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Harry Styles is known for pushing boundaries with his androgynous fashion, but is it all an act? Could he just be profiting off of the gay community?

Is Harry Styles pinkwashing for profit from his gay fan audience?

You don’t have to look too far while scrolling social media or surfing the internet to find a healthy dose of controversy. Politics, social issues, or even disagreements among fandoms dominate social media headlines constantly. Every day brings a new topic for the masses to consider, debate, and ultimately choose a side. 

Often, celebrities are at the center of this controversy either by making hot-button statements or by questionable actions & stances on subjects. One of the latest celebrities embroiled in controversy is Harry Styles and his alleged appropriation of positives in the gay community. Is the mega-star pinkwashing to gain publicity & profit for his tour?

Harry Styles

Harry Edward Styles is a twenty-seven-year-old English singer, songwriter, and actor. His musical career began in 2010 as a solo contestant on the British music competition series The X Factor. Following his elimination early on, he was brought back to join the boy band One Direction, which became one of the best-selling boy bands of all time.

Styles released his self-titled debut solo album through Columbia Records in 2017. It debuted at number one in the U.K. & the U.S. and became one of the world’s top-ten best-selling albums of the year. Its lead single, “Sign of the Times”, topped the U.K. Singles Chart. 

His second album, Fine Line (2019), debuted atop the U.S. Billboard 200 with the biggest first-week sales by an English male artist in history and was listed among Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” in 2020. Its fourth single, “Watermelon Sugar”, topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

Styles has earned several accolades throughout his career, including two Brit Awards, a Grammy Award, an Ivor Novello Award, and an American Music Award. Aside from music, he’s also known for his flamboyant fashion and is the first man to appear solo on the cover of Vogue magazine.

Vogue cover

Much like J.Lo’s Google Image-birthing Versace dress or one of Lady Di’s countless revenge looks, Styles’ November 2020 Vogue gown was an instant classic. The musician’s appearance ricocheted through his behemoth social media fanbase. It stirred up a similar furor to when he wore a pearl earring and bright nail polish to the 2019 Met Gala. 

In the accompanying Vogue piece, written by Hamish Bowles, Styles is described as a “revolutionary” for his gender-defying fashion choices, making him “the image of a new era.” Only, is he? Is a handsome, rich, cis-gendered white man wearing an expensive dress on the front cover of a glossy fashion magazine all that boundary-pushing? Or is it continuing a conversation the gay community started? 

“It’s not new or radical,” says Fenella Hitchcock, a London College of Fashion lecturer. “It just reflects the shifts in conversations surrounding masculinity that have been happening for a while.” That’s not to say the cover is not important. If anything, it’s the logical apex of Styles’ feminine frills, TikTok’s femboy culture, and fashion’s heady embrace of non-binary aesthetics.

Billy Porter

Billy Porter offered a sharp critique of Harry Styles’ Vogue cover, noting in an interview with The Sunday Times that gay or queer people in fashion have not been given similar opportunities.

Despite the acclaim he’s garnered for his style, Porter said, “I feel like the fashion industry has accepted me because they have to. I’m not necessarily convinced, and here is why. I created the conversation [about non-binary fashion], and yet Vogue still put Harry Styles, a straight white man, in a dress on their cover for the first time.”

“I’m not dragging Harry Styles,” he continued, “but he is the one you’re going to try and use to represent this new conversation? He doesn’t care; he’s just doing it because it’s the thing to do. This isn’t politics for me. This is my life. I had to fight my entire life to get to the place where I could wear a dress to the Oscars and not be gunned down. All he has to do is be white and straight.”

Recently, the Cinderella actor issued an apology to Styles on The Late Show, saying, “Harry Styles, I apologize to you for having your name in my mouth. It’s not about you. The conversation is not about you.” He added, “The conversation is actually deeper than that. It is about the systems of oppression and erasure of people of color who contribute to the culture.”

He then returned to his humor by saying, “I’m sorry, Harry. I didn’t mean no harm. I’m a gay man. We like Harry; he’s cute!”

Sexuality & trailblazing

While we don’t know the specifics of Styles’ sexuality, nor should we feel entitled to it, it’s a topic he’s often pressed on by interviewers, and skilfully skirts answering. Not because “he’s holding it back”, but because “who cares?” Because of the ambiguity, most people accept him as a cis white male. That brings up the question of why has he been getting credit for trailblazing something like this?

Styles is far from being the first to do so. Music & fashion have always been spaces to renegotiate aesthetic approaches to gender. There’s David Bowie, Prince, and Lenny Kravitz. Even Brad Pitt’s 1999 Rolling Stone cover. Is this Harry Styles being genuine? Or is he using this misplaced attention on his sexuality & androgyny as a way to boost his tour?

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Comments
  • I understand where you’re trying to go with this angle. However, the span of Harry’s career has been pushing towards a more androgynous style and singing mentality. His sexuality is intentionally left vague simply because people have hyper focused on it. I think barring the Larry Stylinson conversation he might have been more open to discussing it. There is a lot of toxic behavior from fans regarding that matter, whether true or not.

    He has at no point gone out of his way to call himself revolutionary, and has often professed to be influenced by those mentioned in this article. Bowie and Jagger are heavy influences of his and it shows in his body of solo work.

    I do think on the whole this article feels a little accusatory as if it was a predatory act on Styles part. It is a topic the LGBTQ+ community battles, queerbaiting is a lucrative endeavor. I would point out though that when it comes to queerbaiting, none go this far. So whether or not he is a cis/straight white male, or a member of the community, the overall feel of his body of work and his public image is genuine. Many people who are cis/androgyne who use cis pronouns are known to be a grey area that in LGBTQ+ spaces are considered outsiders.

    November 7, 2021
  • First of all, I don’t see how on earth Harry could be ‘pinkwashing for his tour’ when all he’s doing is an escalation of the stuff he’s ALWAYS done, almost as if, bear with me, he’s on a journey of embracing/expressing his identity (to an audience that largely don’t want to see him that way).

    Secondly, love the slight disclaimer at the end that ‘oh we can’t know Harry’s sexuality’, meanwhile we’re going to call him cis and imply that he’s straight (things he has NEVER claimed to be – the ambiguity encompasses ALL OF IT, so this cisheteronormative assumption is just that) and we’ll parrot Billy Porter calling him that (which, btw, the issue with Billy’s statement originally was his assumption that Harry is straight and doesn’t care, when he couldn’t possibly know that, which erases all kinds of identities, especially closeted ones – and then his apology acts as if Harry himself is calling for this apology, and as if the media and general public hasn’t been largely on Billy’s side. Absolute eyeroll).

    Thirdly, when you take into consideration what Harry’s fanbase has always looked like (except for the brief moment in 2018 where his tour was a pride parade) – and the image that has always been crafted for him – can you not put two and two together as to why he might not be out yet? “lol he doesn’t care, he’s not being genuine, it’s for his tour” how is this your hot take? When all the evidence points to someone who is closeted, whose marketability has always ridden on whether girls think they can sleep with him, how is this the woke, fair, or sensitive take? How do you think this makes closeted people feel? They can never signal support to the community or express themselves genuinely because everyone will think they’re faking it? All this ire and mistrust directed to Harry because of something some Vogue writer said – please take a step back and think about how you’re demonising him over something he’s never said, and consider that maybe you don’t have all the facts, even if a print article told you so. And there’s a way to say ‘hey he isn’t the first’ (which I don’t think anyone is unaware of) without claiming he’s some queerbaiting monster. All Harry wants to do is wear his little dresses and wave his little flags, and maybe we should let him continue on his journey, and give him the courtesy we (should) afford all closeted folks.

    November 8, 2021

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