Harry Styles 101: The Definitive Beginner’s Guide

Harry Styles is unarguably one of the biggest names in pop. He has taken his boyband-fueled fame and expounded upon it tenfold. From No. 1 songs to sprawling arena tours, to Grammy nominations, to recognition from his icons, Styles has no shortage of milestones in his career.

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Because of that, we are well aware the world is versed in Styles’ life and times. Nevertheless, the two distinct legs of his career (One Direction and solo) might leave some fans—casual listeners most likely—a bit in the dark on some aspects. As Styles is amid his well-deserved break from the spotlight, let’s take a look back at his career thus far, so everyone can be on the same page for when he returns.

White Eskimo

Before The X Factor brought Styles and his future One Direction bandmates together, he was a part of another band: White Eskimo. The fledgling group consisted of Styles, Nick Clough, Haydn Morris, and Will Sweeny. The group provided Styles with his first musical confidence boost. The foursome entered a Battle of the Bands competition at their school and won. Soon after, Styles forayed out on his own and gave The X Factor a shot, which needless to say, was a smart move on his part.

Despite losing Styles, White Eskimo continued to pursue music. Check out some of their music, sans Styles, below.

The X Factor

The X Factor was the first big push in Styles’ career. A 16-year-old, fresh-faced Styles stunned the celebrity judges on the UK competition show with his smooth vocals and heartthrob stage presence. Despite his swooning rendition of “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder, Styles failed to make it through the first round. His worries didn’t last long after he was called back to the stage alongside Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Zayn Malik, and Louis Tomlinson.

The judges—mainly Nicole Scherzinger and Simon Cowell—decided to pair the five hopefuls up. Soon after, they started ironing out the details. What would they wear? How would they sound? And, most importantly, what would they be called?

Their decided name would soon go down in the annals of boyband history: One Direction. The moniker has graced the cover of five studio albums, been screamed by many a fan, and lined many marquees. Despite only coming in third place, their time on the show was enough to launch them into an unprecedented career.


We would be here all day if we were to truly break up every big moment in the fivesome’s career, so we will just stick to the indelible highlights.

In 2011, the group shared their breakout single, “What Makes You Beautiful.” It was a polarizing song. It was one of those hits that appeased fans with its constant radio play and, conversely, wore the patience of haters thin. Nevertheless, the simple pop tune took the band’s star even higher and primed them for their first studio album, Up All Night.

They followed that up with a slightly edgier album, Take Me Home. Part of the group’s success was their rock-tinged sound. There was something reminiscent of The Beatles’ early days. Now, we’re not comparing them to the rock legends (Beatles fans don’t fret), but the same fun-loving attitudes, simple chord structures, and gushy lyrics that The Beatles employed early on were present in One Direction’s first few albums.

The group rarely got a break. They shared two more albums in two years, both of which continued their string of world-renowned pop hits. It wasn’t until 2015, that the band suffered any sort of setback in their steep incline to the upper echelons of fame.

Zayn Malik Decides to Leave

With one simple Facebook post, Malik ruined many a Directioner’s day—if not year. In 2015, Malik announced that he would be leaving One Direction. In the months that followed, he would further explain the decision was due to both creative and personal differences with the band.

Now, several years later, the story of Malik’s departure has been explained by every band member from all angles. Somehow, the story has gotten even more blurred with every new bit of information that comes out. It doesn’t much matter now that each member has embarked on their own solo efforts, but it remains a sore spot in our hearts nevertheless.

One Direction, now a foursome, shared one more album without Malik, Made in the A.M. Soon after, they went on an indefinite “hiatus.” That verbiage was likely an attempt to spare them from the backlash of their die-hard fans if they had announced a full-on breakup.

Solo Albums

Though he wasn’t the first member to launch a solo career, no one can deny Styles likely has had the most success on his own. His first album, Harry Styles, was released in 2017. With that record, Styles decided to employ some ’70s rock vibes layered overtop his pop ones. With his stunning vocals, boyish demeanor, and unique sonic direction, it’s no surprise this album made the strides that it did.

His second effort was even more of a success, generating a No. 1 track for him, “Watermelon Sugar.” He traded in his retro pastiche for something a little more grounded in modernity.

Styles can’t help but one-up himself every time he releases music. His third album, Harry’s House, remains his most famous work. He scored yet another No. 1 with “As It Was” and earned the Grammy for Album of the Year.

[RELATED: Harry Styles Albums Ranked]

Love on Tour

That takes us to Styles’ most recent effort, Love on Tour. The sprawling trek made Styles into a must-see act. Spanning two studio albums and three years, the tour primed Styles to take a much-needed break.

Styles hasn’t defined his stint away from the spotlight, leaving many fans to anxiously await his return.

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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