Wondering Where Harry Styles Got His New Direction? Ask Robbie Williams

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A few weeks ago, Harry Styles re-emerged with "Sweet Creature," impressing One Direction lovers and haters alike with a new stripped down sound that beautifully combines his sweet pop vocals with folksy vibes and surprisingly dark lyrics. With that first listen, it all felt rather new, interesting, and exciting to see Harry stretching out on his own.

Less than a week later, Styles released a video for "Sign of the Times," in which he was brooding and windswept and frowning. The song itself feels mined from other British artists, Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" combined with distinctly Oasis-sounding guitar undercurrents.

Fans of classic British pop might also have noticed something else quite glaring: "Sign of the Times" seems almost entirely modeled on what Robbie Williams did after emerging from his boy band, as a solo artist in 1995. Williams had been in Take That, a five-piece who were, in their early-'90s heyday, easily as popular as One Direction (in the UK, at least). Williams quit Take That when they were still at the peak of their success and, desperate to garner some credibility after doing dance routines and singing at screaming fans for six years, released "Angels," which is, to this day in Britain, considered a classic.

Let's compare and contrast Williams shrugging off boy band mania, and Styles doing the same thing two decades later:


Those similar somber piano intros; the same sprawling, desolate countryside setting; those very sensible winter coats. The videos for "Angels" and "Sign of the Times" have a lot in common when viewed side by side. See?

Head down moodiness and matching coats:

Abominable snowmen:

Meaningful eye close-ups:

Meaningful mouth close-ups:

Outstretched arms for dramatic effect:

Walking on water:

While Robbie Williams never figured out how to make it in America -- this was pre-internet, back when British boy bands just couldn't find mass appeal with the more hip-hop/R&B-leaning US music market -- his bid for credibility worked extraordinarily well. Williams ended up with a hugely successful career in Europe that managed to overshadow everything he had done with Take That -- at least until the boy band reformed (to great fanfare) in 2006.

So, it turns out, the new direction of Harry Styles isn't quite as fresh and unique as it may have first appeared. It is an established recipe for success though, and -- let's face it -- pop has always recycled itself. If Harry keeps borrowing from the best of British, especially the artists not-so-well-known in America, his continued success is an inevitability.