Five Burning Questions: Harry Styles Earns His First Hot 100 No. 1 With 'Watermelon Sugar'

During a pivotal year of his solo career, Harry Styles has notched another monumental achievement: his first No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

As “Watermelon Sugar,” the standout track from Styles’ sophomore solo LP Fine Line, lifts 7-1 on this week’s Hot 100 tally, Styles tops the chart for the first time, after previously reaching a No. 2 peak as a member of One Direction. After starting his solo career with his classic rock influences on his sleeve, Styles has become a fixture at pop radio in 2020, with both “Watermelon Sugar” and “Adore You” becoming ubiquitous top 10 hits this year.

How shocking is the ascent of “Watermelon Sugar”? And what could the song mean for Styles’ future at the Grammy Awards? Billboard staffers answer these questions and more below.

1. On a scale of 1-10, how surprised are you that “Watermelon Sugar” is the song to finally give Harry Styles his first Hot 100 chart-topper?

Andrew Unterberger: Three months ago, it would've been a 10 for sure. Types of songs that don't usually go to No. 1 in 2020: fourth official singles, songs that have already dropped off the Hot 100 for multiple months after debuting, rock (or at least rock-based pop) songs. "Watermelon Sugar" was each of 'em, and even as recently as last week, I'd have been, like, an 8 about it going all the way to No. 1 -- even with a viral video, good audio-only streaming numbers and huge radio support, it seemed to have hit a ceiling outside the top 5. But a concentrated fan campaign and some good chart timing have put it over the top, and maybe I shouldn't be so surprised by that in 2020 after all.

Jason Lipshutz: I’d give it a 7 -- not because of any deficiency or quirk with the song, but because of its circuitous route to the top of the Hot 100 chart. Styles performed “Watermelon Sugar” for the first time on Saturday Night Live on Nov. 16, 2019, and released music videos for three other Fine Line songs before finally returning to it in May. That’s an incredibly slow burn -- to provide some context, “Watermelon Sugar” was released the same weekend as the ill-fated Charlie’s Angels reboot! -- and an unlikely path to pop ubiquity, to say the least.

Joe Lynch: I guess 9? It's super catchy and easy to get into, but it's just not the vibe of most 2019-2020 Hot 100 toppers – although given that Taylor Swift's "Cardigan" cozied up to the top slot last week, perhaps we're at a point in the pandemic where people are specifically turning to something that's a far cry from the top 40 norm for a break in monotony.

Lyndsey Havens: I'd say a 6. Three years ago (and still today) I thought that "Sign of the Times" could have and should have topped the chart, and then I thought that "Adore You" might finally do the trick. But people do say "third time's the charm" for a reason, and it makes sense that, after two strong top 10 singles, the continual growth of Fine Line well into 2020 and the strong promotional push, that this summer-ready, breezy pop-rock track has claimed the chart's top spot.

Stephen Daw: I'm clocking in at a solid 5 — it's surprising (to me, at least) that it took Harry Styles this long to log his first No. 1, but as soon as I heard "Watermelon Sugar," I was confident that, if a song off of Fine Line was going to reach the top of the Hot 100, it would be this one.

2. The success of Styles’ second album, Fine Line, has been one of the biggest stories in mainstream pop this year -- the album is still in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 chart eight months after its release. Why do you think Styles’ sophomore solo LP has resonated so well this year?

Andrew Unterberger: I wish I knew -- as do record company folks around the world, I imagine. It's a very good album and Harry is an extremely likeable star, but nothing about an album that feels largely like a tribute to '70s pop-rock and post-peak Paul McCartney would've struck me as an album to take him to that next level of stardom. He's just a star -- one with a big-enough gravitational pull to bend the mainstream to him -- and I won't underestimate him so easily again.

Jason Lipshutz: In 2020, artists like Dua Lipa, Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez and 5 Seconds of Summer have all released top-notch pop full-lengths... but I have returned to Fine Line more than any of them. Part of that has to do with its sense of uplift and enthusiasm during a particularly trying year -- shout-out to “Treat People With Kindness” for snapping me out of some grade-A funks -- but Fine Line’s songs are stronger than those of Styles’ self-titled debut, the pacing is immaculate, the hits are far more effective and Styles is more comfortable in his own, ‘70s-pop-channeling skin. Fine Line is part throwback, part comfort food, part magnetic artistic presence, and remains an excellent front-to-back listen.

Joe Lynch: I think he's in a great spot in his career: not only has his 1D fan base embraced his maturing sound (which, to be fair, isn't a tough sell – this is very accessible pop-rock), but his gender-bending, classic rock-worshiping fashionista persona has expanded his listenership beyond the realm of card-carrying Directioners. Plus, it's an album that's crafted to last: this is meticulous studio pop that mostly eschews the tiresome trends and tricks most producers feel obligated to slap on a recording to make it feel “contemporary.” Fine Line occupies its own lane instead of competing against two-or-three new sound-alike albums a month.

Lyndsey Havens: Harry is the "perfect" pop star: his One Direction past earned him a built-in (and very dedicated) fan base, he’s mysterious enough but generous with his content, queen Stevie Nicks has become his number one fan, and, of course, he delivered an album filled with fantastic pop-rock hits and ballads. When Harry Styles arrived, fans had to adjust to Styles' sonic pivot. But by the time he delivered Fine Line, both Styles and his fans had matured -- and those pop-rock roots he planted years prior were in bloom. There was no adjustment period, and in my opinion, that allowed Fine Line to be immediately and repeatedly consumed.

Stephen Daw: There's a lot to be said for Harry's massive, mobilized fan base, and for his status as a burgeoning pop auteur in the modern era. But I think both of those facts only help uplift the fact that Fine Line is simply a great album. The songs aren't pigeonholed into one specific sound, yet they retain this classic, pop-rock finish to them that passes the minivan test; there's something for parents and kids in all of these songs.

3. Styles’ other Fine Line hit, “Adore You,” peaked at No. 6 earlier this year, and comes in at No. 12 this week. Are you a “Watermelon Sugar” person or an “Adore You” person?

Andrew Unterberger: I think "Adore You" is the better song, but I'm glad that "Watermelon Sugar" was the song to get him to No. 1. "Adore You" was the dead-center top 40 single -- and even "Falling" could've caught some post-"Someone You Loved" radio spillover -- but "Watermelon Sugar" is just pure Harry. He couldn't have asked for a better, more validating single to affirm his superstardom.

Jason Lipshutz: Hard to pick one, but give me “Watermelon Sugar” for the higher sing-along quality. Watching Styles perform Fine Line in its entirety at the Forum in Los Angeles last December included an arena of fans shouting “Watermelon sugar, HIGH!” -- and this was before the song was a chart-conquering hit. I suspect “Watermelon Sugar” is going to be a euphoric live staple in the coming years, which gives it the edge for me.

Joe Lynch: Definitely "Watermelon Sugar,“ a perfect, laid-back summer jam that gently uplifts without ever demanding attention. "Adore You" is solid but tailored for a specific topic, whereas "Watermelon Sugar" is the kind of softly buoyant treat that floats well in a variety of contexts.

Lyndsey Havens: I find it interesting that the two songs off Fine Line to stick around the chart's upper echelon are a bit similar-sounding. One of my favorite things about Styles is the risks he'll take, best evidenced by his debut solo single "Sign of the Times,” but also by Fine Line tracks like "Lights Up," "Falling" and "To Be So Lonely." But that's exactly what makes me a Harry Styles fan -- he's no one trick pony (insert joke about him heading in more than one direction), and while "Adore You" and "Watermelon Sugar" may not showcase his range, they've both become Styles standards for me. But to finally answer the question, I have to go with "Adore You" for the lyrics alone. I mean.... how can you compete, or argue, when he pleads like that?

Stephen Daw: They're both excellent songs, but if I had to pick, I'm partial to "Adore You." Sonically, the groovy bass line and stylized guitar riffs hit me right where I live. Lyrically, I respond a lot more to the "strawberry lipstick state of mind" than I do to something that "tastes like strawberries on a summer evening." But they both have strawberries in there, so it's a win either way!

4. Styles is now the second member of One Direction to score a solo No. 1, following Zayn with “Pillowtalk.” If you had to choose one of the other members -- Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson -- to someday score a No. 1 single, who would you put your money on?

Andrew Unterberger: Can't say the prospects for any of them reaching the Hot 100's peak are looking particularly robust right now, but if I had to choose one, I guess I'd say Liam. He has connections throughout the pop world that could result in him finding his way onto the right collab -- with buddy Post Malone, perhaps -- to find his way back to the top. Rooting for Louis, though! Go Louis!

Jason Lipshutz: I’m going to zag a little and go with Liam Payne, who scored an unexpected top 10 hit with the Quavo team-up “Strip That Down” and has been trying to recapture that magic in the years since. Payne’s solo debut didn’t offer any other standout singles, but he’s proven capable of headlining a rhythmic pop single that sticks around at radio, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he does so again over the next few years.

Joe Lynch: That's a tough question, because I could see Liam or Louis hopping on a track as a featured artist that goes all the way to the top. But if we're talking primary credited artist, it's gotta be Niall Horan, who has demonstrated probably the most solid catalog and sonic cohesion thus far of those three. Not saying it seems likely, but then again, when Fine Line dropped, who thought "Watermelon Sugar" would sweeten up the top spot on the Hot 100?

Lyndsey Havens: Justice for Niall's "No Judgement"! I played that song a lot when it first came out. But I actually think it's a smarter financial move to bet on Liam Payne, considering his strategy of collaboration. He's worked with Zedd, Quavo and Alesso, among others, and I wouldn't be all that surprised if in another year or so he lands on a track -- or a remix -- that shoots to No. 1 for the star power alone.

Stephen Daw: While Liam is the only other member to get one of his songs into the Top 10 of the Hot 100, I'm putting my chips down on Niall. Heartbreak Weather turned out to be a pretty fun record, and I remain convinced that "Black and White" is going to have a second life (much like "Watermelon Sugar”)!

5. Finish this sentence: at next year’s Grammy Awards, Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” will __________.

Andrew Unterberger: shut out. It may score Harry his first nomination or two -- either solo or with 1D -- but considering how the Recording Academy has given him the cold shoulder so far, and seeing how overlooked he was even among this year's VMAs nods, I don’t know if I see him taking home his first Gramophone for it. (Uh-oh, looks like I'm easily underestimating him again -- never mind, I say the song sweeps.)

Jason Lipshutz: nominated for record of the year, and Fine Line will be nominated for album of the year, and justice will have finally been served to Styles, who has yet to garner a single nomination over the course of his career. Will either win? It’s too early to say, but I like Fine Line’s chances at this point.

Joe Lynch: ...sow seeds of discontent; the Grammys will continue to ignore Harry Styles, and the fans will unleash their exasperation on Twitter with the machine gun-rapidity of a cartoon character spitting out watermelon seeds.

Stephen Daw: ...probably get nominated for record of the year. It would be worthy of a spot in the song of the year and best pop solo performance categories as well, but something tells me that if one of his songs were to be nominated for those categories, "Adore You" stands a better chance. While it would be great to see Harry win, if he were nominated in this category, he'd likely be going up against the likes of Dua Lipa, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, The Weeknd and/or Megan Thee Stallion, and I just don't think he'd be able to clinch the ROTY win with that kind of competition.

Lyndsey Havens: ...still taste like strawberries on a summer evenin’.


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