war film released in July 2017 depicting the events that took place in Dunkirk in World War 2. Adam Smith coined the term ‘The Invisible Hand’ to describe how we only regard our own self-interest, thus everything we do is for ourselves not the benefit of others. This can link to Styles’ role in Dunkirk because some may argue that director Christopher Nolan cast Styles’ strategically in the films self-interest.
This is because a war film typically will have a narrow market, for example, the YouGov audience profiling statistics for American Sniper (2014) categorise the audience to be mature, right-wing males. By casting Styles’ in a leading role, Nolan is introducing the film into a new market of Styles’ fans- possibly considered to be the complete opposite of the stereotypical audience. By inputting Styles into the YouGov tool, it categorises his audience as young, centre-right, females of a CD social grade. Dunkirk made just over £10 million in its opening weekend in the UK, a fifth of what the film made in the US opening weekend, thus showing its dominant market was in the UK. Could this figure have been aided by Harry Styles social presence?

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