Why MUNA Opening for Harry Styles on Tour Is a Step in the Right Direction for Inclusivity in Live Music

Following the sudden departure of Zayn Malik from One Direction in March of 2015, it was only a matter of time until the rest of the members pursued their own solo stardom. After breaking teenage hearts around the world with their 2015 hiatus, each member has attempted to cement their own sound outside of the group's shadow; whether sultry R&B synth pop (Zayn), stadium-geared EDM (Louis Tomlinson) or club-ready trap-pop (Liam Payne).

Traveling the furthest distance from his 1D past, though, may have been Harry Styles, with his opening “Sign of the Times" opus: a soaring, operatic rock single just under six minutes, which traded out power-pop hooks and fan-charming lyrics for Bowie-inspired cinematic flair and end-times scene-setting.

"Sign of the Times" isn't the only way in which Styles has distanced himself from his pop star past, though. The singer has solidified his independence not only through the more nuanced and classic rock-derived songs heard on his full-length self-titled debut album -- in which he sits in a pink tub of tears on the cover -- but also by playing intimate venues as opposed to stadiums, maintaining a relatively reserved social media presence, and swapping plain white tees for fashion-forward, boldly printed suits.

Even though he has already taken such steps towards establishing an independent solo Styles persona, the singer's pick on Tuesday (June 6) of opening act for his upcoming North American and European tour still came as a surprise. The 23-year-old announced on Twitter that the self-proclaimed dark-pop trio MUNA would join him on tour.

You could forgive Styles' fans for not being immediately familiar with MUNA, who have yet to even appear on a (non-Spotify-based) Billboard chart. But the Los Angeles-based all-female group has been steadily gaining acclaim following the release of their excellent early 2017 debut album About U, with stops at several festivals -- usually playing in the early-afternoon slot -- and have performed on both The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel Live! At each stop, they'vemade new fans with their affecting synth-driven pop songs (mostly about love and relationships that notably refrain from gender pronouns and rather opt for the all-inclusive “you,” as the album title suggest), led by low-ranging vocals.

Since their start, members Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson have made their support for the LGBTQ community loud and clear -- with the anthemic hit “I Know A Place" seeing Gavin offer solace as she sings, "You think being yourself/Means being unworthy... But if you want to go out dancing/ I know a place," and by advocating for gender-neutral bathrooms at their shows. They also don't shy away from politics on stage and have publicly denounced Donald Trump more than once; wearing "F--k Trump" shirts at their 2016 Lollapalooza performance and adding the defiant line, "He's not my leader even if he's my president," while performing "I Know a Place" on Kimmel.

So when Styles -- who rose to stardom with one of the 21st century’s most popular and successful boy bands, a group that was message-free in nature and rarely, if ever, publicly offered political takes in their music or elsewhere -- invited MUNA on tour, he effectively co-signed their mission, signifying his own quiet agenda for inclusivity and acceptance in live music.

Since Styles' solo rebranding, which has resulted in a painless peeling of the pop stardom that formerly consumed the singer, he has hailed female fans as the future, sported a bubblegum pink suit for his performance on TODAY and dueted live with Stevie Nicks, showing gushing reverence for the rock legend. These were all conscious decisions that helped establish him as a star in his own right, which also subtly sublimated his own masculinity and embraced femininity as being at the forefront of contemporary rock stardom. Given some of those precedents, perhaps MUNA isn't as shocking a choice of tourmates as they may initially seem.

Still, considering his pop star past and yearning for a rock star future, Styles surely could have gone with a more obvious and well-known act that appeals to his younger-skewing, femal- heavy fanbase. But by joining forces with such active and vocal members of the LGBTQ community, he raises his own voice as an advocate. While it's unfair to reduce a band as powerful and multi-faceted as MUNA to its collective sexuality, it's also important to not overlook the impact the trio has had by being outspoken about creating safe, inclusive spaces for fans to enjoy live music. For a star of Styles' caliber to get on board with their messaging, especially with the added attention on his much-hyped, first-ever solo tour, is a step in the right direction -- for lack of a better word -- and something worth applauding.