Singer, songwriter, and all around superstar Harry Styles made his Stern Show debut on Monday, sitting down with Howard to talk about everything from his high-profile romances to how a reality show helped him become part of one of the biggest boy bands of all time. He told Howard he’s as surprised as anyone else by the magnitude of his own success.
“I think about it all the time and it kind of just reminds me how lucky I am to be doing it because I know there are hundreds of thousands of, if not millions of, musicians who are so far superior to me as a musician, and not everyone gets to do it,” Harry said. “I do think some people make their own luck, but I also think so much of it is about luck and timing because when I look at it there’s no reason for it to have been me who got to do this, really.”
It was his mom that changed Harry's luck for him after she signed her son up to compete on the British version of “The X-Factor.” After sailing through auditions with an a cappella rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” he made it to the big stage where he met record executive turned reality TV producer Simon Cowell and his future One Direction bandmates Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Niall Horan, and Louis Tomlinson. The five formed into a band at Cowell’s suggestion and became a worldwide phenomenon almost overnight. Despite all their success, Howard wondered if it was difficult having managers and record executives telling them what to do, what to sing, and thinking they knew better than the boys did.
“To be fair, they did know better than us,” Harry responded. “Like, when we started I was 16. I’d written maybe two songs before.”
He said the support the band received helped him find his footing as a songwriter. “Everything was so new and exciting and you’re suddenly working with these big producers and big people and, like, I never would’ve been confident enough to be like, ‘Actually guys, I’m going to write a song on this first album,’” he said.
Eventually, however, the boys started outgrowing the band. Zayn left first in a move that was derided by many at the time as it happened while One Direction was touring. Harry recently joked about his bandmate’s departure on “Saturday Night Live.”
“Was that an insult to you? Was that something he should not have done?” Howard asked him.
“I don’t know if I could say it’s something he shouldn’t have done because I just didn’t feel that way, so it’s hard for me to condemn it … looking at it now, the last thing I would’ve wanted was for him to stay there if he didn’t want to be there,” Harry said.
In 2017, Harry realized he too needed to venture out on his own. The decision to leave the band reportedly incensed Cowell because he hadn’t run it by him first. “Why didn’t you consult Simon?” Howard asked.
“I’d been in the band since I was 16. There was five of us, and we had a lot of managers, a lot of people at the label … Every decision I’ve made since I was 16 was part of a group,” Harry said. “I didn’t necessarily know who I was as an adult.”
Harry’s music career didn’t skip a beat after he went solo, though. He’s released two chart-topping albums with his latest effort "Fine Line" selling about half a million copies in just its first week. His sound has evolved since his boy band days, too, and he told Howard that’s by design.
“I didn’t want to make the same music we were making in the band. Not because I didn’t like it, I just wanted it to be a different thing,” he said.
The 26-year-old has grown confident since his “X-Factor” days but still looks to other musicians for advice and inspiration. For example, he recently previewed his newest album for legendary Fleetwood Mac frontwoman Stevie Nicks.
“It was pretty crazy,” Harry said, explaining the impromptu listening party came about after he took Stevie and her female companions out to dinner one night while her band was passing through London. “I’d just kind of finished the record and she said, ‘Oh, I want to hear the album,’” he recalled.
It turned out to be quite the late night. “They all came back to the house … and they’re so used to living nocturnally. They wake up really late and they kind of live through the night—because they’re witches,” Harry joked, adding, “They left at like six. I remember them walking outside to get a car and the sun had come up, and I was like, ‘I’m exhausted.’”
Another person who inspired Harry as a songwriter and performer is Beatles icon and repeat Stern Show guest Sir Paul McCartney. “Obviously, he is one of the greatest songwriters of all time,” Styles told Howard.
Harry recently saw McCartney perform in December at London’s O2 arena and was blown away by the 77-year-old’s energetic and passionate performance. “He clearly just loves it,” Harry said, explaining that it gives him something to aspire to. “You’re like, who ultimately do you want to be at the end of the day? You don’t want to be the guy who died. You don’t want to be the guy who’s like whacked out on drugs. You want to be the guy who’s 70 and playing for three hours because he can and he wants to and everyone’s loving it and he’s having fun.
“I found it super inspiring, that show, actually,” Harry continued. “He’s incredible.”
As surefooted as Styles is these days when it comes to music, the multi-talented entertainer admitted he still has a ways to go on the acting front. In 2017, Harry earned high marks for his performance in Christopher Nolan’s epic World War II film “Dunkirk.” He signed onto the project having never been trained as an actor, which is precisely what the filmmakers wanted.
“They said don’t take any [classes] because we don’t want it to be actor-y,” Harry said. “It was good I guess because the character was like a young soldier and he didn’t know what he was doing, and every day on set I had literally no idea what I was doing.”
“Were you intimidated?” Howard wondered.
“Yeah, definitely, but it was also just the size of the set and I was a massive fan of Chris Nolan before, so the whole thing was just really intimidating,” he responded, explaining the gravity of the situation didn’t sink in until the first day of shooting when he came face-to-face with the actual warship they were shooting on. “I was like, ‘Oh shit, this like is a real movie.’”
As nervous as Harry might’ve been shooting a big-budget blockbuster, Howard noticed he looked quite relaxed in November when he pulled doubled duty on “Saturday Night Live” as the show’s host and musical guest.
“I don’t really know why. I think maybe it’s because … you’re there for the week, you’ve rehearsed everything, ultimately everything’s written on the cards,” Harry explained, adding, “‘SNL’ was like the calmest I’ve been for anything I’ve done.”
While he’s not opposed to future acting roles, Harry said he’s holding out for just the right project. “I don’t see myself, like, wanting to go get a movie because I have a year off and I want something to do,” he told Howard.
Harry has enjoyed his share of celebrity romances in the past but for all the tabloid headlines his relationships have generated, the musician isn’t one to kiss and tell. He prefers to let his songwriting do the talking. “There’s not a lot of, like, interviews where I talk a lot about personal stuff, but I’m fine doing it in music,” he said.
“But how do you feel when someone does that to you?” Howard wondered. “When Taylor Swift writes a song and everyone assumes it’s about you, Harry, does that upset you?”
“No, that doesn’t upset me,” he responded. “I think about what it means to me to write a song about somebody else and, if somebody has to do that, I think it’s like flattering. Even if the song isn’t that flattering, you’ve still spent time on it and, ultimately, using Taylor as an example, she’s a great songwriter.”
“The only time you really, like, think about, ‘Oh, is this song too personal?’ is if you think about is this going to be really annoying for this other person,” he continued.
There are worse things about being unlucky in love than having songs written about you, it seems. Harry was single last month when Valentine’s Day came around and as a result he was actually robbed at knifepoint while walking through the streets of London. “The guys cross the road and, I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s weird,’” he recalled. “I cross the street again and they cross the street again, and I’m like, ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake, I think I’m about to get robbed.’”
When the men finally caught up to Harry his heart was pounding. First they offered him weed, then they shook him down. He gave them his cash after noticing they had knives, but Harry said he was far less inclined to unlock and hand over his phone, which contained everything from his contact list to music videos and song lyrics still in progress.
“There was a pond behind them. I thought about throwing it in the pond,” Harry admitted.
The robbers eventually gave him until the count of ten to unlock his phone, but when cars appeared nearby Harry decided to make a break for it instead. “I just felt an opportunity. I just sprinted, ran,” he said.
“They didn’t chase you?” Howard wondered.
“Well, I ran into the road and I tried to stop a car. Obviously if a mad man runs into the road and tries to get in your car you’re not gonna let them in, so they don’t let me in,” Harry said, explaining his next move was to just keep running toward his home. “Usually when I’m out walking I’m wearing, like, running stuff. This is the one night I’m wearing, like, corduroy flares and shoes,” he lamented.
After filing a police report it didn’t take long for the incident to make its way into the news. On Monday, Harry took the opportunity to clear up one bit of inaccurate information he’d seen included in some reports. “They wrote there was only one guy. I’d like to clarify, there was more than one guy,” he laughed. “There was a bunch of guys. There was 87 guys.”
Harry did more than just talking during his Stern Show debut – he also performed live. Howard wondered what drew the singer-songwriter to “Sledgehammer,” a hit for Peter Gabriel in the '80s which Harry did a pitch-perfect rendition of on Monday.
“I love it because I think it’s like the best mixed song ever. It just sounds incredible,” Harry said before he and his band performed their version for the very first time. “The music video is one of my favorite videos of all time.”
Next, Harry and his band played his heartfelt new single “Adore You.” Howard wondered if it was about a relationship that just doesn’t work out. “It’s more about that honeymoon period than the other part,” Styles said, adding, “I love, love.”
The song hails from Harry’s new album “Fine Line,” which he’s going on concert to support starting April 15 and concluding in October at Madison Square Garden for two concerts he’s dubbed “Harryween.” The album has sold like gangbusters, but Howard was curious to hear more about a story involving the singer-songwriter biting off part of his tongue during the recording process. As it turned out, drugs were involved.
“Mushrooms were in play,” Harry said with a laugh. “I jumped out a window.”
“Why did you jump out a window?” Howard asked.
“I was high,” he said, adding, “I hit my chin on my knee when I landed and I bit, like, the end of my tongue off.”
“Has it grown back?” Howard wondered.
“Grown back?” Howard’s co-host Robin Quivers wondered. “What is he a snake?”
The tip of course hasn’t grown back, but Harry does believe the injury may have inadvertently fixed a speech impediment he’s had since he was a child. “If I’m tired I can feel my mouth get lazy and and I get a very small lisp, and [now] it’s gone,” he said.
For tickets and info on Harry Styles “Love On Tour” and his upcoming "Harryween" shows at Madison Square Garden click here.