It’s clear by now that Harry Styles is having a bit of a moment. From reaching the top of the Billboard charts with song-of-the-summer “Watermelon Sugar” to achieving a bona-fide sleeper hit with “Adore You,” you can’t turn on the radio or shuffle your Spotify hits playlist without hearing Styles’ voice. Either he is telling you about how he’d walk through fire for you or asking how he can live without that watermelon sugar high. He’s even managed to find time for a film career in the middle of living the dream as a musician, a feat only the most versatile artists have the energy or time for. But there’s one marker of success that eludes Styles: recognition by the Recording Academy.
It’s well known that until very recently, the Grammys had a bit of an image problem. Between the systemic under-recognition of artists of color and the average age of the voting members all but ensuring nothing popular on the radio would be nominated, the Grammys always seemed behind the times. But they still serve as music’s highest honor, especially in America. Being a Grammy-nominated (or Grammy-winning) artist establishes credibility within the industry and signals that that artist should be taken seriously. For an artist that has already topped the charts and challenged himself creatively, the Grammys would seem to be the logical next step. Thus far, the Grammys have ignored Styles. His first solo album received critical praise but was snubbed by the Academy. It seems his past as a member of a “boy band” held him back from being recognized critically even as he sold out arena tours. And even though One Direction is a great band musically, no critic would dare be seen praising a band beloved by teenage girls.
But after the Grammys realized being seen as the stuffy music awards show that ignored popular music wasn’t helping their brand, things began to change incrementally. This past year, teen phenom Billie Eilish took home a record number of awards, showing that radio popularity, youth, and inventiveness no longer disqualified a nominee from taking home the big prizes. And in the interim, Styles created his bombshell second album Fine Line. The BRITs got the message, nominating Styles for many of their biggest awards. Suddenly, a path to Grammy glory for Styles doesn’t seem so outlandish. And with a massive campaign from Columbia Records enlisting luminaries like Stevie Nicks to sing Styles’ praises combined with a groundswell of support within the industry, it seems 2020 might be Styles’ year to take the Grammys by storm. With the submissions in and the voting underway, let’s take a look at why Harry Styles and Fine Line deserve to be nominated, category by category as submitted by Columbia.
“Watermelon Sugar”: Best Pop Solo Performance
The most recognizable hit off of Fine Line, “Watermelon Sugar,” is the unlikeliest number one single this year. The song reached the top of the charts a full nine months after its release, making the feat even more remarkable. It’s a breezy, inventive, and catchy song that is most radio-friendly while still sounding different from most of the radio’s songs. It’s an earworm that manages to never be annoying or wear out its welcome, which is amazing considering how often it is played. You couldn’t escape it this summer, and a pop song that effective deserves to be nominated in this category.
“Adore You”: Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Best Music Video
If “Watermelon Sugar” was the sleeper hit, “Adore You” was the out-of-the-box, ready-made juggernaut. From a production standpoint, which matters most for Record of the Year, Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson mixed a unique beat with funk influences featuring a truly great guitar solo. It builds and builds, and its sound is inherently danceable. These producers deserve recognition alongside Styles for creating the sound of “Adore You” and Fine Line in general.
The song’s music video (really more of a short film) should certainly be nominated for creativity alone, not to mention the great work by the production team and director Dave Meyers. Not many other songs this year boasted their own island, but Styles and the marketing team at Columbia built anticipation for the song and its wildly creative music video by inviting fans to explore the island of Eroda.
All the bells and whistles of a massively successful marketing campaign would be useless without a great song behind it, and “Adore You” more than delivers on that front. Much like “Watermelon Sugar,” you can’t escape “Adore You” on the radio this year, nor do you want to. If a Song of the Year is a song that pushes boundaries while appealing to a mass audience, then “Adore You” deserves to be on that nomination list.
Fine Line: Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album
Fine Line represents a creative new direction for Styles, and each song swings for the fences. With most artists today worried more about chart position than crafting an album that represents who they are as an artist, Styles managed to make an album that is both intensely personal and innately popular. By setting out to make the album he wanted to make, he managed to make an album everyone wanted to listen to. There is not one track that doesn’t land, not the sunny “Golden” or euphoric “Lights Up” or confessional “Falling.” When every song on an album could be a single, you have a hit album, and if Columbia wanted, they could release every one of these songs as standalone singles and find success. That’s rare, and it deserves to be recognized.
It’s not just about the quality of the songs and their ability to function on their own. Fine Line supports the idea of the album as a piece of art that needs to be listened to from start to finish to experience the journey the artist intended. Yes, each song works on its own, but they are all much better when you play the album straight through. In a time when releasing singles and EPs rather than full albums is becoming the most popular way to release music, Styles boldly released a record that is meant to be enjoyed in its entirety that takes chances in its production. For this, Fine Line deserves recognition as an Album of the Year (if not the Album of the Year).
Harry Styles doesn’t need the validation that the Grammys can bring – just show the doubters the massive first-week sales or sold-out tours or critical rave reviews. In fact, the Grammys need Styles more, to show that they are relevant and understand shifting musical tastes. But being a Grammy-nominated artist would deservedly catapult Styles to a new level of respect. Fine Line is an excellent album that represents his growth as an artist, and that deserves to be recognized.