In 2010, a then-teenaged, goofily grinning Harry Styles shuffled onto the stage for his X Factor audition and made his television debut. From that moment forward, Harry — along with his bandmates in One Direction, who The X Factor brought together — has spent so much time in front of the camera that his early videography serves as a documentation of his transformation from a hopeful kid fronting a high school band into an international superstar.
Between the X Factor clips and the tour footage from concert films like 2013’s One Direction: This Is Us, and its follow-up, One Direction: Where We Are, Styles’s personality shines, as does the intensity of his talent. But his music videos show that his charisma lends itself especially well to productions with a flair for the dramatic.
Not just anyone can pull off a “Jailhouse Rock”-era Elvis impression, hang with masked ballerinas in the desert, or fly through the air with the greatest of ease sans-trapeze. Styles can. Read on to see the proof.
A “Beautiful” Beach Romp
It's impossible to watch One Direction perform — and trip up their steps, and tease each other in the process — without catching their enthusiasm like a super joyful cold. This has been the deal since The X Factor saw their potential and grouped them up, and it’s a quality that pops in “What Makes You Beautiful,” the first music video they ever put out. Shot in Malibu (and on the same stretch of beach that Blink-182 took over for “All The Small Things”!) and under the guidance of John Urbano, “What Makes You Beautiful” has Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan, and Zayn Malik splashing in the surf, cozying up to some cute girls, and belting out their first big hit without adhering to your typical boy band music video formula.
There’s no choreography, no matching outfits, no smoldering stares — just a carefree, summer love-infused romp as fun to watch as it was to film. As for Styles, he’s all smiles and the picture of flirtatious perfection, actually flipping his floppy bangs when he sings “flip your hair” and delivering the last line to the camera before the sun sets on their first visual.
“Kiss You” Sets A New Standard
By the time Take Me Home came out in 2012, One Direction were massive stars, lapping the world on world tours to the point where it inspired One Direction: This Is Us, the 2013 Morgan Spurlock-directed documentary that follows their lives on the road. They continued to play with breaking the fourth wall by winking at their fame and the nature of celebrity in fun ways — especially in their music videos.
With “Kiss You,” the guys haphazardly attempt to fill the shoes of some notable singing heartthrobs that came before them. The video starts with Zayn and Harry trading verses on the back of a motorcycle in front of a green screen, and cuts to the five of them giving Elvis’s “Jailhouse Rock” routine a shot, trying (and failing) to keep their balance on some surf boards, and other attempts at various activities. Through it all, the One Direction guys are undoubtedly the ones getting the last laugh as the video’s racked up nearly 400 million plays since it hit the internet in January of 2013.
Best [Self-Parodying Music Video] Ever
If One Direction started cheekily tackling the construct of fame with “One Thing” and kicked that self-awareness up a notch with “Kiss You,” “Best Song Ever” blew them both out of the water — and it also gave Harry a chance to work his comedic and acting chops.
The video has One Direction staring down two out-of-touch executives interested in producing their next music video, and Harry playing himself and the marketing associate tasked with talking them into committing to a predictable, generic boy band aesthetic. Harry and the rest of the dudes have none of it, chaos ensues, and we're once again forced to appreciate their humor and their choice taste in the music video department.
Story Of Their Lives
Perhaps the most personal effort to come from One Direction, the gorgeous “Story of My Life” visual has Harry and his mates bringing select memories to life. In a cavernous warehouse covered in thousands of snapshots, the guys pore over the photos as members of their families join them to recreate the images. Harry’s contribution involves him donning a bathrobe that’s nearly identical to the one he wore in a picture of him and his mum from the ‘90s.
Midnight Memories marks a mature shift for One Direction: Though as exuberant as they were the day they walked into their X Factor auditions, the music videos that correspond with their 2014 album show a group of teen idols basking in the glory of their current moment while pushing themselves to make an impression that lasts. “Story of My Life” is the centerpiece of this collection, and a sincere shot of their sensitive sides that showcases their depth and range as seasoned musicians — and grown men who'd fully come into their own.
Harry and the Black Swans
For the first single off Four — their 2014 album, and their final full-length as a fivesome — One Direction pulled out all the stops and one-upped nearly every other music video they’d made to date. They cracked jokes at their own expense by once again mounting a music video production within a production and poking fun at fame (and the amount they had of it) in the process.
This time, One Direction brought aboard comedic legend Danny DeVito, who played their fictional video’s director. Sumo wrestlers, an amicable chimp, Maasai warriors, and a ton of balloons all convened to “bring life to the desert." Harry, clad in a long, leopard-print duster, hung out with some ballerinas that looked like they just stepped off the set of Black Swan. Glam and charming as hell, “Steal My Girl” is up there on the Best 1D Videos Ever list — and it’s low-key one of the best onscreen performances from Harry, too.
Ever dreamed of going on a date with Harry?
... You sure?
“Night Changes” gave you that exact vantage point, as the video for the second Four single had the camera taking the place of the lucky lady on the arm of each one of the One Direction dudes. For Harry’s part, he takes his beloved for a spin around the ice skating rink; the first half of the video is dreamy as he turns the romance up to 11, staring longingly into [your] eyes as you enjoy a brisk evening together. Fast-forward to the end, when Harry’s skate date goes horribly awry. (An attempt to lift his gal up all Blades of Glory style brutally fails.) It wouldn’t be a One Direction endeavor if it didn’t involve hijinx of some order, and “Night Changes” definitely fits that bill.
Baby, You’re Perfect
With Made in the A.M., One Direction put out music videos for each of its three singles: In “Drag Me Down,” they trained for a space mission with NASA, and for “Perfect,” they sing about how difficult it is to maintain a relationship with anyone who isn’t down with “causing trouble up in hotel rooms." But with “History,” the last video they released before going on hiatus at the start of 2016, the guys deliver a poignant scrapbook of a clip. Scenes from most of the videos listed above are featured, as are several heartfelt backstage moments. This serves as a touching love note to their fans, one that’s simply a “See you later!” instead of a goodbye, and a quick glimpse back at One Direction’s journey.
A Rising Star
For Harry’s first standalone video, he reached for the sky — literally. “Sign of the Times” isn’t just a special effects marvel, but a culmination of Harry’s music video experience: From the peacoat to the outstretched arms to the long, imploring gaze straight into the eyes of his fans, these are all familiar looks from the scores of scenes he’s filmed before, but magnified by a concentration that’s solely his. “Sign of the Times” is the only music video we’ve seen so far for any of the tracks off Harry’s full-length solo debut. Given the grand heights he reached with the first one and his superlative work with One Direction, this isn't a sign of the times — but a sign of things to come.