Harry Styles at Madison Square Garden: Harryween Worth the Wait

Ever since Harry Styles announced his Harryween shows in New York, almost two years ago, anticipation ran high. But Harryween was worth the wait. It was the hottest Halloween party in town, as fans took him up on his challenge to dress up for the occasion in Madison Square Garden. And to the surprise of absolutely nobody, Harry overdid it. On Saturday night, he came out as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, posing with his picnic basket, dress, hair bow, and ruby slippers. For Sunday, he covered Britney Spears’ “Toxic” in a Pierrot clown suit, and he relished every ruffle of it. “I must say, I feel fabulous,” he told the crowd on Night One. “Do you feel fabulous? Good! Now we’re going to sing a sad song.” The whole Harry philosophy in one line. 

The weekend was billed as a Fancy Dress Party, but it was a lot more than that. Over two nights, Harryween was a delirious glam-pop orgy, and the crowning cherry-on-top moment for his amazing Love on Tour. Originally booked for 2020, Harryween got pushed back a year when the pandemic hit. It was a long overdue victory lap for his blockbuster Fine Line, which dropped in the final days of 2019. Before the lockdown, he got to do only one proper U.S. arena show, at the L.A. Forum, where Stevie Nicks joined him to duet on “Landslide.”

But because Harry has an insatiable appetite for wreaking ungodly chaos in our lives, he topped his own standards this past weekend. Every moment of Harryween had the essence of a Harry live show, which is creating a communal sense of joy that turns total strangers into a congregation of ecstatic revelers. As he told the crowd, “Please feel free to be whoever it is you’ve always wanted to be in this room tonight.” The boyish mischief on his face as he started the rare fan-fave “Medicine,” knowing full well he was about to intoxicate everyone with “Toxic” — just pure evil. Britney was right — a guy like him should wear a warning, although maybe a clown costume counts as one. 

When Harry spoke to Rolling Stone about his debut solo tour, he summed up his live aesthetic. “To me, the greatest thing about the tour was that the room became the show,” he said. “It’s not just me. I’m just a boy, standing in front of a room, asking them to bear with him.” But the room really became the show for Harryween. So many angels, fairies, superheroes, queens, cowgirls, Britneys, Juliets, Eltons, Cher Horowitzes, “Good 4 U” Olivias, sunflowers, the Bring It On cheerleaders doing cartwheels on the floor. And the twin queens of this year’s Halloween: Megan Fox from Jennifer’s Body and Velma from Scooby Doo. Glitter everywhere. Sequins and wigs. Feather boas. One of the best audience signs: two fans dressed as zombies, with the placard “Eat People With Kindness.” 

Nothing could have kept this guy out of a dress for Night One. As Judy Garland’s Dorothy, he kept prancing and skipping and curtsying. (Has anyone loved anything as much as Harry loves to curtsy?) At one point, he clicked the heels of his ruby slippers while guitarist Mitch Rowland played the psychedelic “She” solo in his Cowardly Lion costume. The whole band was decked out in Oz drag: drum goddess Sarah Jones as the Wicked Witch of the West, bassist Elin Sandburg as Glinda, keyboardist Ny Oh as the Scarecrow, keyboardist Niji Adeleye as the Tin Man, and percussion master Pauli Lovejoy as the Wiz. (In a band full of larger-than-life personalities, it took a special kind of cruelty to cast the shy guitar dude as the Lion, but Rowland worked that mane like a true king of the forest.)

Harry committed to the role, right down to the tiniest details. Even when he skipped off and onstage for the encore break, he refused to surrender his picnic basket. After introducing the band, he held up the basket and yelled, “Now also, make some noise for Toto!” For the encore, he glided right from the ballad “Sign of the Times” into “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” tipping his cap to the long queer histories encoded in the song. (Right down to how David Bowie interpolated it into “Starman.”) He captured the sad yearning in the tune, without playing it for laughs. Here’s to his Dorothy Era — let’s hope he keeps on following the yellow brick road. 

For Night Two, he laced up in a Gucci clown suit full of ruffles and frills. It evoked Bowie in his classic “Ashes to Ashes” video, with a similar emotional impact. As Bowie said in the Seventies, “I’m using myself as a canvas and trying to paint the truth of our time on it. The white face, the baggy pants — they’re Pierrot, the eternal clown putting over the great sadness of 1976.” Between clowns and The Wizard of Oz, Harryween covered two-thirds of my childhood nightmares. (To complete the hat trick, he could have added the Abominable Snow Monster from Rudolph.)

This might have been a fancy-dress bash, but that didn’t make it fundamentally different from his other shows — at any Love on Tour stop, it’s tough to find any corner of the room that isn’t strewn with feathers. During one of the early-October NYC shows, he singled out a group of dads to roast their fashion decisions. “You want to know how I know you’re dads? Because you’re wearing a golf shirt to a concert. All three of you, tucked in!” There was a touching moment Sunday night when he announced, “We have a very special guest in the audience — he was here last time we were in New York. Golf Daddy is back! He’s STILL tucked in!” 

Musically, this tour goes for high-energy dance pop, skipping some of the biggest ballads in his songbook to keep the vibe festive, especially the 15-minute jam of “Canyon Moon,” “Treat People With Kindness,” and the early One Direction oldie “What Makes You Beautiful.” For “Treat People With Kindness,” the fans on the floor had a country boot-scootin’ line dance — they worked out the choreography long-distance around the country. And on this queerest of annual holidays, “Lights Up” took on a new resonance. Fans passed around different-colored slips of paper and Harry asked them to shine their phones’ flashlights through them, creating a rainbow around the room — a statement of Harryween Pride. 

On Sunday, he stunned the crowd by busting out “Medicine,” a Stonesy pansexual anthem that got cut from his debut solo album, yet became a highlight of his first tour. He milked the surprise, pausing midpose as Jones struck up the drum intro and pandemonium swept through the room. Everyone sang the hook: “The boys and the girls are in/I mess around with them/And I’m OK with it!” (It’s officially “them,” but it’s fair to say most fans sing “him.”) And he went right from that to “A guy like you should wearing a warning.” There were rumors all night he might dip into the Spears songbook, since his stylist, Harry Lambert, changed his Twitter header to a Britney photo a few hours before the show. Yet “Toxic” was a surprise, just a few weeks after he waved a “Free Britney” banner onstage. Three years ago, in Madison Square Garden for summer 2018, a fan asked Harry his favorite Britney song. When he replied “Toxic,” the fans started chanting, “Sing it, sing it!” “You want me to sing it?” Harry asked. “Well, let me see … [Dramatic throat clearing] No.” But tonight he finally delivered his “Toxic,” and he went all the way into the song, taking his sip from the devil’s cup and slipping into a poison paradise.

The show ended, as always, with the glam-rock powerhouse “Kiwi,” which never fails to make the entire building wobble like a belly dancer. Fans on the floor gathered in a ring to create an awe-inspiring mosh pit. (At the Oct. 4 show, one of those moshing fans was Halsey.) It’s an amazing sight to witness from anywhere in the room, and it’s gloriously terrifying to get swept up in it, with the floor bouncing madly. The mania unleashed by “Kiwi” summed up everything Harryween was about: stepping into the light and finding out who you are. It was a Halloween weekend never to be forgotten.

Harryween Set List

“Golden”

“Carolina”

“Adore You”

“Only Angel”

“To Be So Lonely” (Night One only)

“Cherry”

“She”

“Two Ghosts/Falling”

“Lights Up”

“Canyon Moon”

“Treat People With Kindness”

“What Makes You Beautiful”

“Sign of the Times”

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (Night One only)

“Watermelon Sugar”

“Medicine” (Night Two only)

“Toxic” (Night Two only)

“Kiwi”

 

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