Even at the end of one of the most impressive runs of blockbuster album releases that we’ve seen in this young decade so far, this week Harry Styles‘ Harry’s House album posts the kind of first-week numbers that really make you stand back and take notice.
The set bows atop the Billboard 200 albums chart this week with 521,000 equivalent album units moved — easily besting the previous single-week top mark for 2022 of 295,000, set the prior frame by Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, and also marking the highest single-week total of Styles’ solo career. In addition, Styles lands all 13 of the LP’s tracks in the top 30 of the Billboard Hot 100, while lead single “As It Was” returns to No. 1 on the chart for a fourth week.
How is Harry Styles continuing to build on his solo stardom? And what does it say about 2022 pop stardom right now that Styles is putting up numbers no one can match? Billboard staffers answer these questions and more below.
1. Harry’s House becomes the fourth album in as many weeks to set a new mark for the year’s biggest first-week total — but whereas the first three all had first weeks in the 200,000s, this LP blows past them with 521,000 equivalent albums moved. What do you think is the biggest reason the album was able to do numbers that not even new sets by artists as massive as Future, Bad Bunny and Kendrick Lamar could approach?
Rania Aniftos: I think Love on Tour really changed a lot of people’s perceptions of Harry, and gave him a ton of new fans that wouldn’t think they’d be interested in his music. The impressive tour, his charismatic stage presence, plus his headline-making normalization of gender fluidity pushed away the concept that he’s just some heartthrob that makes pop music for teenage girls. Throughout the Fine Line era, Styles proved to be a star who shines way beyond his art and that probably had people listening to the album immediately, just to hear what he had to say.
Katie Atkinson: It looks like the record-breaking vinyl number — 182,000 copies — is the biggest reason, because the fans who bought the record still streamed it when they were in their cars or on the move last week, so he’s feeling the love in both formats. While a lot of artists have had to roll out the vinyl release of their albums weeks or months later because of production delays, Harry’s blockbuster number really makes a case for giving fans everything at once.
Starr Bowenbank: While “As It Was” cannot be the sole reason for Harry’s House selling so many albums, it certainly didn’t hurt sales for the record. The track was the only single fans were given for nearly two months, so maybe starving out the fans while waiting for the album made them incredibly hungry and willing to devour whatever came next from the pop star. And if the reception to the single was any indicator – it shattered the Guinness World Record for the most song streams for a male artist in 24 hours after it got a total of 16 million plays – it’s not terribly surprising those streams converted into Harry’s House sales, especially after it also ended up soundtracking an infinite amount of TikToks.
Jason Lipshutz: Part of that equivalent albums number can be chalked up to the physical copies of the album that Harry Styles had available upon its release, helping him set the single-week vinyl sales record; if, say, Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale & The Big-Steppers had been issued with CDs and vinyl copies in stores, its debut week would have been bigger, perhaps markedly so. But the big debut of Harry’s House has more to do with Styles himself, not only coming off of a breakthrough solo album in 2019’s Fine Line but leading into his third full-length with his biggest hit to date in “As It Was.” Harry’s House arrived at a perfect moment in Styles’ commercial run, and he’s reaping the benefits this week.
Andrew Unterberger: The large gap of the difference is mostly attributable to Harry Styles both having his physical release ready to go wide upon Harry’s House release, and being one of a handful of star artists for whom physical (vinyl of course in particular) is really a must. But even without that, Styles may still have come out on top, simply due to him being in that hallowed imperial phase of his career where it seems like every move he makes right now is the correct one — of artists who’ve released albums in the past six months, I think only Bad Bunny can be said to be on a similarly uninterrupted winning streak, and even he has never led a pop hit as massive as “As It Was.”
2. While those other three most recent No. 1 albums arrived with relatively little notice and no advance tracks, Harry’s House followed a more old-fashioned rollout model of an announcement a couple months before release, one advance single seven weeks out, and plenty of interviews and public appearances leading up to the eventual drop. Does the album’s success validate that strategy (and its continued relevance) to you, or would this album have done such numbers almost regardless of its promo plan?
Rania Aniftos: While I do believe the album would have done great regardless of promo plan due to the success of “As It Was,” the mystery surrounding the rest of the album and Styles’ implication that Harry’s House is his most personal, interesting record yet all factored into the collective “I need to hear this” feeling when the album finally dropped.
Katie Atkinson: I think the buildup worked so well because “As It Was” was such a solid lead single. If you look at Fine Line, it was a slower burn because he came out of the gate with “Lights Up,” which belied the pop power of singles to come from the album. “As It Was” is arguably the “Watermelon Sugar” of Harry’s House, and the anticipation for what was to come – complete with two bedazzled Coachella sets and a string of charming interviews – was at a fever pitch when the album arrived.
Starr Bowenbank: While I do think Harry’s House would have gotten close to the numbers it has been able to do without such a detailed rollout plan, I think cornering every facet of the market really sent the album over the edge. The oversaturation technique can tend to work really well for some pop stars (I think Doja Cat’s marketing through her Hot Pink and Planet Her eras is another great example of this). In addition to a traditional rollout plan, Styles also had the advantage of a mysterious Twitter page, the arrival of “As It Was,” the stadium tour residencies, the pop up shops… I could go on. No stone this era was left unturned, and honestly it’s been quite a while since a pop artist has gone all the way in with a release like this. The grinding oftentimes works, and the $7.26 million Harry’s House earned across retail accounts and digital service providers is proof.
Jason Lipshutz: What we’re seeing with these No. 1 albums is that both traditional rollouts and slight-surprise releases – i.e., albums that arrive in full with a heads-up in advance and not much else – can be successful, depending upon the circumstances. For Styles, having a surefire smash like “As It Was” lead into Harry’s House helped build momentum for the project, whereas Kendrick Lamar is such a revered album artist that he didn’t need anything but the album itself to draw in listeners. Either strategy would have worked for Styles since he’s such a popular artist, but if Harry’s House had arrived with no lead single or promo, I’d bet its debut number would have been lower.
Andrew Unterberger: I think Harry’s House is proof that the old-school rollout can still be a highly successful model when you’re talking about an artist who can reliably and consistently hold the public’s attention for up to two months — something that maybe a half-dozen pop or rock artists in the world right now can actually manage. But however small that number, Styles is unquestionably part of it, so this was certainly a smart way to go for him. (Imagine the frenzy it would’ve created if a new Harry Styles album had just unexpectedly fallen from the skies a couple weeks ago, though.)
3. Lead single “As It Was” goes back to No. 1 on the Hot 100 for a fourth week this week — and considering that Fine Line didn’t even pick up its first No. 1 until its fourth official single, it might not be the last time a song from this album tops the chart. Which song from the rest of the tracklist do you think has the best chance of following it to pole position?
Rania Aniftos: “Late Night Talking,” depending on Styles’ music video concept. The cheeky “Watermelon Sugar” video was a big factor in its success, and I think a flirty, goofy “Late Night Talking” video starring a loved-up Styles would be something we’d all really enjoy and would keep the song stuck in our heads. I also know that “Daylight” is a huge fan favorite from the album, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that song makes its way up the Hot 100 too.
Katie Atkinson: I’m so thrilled that my favorite song on the album — the Peter Gabriel-worshiping “Music for a Sushi Restaurant” — is a top 10 Hot 100 hit, but I think the best bet for another No. 1 is “Late Night Talking.” That song was made for radio (not to mention TV, movie or commercial syncs), and a buzzy music video could take it to the top.
Starr Bowenbank: Maybe this is a popular choice, maybe it makes no sense because it’s a slow song — but I truly think “Matilda” could be the next track to hit No. 1. The song already has a peak of No. 9 on the chart, so its chances at ascension are pretty good. Personally, “Matilda” had me in literal tears as I reflected on my childhood traumas during a rush hour commute on the MTA — which is saying a lot — but oddly enough, I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way. The song has struck an emotional chord with fans, and with a more public focus on mental health in the media and in music, it could be another track to push that conversation forward.
Jason Lipshutz: My personal pick is “Daydreaming,” with its brilliant funk-sample hook and an immediate yet nuanced vocal take by Styles, but right now, “Late Night Talking” has the fan support and streaming numbers, so I’d go with that. The dark horse, however, is “Matilda,” an affecting ballad that’s aching for a stripped-down awards show performance to kickstart a run to No. 1. That might be the “Someone Like You” of a new decade.
Andrew Unterberger: There’s other jams on the album, but “Late Night Talking” is just the smart bet right now — it’s got the same energy as most of Styles’ biggest hits to date, it’s prominently placed on the album, it’s appropriately frisky and upbeat for a summer smash and it’s already starting to move at radio. It’s a worthy second single and it really might just be a video or noteworthy live performance away from it climbing alongside “As It Was” in the pop stratosphere.
4. While he may or may not be the biggest pop star in music right now, it’s fairly inarguable that Styles has been the most successful thus far in 2022. If you were tasked by a record label with helping them locate The Next Harry Styles — or an artist with that sort of potential — what would you advise them to look for (and/or where would you tell them to look)?
Rania Aniftos: Go on TikTok and look up Spencer Sutherland. He’s got a similarly cool, vintage-inspired style with a colorful modern twist, and he’s got such an impressive vocal range and songs that, while fun, are also meaningful. I think music fans these days are really enjoying the blend between fun and deeper meaning, so it’s no surprise that Spencer has racked up nearly a million followers on his own.
Katie Atkinson: Save for maybe Dua Lipa, our biggest pop stars of the past decade all seem to have been with us in some way since their childhood or teen years, through the Disney or Nickelodeon pipelines (Ariana, Miley, Selena, Demi, JoBros, Olivia Rodrigo), tween fame (Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes), or a boy band or girl group – which is the route Harry took with One Direction. It’s hard to think of creating The Next Harry Styles without acknowledging that a large chunk of his audience has been supporting him for a decade-plus as part of the group. So the answer to that question might be figuring out which member of BTS has the charisma and talent to stand on his own, because you know ARMY will be there to back him up just like Directioners have been with Harry.
Starr Bowenbank: Two words: Natural charisma. It’s something that simply cannot be faked. It was clear that Styles had a way of captivating fans, even in One Direction’s earliest days on The X Factor. Of course, Zayn, Liam, Louis and Niall all had fangirls of their own, but there was an extra special twinkle in Harry’s eye and charming tone to the way he spoke that made him incredibly hard to dislike. While it’s difficult to tell label execs where to look (social media is probably the easiest answer), I’d say maybe the least-expected place is where diamonds in the rough often turn up.
Jason Lipshutz: If I was tasked by a record label to help locate The Next Harry Styles, I’d be pretty upset at being given such an impossible assignment! Styles is a preternatural pop superstar, the type of golden-voiced, smart, charismatic, sexy, gracious and generally likable artist that doesn’t come around very often and can instantly sell out arenas once they do. If I were to look to replicate that effect, I guess I’d try to triangulate his energy as closely as possible by keeping his combination of musical know-how, approachability and devastating good looks in mind. If that sounds like hunting for a diamond in the rough, that’s what Style is.
Andrew Unterberger: There’s a whole lot that goes in to the formula for Harry Styles’ success, but if I had to boil it down to one simple X + Y equation, I’d say it’s an artist who has a pre-existing, built-in fanbase, plus a strong sense of star identity that’s entirely self-possessed. Styles is a star as a solo artist largely because he has the personal and artistic confidence of one, and the fan support to lend that self-belief credibility from Day One. Finding those artists is easier said than done, of course — and it’s definitely not as simple as grabbing influencers off TikTok — but it’s also not impossible; that recipe also describes the biggest breakout star of 2021.
5. With increasingly few artists being able to clear the half-million mark in a first-week figure in an age of no ticket bundles and erratic physical sales, who do you think is the most likely artist to next match Styles‘ 521,000 first-week mark?
Rania Aniftos: I think BTS’ Proof would match those numbers, or a surprise 1989 (Taylor’s Version) drop by Taylor Swift with some “From the Vault” songs about her then-relationship with, funny enough, Harry Styles.
Katie Atkinson: I’m going with Rihanna. When she returns to music (fingers crossed it’s soon), the anticipation she’s built up will be unmatched. If you believe Wikipedia‘s list of the best-selling artists of all time, she’s the lone act who started making music after 2000 to have reportedly sold more than 250 million records globally, surpassed only by The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Madonna and Led Zeppelin. I’ll always put my money on Rih.
Starr Bowenbank: Rihanna, hands down. Considering that fans have definite fear that Rih may never make her official return to music – it has been 2,316 days since Anti was released, after all – it would be uncharacteristic for Rih Navy to not push R9 to never-before seen heights!
Jason Lipshutz: Taylor Swift, whenever she releases another re-recorded album or (fingers crossed!) new full-length of fully original material. Red (Taylor’s Version) debuted with 605,000 equivalent album units, and there’s no reason why one of the four studio albums still to be re-recorded couldn’t cross the half-million mark if rolled out the right now. Otherwise, let’s go bold: I think Luke Combs, a modern country superstar with a ton of industry support, could potentially get there later this month with Growin’ Up, his first album in three years.
Andrew Unterberger: Think it’s as simple as 1989 (Taylor’s Version). Particularly if Styles himself offers a sly guest contribution to one of the From the Vault tracks.