Harry Styles Is the World's Biggest Young Rock Star. Why Won't Rock Radio Play Him?

Harry Styles is the world's biggest young rock star. Why won't rock radio play him?

8/2/2020 4:00:00 AM

Harry Styles is the world's biggest young rock star. Why won't rock radio play him?

For all his current success and acclaim, the world's biggest young rock star continues to be ignored at rock radio.

Harry Styles,"Watermelon Sugar"If you were to invent an artist to keep the flame burning for classic rock in a musical mainstream increasingly unfriendly to the genre's traditions, they'd probably look and sound a lot like Harry Styles.

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A dashing, long-haired, highly fashionable and occasionally gender-bending young Briton who dates pop stars and supermodels, makes free-love music videos, worships at the altars of Mick Jagger and Stevie Nicks and sells out arenas worldwide with his guitar-based, lightly psychedelic pop-rock? At times, Styles' superstardom almost feels fictional, like some character a middle-aged writer would draw up for Russell Brand to play in a slapstick comedy, despite the archetype being almost entirely absent from the last decade-plus of popular music.

But it isn't just real, it's still growing. Styles' sophomore LPFine Lineposted one of the best first-week numbers of 2019 -- moving 478,000 equivalent album units in its first week, double the first-week number for his 2017 self-titled debut -- and it's still in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 albums chart seven months later. While traditional radio success eluded Harry on his first album,

Fine Linehas seen two of its singles,"Adore You" and"Watermelon Sugar," wholeheartedly embraced on the airwaves, becoming his first two top five hits onBillboard's Pop Songs chart -- and his first two top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 since his solo debut"Sign of the Times" bowed at No. 4.

Yet for all his current success, the world's biggest young rock star continues to be ignored at rock radio. While he appears well on his way to becoming a pop radio fixture, Styles has never even cracked any ofBillboard's rock or alternative airplay charts.

Rock radio's initial reluctance to embrace Styles was hardly surprising, given his musical roots as one-fifth of the massively successful vocal group One Direction. Despite having their own fair share of rock-flavored hits, 1D was considered to be firmly in the pop lane, especially by radio. So have virtually all rock-leaning groups to fall under the"boy band" umbrella, even including acts like the Jonas Brothers and 5 Seconds of Summer who play some or all of their own instruments. Even though Styles' solo debut was clearly more indebted to David Bowie and Queen than Michael Jackson and ABBA, he was still very much"Harry Styles of One Direction" -- and like all the group's alums, had to prove himself as an artist outside of their well-established milieu.

However, at this point, Harry Styles no longer needs the"of One Direction" to establish his place in the musical mainstream -- he is very much a solo star in his own right, with his own identity (and plenty of his own fans) totally outside of 1D's massive shadow. And as his own artist, though many of his songs are pop-accessible, his chosen lane is obviously rock, as evident by his (oft-namechecked) classic rock influences, his full-band setup, and his predominantly guitar- and piano-driven songs. As traditional rock music continues to fade from contemporary relevance, and youth-appealing, streaming-embraced stars like Styles are in particularly short supply, there would certainly be good reason to embrace him as part of the format -- particularly at alternative radio, where many stations have already begun to stretch their playlists to include pop-approved, less traditionally rock stars like Billie Eilish and Post Malone.

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There are few indications to this point, though, that many are interested in doing so with Styles. While"Watermelon Sugar" continues to climb at pop radio, only one station monitored byBillboardfor our Alternative Songs airplay chart has attempted to play it: Alt 92.3 (WNYL) in New York, which gave it a paltry two spins in the prior tracking week. (WNYL declined to speak to

Billboardabout Styles for this story.)Part of the reason for this is, simply, that Styles' label Columbia Records isn't actively working his songs to rock or alternative radio. Even in a streaming age where programmers don't need to literally be sent an artist's song to have the ability to play it, that still matters. Radio columnist Sean Ross (of the

Ross on Radionewsletter) explains that songs not being promoted to a certain radio format"tends to be the number one explanation for, “Why isn’t anybody playing this?'""I wish radio, in general, showed more enterprise on music," Ross says."But there’s no reason to expect that even the stations that play a quirky, pop-leaning version of the alternative format would go out of their way to play a Harry Styles song without being asked.” (Columbia also declined to comment to

Billboardon their promotional strategy for Styles.)It's also worth noting that pop radio has also been slow to embrace Harry Styles -- even going back to the One Direction days, where despite the group's massive popularity, they only ever notched two top 5 hits on Mainstream Top 40 (as many as Styles has already as a solo artist). By choosing"Adore You" as an advance single from

Fine Line-- following the more reintroductory first taste"Lights Up" -- Styles' team made their priorities clear."Last time around, Harry Styles presented himself as a rock artist, and didn’t find a home at rock or pop radio," Ross says."This time, he’s clearly pursuing pop radio with the singles that have been chosen."

One place on rock radio where Styles might have better luck finding a home is at Adult Alternative, where both"Sign of the Times" and"Watermelon Sugar" have received airplay. It's not a ton in either case --"Watermelon Sugar" is currently only being played at two stations reporting to

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Billboard's Triple A listing, WCLX in Burlington, Vt. and KVYN in Napa Valley, Calif. But neither station views playing the song as all that out of character for their brand."It fits what we’re doing, and we don’t care where it came from," WCLX programmer Chip Morgan explains."We like Harry... and that’s it. It’s a great summer song." Playing a song by a top 40 artist who comes from the pop world doesn't mean a ton to Morgan, because he says that they"don't pay attention to top 40" at WCLX anyway."Before ['Adore You'], we didn’t really know that much about [Styles]," he admits.

Despite his younger-leaning core following, it makes sense that Styles might also appeal to more Adult Alternative listeners, because his older musical reference points are actually much more in line with traditional Gen X and boomer sensibilities than the millennials and Gen Z-ers that mostly comprise his fanbase."On KVYN, it wouldn't be a rare thing to have a mix of music where Harry Styles was donuted in between Tom Waits and the Grateful Dead," explains Nate Campbell, director of music and programming for the station."I'm sure other radio programmers would laugh at this, and that's fine with me. But that's how we are choosing to try and entertain our market. And reception has been good, I'd say."

It's unclear whether the rock radio world will ever fully accept Harry Styles as their own -- or if Styles' own team will see much advantage in pushing him as such, when they've already conquered the much-bigger pop world. But Morgan and Campbell agree that it's crucial for radio programmers in 2020 to be open-minded when it comes to filling their playlists, and not to be too influenced by what musical world an artist originally comes from.

"I may have some reservations in the back of my mind about 'credibility' when it comes to some pop acts," Campbell admits."But I think it's important to quickly move past my own biases, based on my belief that [our genre's defintion] IS amorphous now -- it's a completely different listening world now in this streaming era. And it's important to take that into consideration when trying to blend your radio station in with that listening landscape."

Read more: billboard »

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It amazes me how so many people have an opinion on things they know nothing about.. only comment if you have actually listened to all of harry’s songs geez why are 40 yr old men so pressed? geesh Because he isn't a rock star? Wearing old Mick Jagger looks and gimmicking him doesn’t make u a rockstar sorry but he’s still hot though

PERIOD all this pathetic gate keeping bs in the replies ain’t it lmao He has a FOR REAL voice — he sounds even better live than on record. THESE COMMENTS ARE MAKING ME CRY PLEASE STOP OMGBDLGNDLFK Don't miss up okey .. everything in his place ☹ Omg it isn’t rock 😭😭😭 Rock? Please Rock ? Because he's from a boyband so even tho he (and one direction too) have some rock influenced song that sadly didn't make as singles he will never make to rock radio. Plus he's way to pop anyway for them that sadly don't even pass rock and metal bands that have younger fanbases

YEAHHH The people saying his music is like one direction music are fookin idiots because misogynistic men like to hate on any music that teenage girls like❤️ Because his one direction fan base is all over his dick so his music can’t be taken seriously in the rock scene Kiwi x3 Amazing Ultralight Beam cover

for everyone saying he is just pop, he isnt, yes majority of his songs are more pop based with smaller hints of rock but he does have some great rock genre songs that they could play. maybe cos he’s not rock... Probably one of the same reasons why pop radio won’t play BTS Harry styles is the worlds biggest young pop* star who happens to have rock fashion tendencies, can u not

Everyone in this comment section is just jealous of Harry Rock fans eating him up the replies 😭😭 maybe he’s doesn’t make pure rock. I would think more rock pop or alternative pop?🥴 huh how is it rock its def still pop haha these comments don’t pass the vibe check 😾✨ Maybe because the singles are more pop... BUT Harry's music is very rock-influenced. Listen to 'She' or 'Fine Line' or 'Kiwi' and you'll understand 😉. For those still doubtful, watch this - his stage presence is the one of a rock star:

no ✨t a s t e✨ He's both. His first album was mostly rock songs. Hello ever heard Kiwi guys? Or Only Angel or Woman? On his new album She and To Be So Lonely are rock songs. Don't judge just from the sjngles. Harry is not rock😹😹 Because he’s too poppy Because he’s from a simon cowell manufactured tv show boy band. No entry to the club. Nice kid though.

Absolute. sexism,, anything that is enjoyed primarily by (teenage) girls is delegitimized wait what's rock radio some of these replies are so funny because people really still see harry as just a pop singer... firstly um no... secondly most of the points used to back the hate are just factually incorrect anyway💀 just say you don’t like him ... no point lying 😭

because people hate women and his fan base is mainly made up of young women/tenn girls He is a Pop artist. Where did you get the idea he was a Rock artist? All these pressed middle aged men in the comments 🙄 Oh god ! Rock it’s so diverse ! Rock it an altitude ! And he got it ! To polish for rock radio ...


Please just stop 🛑 . Stop insulting real Rock musicians by claiming that little pop prat is a “rock star” when he can only play a Kazoo 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣 Well first of all you have to have a killer bass player and drummer and most of all a wicked guitar player , styles music has none of these elements , it mostly sounds like it was done on a computer.

Because his following is mainly younger girls and they see that as demeaning even though he is one of the biggest artists Not rock get your facts straight I'm an unbiased female rap page so please follow me 😘 Cuz his music isn’t rock 🙄 3 StreamWatermelonSugar BuyWatermelonSugar didnt u guys already tweet this but ok i agree

Yess🙏🏻🙌🏻💕 If yall haven’t listened to Harry Styles then you can’t have an opinion if he’s wrong Oct or not Because they’re tasteless Let’s settle this. This guy, Harry Styles is a pop rock artist. Accept it or don’t accept. Some of his songs are pop(hence the pop part), while other songs are rock(hence the rock part). Listen to both albums and definitely stream Fine Line.🥰TPWK

Yes Harry Styles 🍉🥝🍍🏖️⛱️🔗⛓️ StreamWatermelonSugar BuyWatermelonSugar Nt again with this all I want to see are nomination periodt Wow all the nasty comments on here... just say nothing if you can't talk without getting rude.. Cause they’re tasteless people under this tweet saying h is not rock🤡 more like Blackpool rock

He's just built different 😳🍉watermelon sugar 🍉😳 He reminds me of a young Mick Jagger, looks wise. But he’s not Rock, he’s Pop and there’s nothing wrong with that either. We love harry styles Absolute King. 👑 heyadorehes King Harry . Ended zayn 💀 Stream fine line and Harry styles 😍 this statement is not only stupid, but a huge stretch. I am a fan of Harry’s and I can openly admit to this.

People in the comments are so pressed. And for what?! Because he's the youngest?! Like chill young artist create great music too But is he really though? He's pure pop and can't even be considered pop rock haha.. no hate I'm sure he's a great art.. . Love 🥺 Harry_Styles 🌹 hes redefining the genre of rock and roll and those who dont like it have personalities equivalent to h*ward st*rn's

valentinamaru14 LOVE the comments on here folks...TPWK and stream fine line!! Remember, just because it’s NEWER music, doesn’t mean it’s bad! Get used to it ;) i have to laugh.gif prob bc the singles he and his label promote are more pop than rock? i honestly feel like there are other artists that have wayyy bigger radio play problems than harry styles tbfh tho 🤔

before saying it’s not rock, try listening to some of his songs on the first album like kiwi, only angel or carolina❤️ Because his pop Okay but why do people in the comments who have heard one Harry Styles song think they know more than billboard? Fine Line rocks too. She, Fine Line reminiscent of Beatles, Pink Floyd psych rock. Golden, Canyon Moon soft/folk rock like Crosby Stills Nash. Cherry, vibes like Zeppelin Going to California. For LuvOT, so want Harry_Styles & Mitch to slay blues rock cover of Bell Bottom Blues.

Hmm I think that’s Alex Turner thepunkrockmba topic idea? Thoughts? He’s a pop star, not a rock star. Hello. Wake up so many haters out here bashing him, yet they haven’t even listened to his music. listen to HS1 and then tell me you still think his music isn’t at least rock inspired. y’all need to get a life fr

The way those commenting negativity didn't even listen to his music. 🙄 You're not special thinking Harry came from a boy band so his music must not be worth listening to. Many of us felt the same at 1st. Try setting aside your reservations & give him a listen before judging. 'Rock...?' this man's music is very obviously inspired by 70s rock, he's been praised by rock icons like mick jagger and stevie nicks, and rolling stones literally called him a rock god but sure keep believing that he's just some bubblegum pop artist

Because he's not rock? folklorekissy why is there so many 50 year olds in the comments, like pack it up bingo club HEStylesacc HEStylesacc SAY IT LOUDER FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK!!!!!! Cause he’s more singer songwriter vibes TF people havent even heard his music and still assiciating Him with the boyband stigma

They are afraid of them fruits... check out his first album if you think he hasn’t made rock music. easily some soft rock and almost pop punk song in the form of kiwi on there. his second album is definitely more pop Why won’t any radios play BTS’ music? An why HAVEN’T YOU MADE AN ARTICLE ABOUT THAT?! Hm?

Rock radio wouldn’t play David Cook as a new artist either. Crazy good! Nows he’s indie so no label paying them for time. Too bad. His new single is great! He's not rock , he does lame ass boy band music , play some Ozzy. he’s a Popstar. Because it’s poorly seasoned, unsalted, cultureless drone noise. i hate boomers

Fine Line is not a rock album. His first a;bum has some rock flavours but its insulting to call him the biggest rockstar in the world. Because it’s Popcorn crusty garbage. Because it’s corny prepubescent lolliPop noise. people are like 'rock?' ye, you moron did we stutter bc he’s not actually a ROCK artist 🤦🏼‍♀️

because he makes pop music Rock? He’s Rock , some songs are hard rock like Kiwi , some songs are a soft rock such as adore you , but he’s a rockstarrrrrrr except it 🤷🏽‍♀️💯 Everyone here saying Harry's music isn't rock... Alexa, play Kiwi by Harry Styles Alexa, play Only Angel by Harry Styles Also there are different types of rock music in case y'all don't know that. There's pop rock, roots rock and more

Because ..... he’s not rock . It’s teen pop . Clean your ears YESSSS WATERMELON SUGAR IS MY FAVE ROCK SONG❤️ Cause it’s pop Cause its Not rock?... 😳 Because he came from a boyband. The stigma is stupid. Y cant they take these talented boys seriously. Whats wrong with them having women and girls as a fan? The stigma is its only ok if the majority fan is men? Bullshit.

for everyone saying he’s not rock there’s different categories of rock, also some of his first album is rock including only angel and kiwi 🙈 Because he's pop, not rock. Yes, his first album was rock flavored, but Fine Line did away with all that. Someone explain to me how Harry Styles is rock... because people seem to have no taste

yeah because he fits right in there with the rock stations playing pearl jam and mastodon Um. It's not rock. Because he sucks? Rock...?! GTFO of here... He got his break via a boyband ffs... If Harry Styles is ‘rock’ then I’m Gandhi Let’s stop playing dumb we all know it’s because of payola, this industry is trash lmao. it’s the same reason bts doesn’t get played on pop radio despite dominating american streaming/sales charts.

Why won’t radio play BTS who are more successful than literally anyone played on radio? Rock? Because he's trash. For the same reason no one wanted to take kellyclarkson seriously when she first started out. They don’t approve of how he started in the industry. It’s really too bad because his talent is unmatched. In any age group.

why wont any radio play bts 🤔 he's not rock. PLS 😂 Bc it's pop? Maybe it’s because when it comes to rock, he’s the male version of Paula Abdul. Nothing says rock like watermelon sugar 😂 Flop cause radio it’s all about money and not talent Because he's not rock! Oh you need to explain that. Adore you is top 5 on radio,2 overall and top 15 on bb100 still AFTER SEVEN MONTHS? but they still won’t acknowledge that. Extremely disappointed If this is how award seasons are gonna go for Harry, we are gonna have some issues fr.

lady gaga queen of the pop why should they Ifb he's too pop for rock

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