Early in Harry Styles’ performance at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Sunday night (Oct. 3), a gold crown was tossed onstage, settling next to his microphone stand. Styles certainly noticed the unwitting homage to the “You dropped this king” meme, but never placed the crown on top of his head. Perhaps he’ll save that for one of his four other headlining shows at MSG taking place later this month.
Since early September, Styles has been rolling through his Love On Tour, finally showcasing his hit sophomore album Fine Line on a proper North America arena run. Yet Sunday’s show at MSG, the first in a series of New York performances taking place in October, felt special — like the past month of U.S. dates had been prelude to his takeover of the most famous arena on the planet. Styles treated the performance like a circled date on his calendar and delivered a fast-paced, often euphoric sprint of songs, dancing around the stage in celebration of being able to return to it.
In front of thousands of facemask-clad fans, Styles acted like the superstar the crowd had waited over a year to see in person. Here were the five best parts of Harry Styles’ triumphant MSG show on Sunday night:
1. The Evolution of Fine Line
Styles first performed Fine Line on the day of its release, at a wondrous, diehard-fan-filled show at The Forum in Los Angeles in December 2019. Since then, his tour in support of the sophomore LP was postponed due to the pandemic, resulting in an MSG run nearly two years after the album was released — and in that interim, the songs of his second album have lovingly filled out, as if the extra time gave them the opportunity to gain more weight onstage.
Sure, singles like “Watermelon Sugar” (Styles’ first No. 1 single on the Hot 100 chart) and “Adore You” (a slow-growing top 10 smash) have turned into ubiquitous mainstream hits over the past 22 months, and both offered a jolt of recognition when they turned up in the setlist. But Styles and his band understand the corners and contours of these songs now, from the full-throated release of the “Lights Up” hook — which they reintroduced in an extended outro — to the heart-wrenched confusion of the second verse of “Falling” to the hooting playfulness of the way “Sunflower, Vol. 6” rumbles to life.
Even “Watermelon Sugar” has gained an injection of swagger, with a slower, sexier tempo that eventually catches up to the radio jam everyone knows and loves at this point. The songs of Fine Line have naturally grown into more robust versions of themselves, and ultimately sound more satisfying now.
2. The Fine Signs
As with any Harry Styles show (and One Direction show before them), the homemade declarations were out in full force, with copious signs trumpeting birthdays — one audience member, a tiara-sporting fan in the front row named Victoria, was spotted by Styles and received an arena rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ in her honor. There were also messages of first-ever concerts, a ‘Just Married’ in the lower level, a ‘Busked In Subway 2 B Here’ on the floor, a ‘You’re My Stevie Nicks’ in the rafters, a ‘Pandemic Nurses Off Duty’ right up front, and a ‘HS3’ — no question mark on that one, just a straightforward request to get cracking on that third LP, Harry.
3. The One Direction Sing-Along
Everyone knew Styles was going to perform it, but that didn’t make the moment that Fine Line fan favorite “Treat People With Kindness” — during which he held up Black Lives Matter and Bi Pride flags, to shrieks of approval — morphed into a gratifying “What Makes You Beautiful” flashback any less riveting. One Direction’s 2012 breakout hit remains one of the most stellar pop singles of the past decade, and a song Styles still holds close to him; on Sunday night, he played it with full exuberance and a huge grin plastered onto his face, refashioning the bridge into a chant that spun upward prior to the last chorus.
Styles understands the power of “What Makes You Beautiful” — not just as a hit single, but as a representation of love from thousands of fans in attendance, who had grown up supporting 1D and now get to watch Styles blossom as a solo star. Instead of rote fan service, Styles performing “What Makes You Beautiful” feels like an act of genuine appreciation whenever it happens — which will hopefully be for a while still.
4. The “Kiwi” Finale
There were moments of Styles’ MSG show that delved into full-blown arena rock, from the scorching guitar solo on “She” to the theatrical snarl of self-titled highlights “Woman” and “Only Angel.” But none of them compared to “Kiwi,” the shout-along fan favorite that closed out the evening on a dizzying high. Amid careening guitar lines and drum thwacks, Styles let the song’s pummel guide his body around the stage and howl into his microphone with unabashed joy. Styles clearly adores pouring himself into “Kiwi,” and brought unexpected ferocity to his most overt rocker.
In turn, everyone in attendance — even those who may have been expecting a more pop-focused finale — fed off of that energy, to the point where it really felt like all of Madison Square Garden was shaking. Within a setlist that included crowd-pleasing hits and epic sing-alongs like “Fine Line” and “Sign of the Times,” “Kiwi” demanded to be the last thing everyone heard before filing to the exits, foreheads pounding and ears ringing.
5. The Fans
Styles puts on a terrific show, with a briskly paced setlist, top-notch band and an animated stage presence from the man himself. Yet the main attraction of a Harry Styles arena show remains the shared atmosphere created by the thousands of mostly young, highly passionate attendees ready to toast their favorite artist.
The astounding volume of the audience helped set the tone — when the lights cut off before Styles took the stage, Madison Square Garden was louder than any Knicks game over the past decade could have been. But the joy was less about the noise and more about the camaraderie on display, from the dance parties in the back of the floor seat areas — there was a conga line led by someone in a sunflower costume during “Treat People With Kindness” — to the groups of friends busting out choreographed moves they had most definitely been practicing at home. In addition to the homemade signs, there were homemade t-shirts, retro sunglasses, flower crowns and enough glitter to rival the glitz of Times Square a few blocks away.
Being a Harry Styles fan means being part of a community, one which Styles expressed utmost gratitude toward from the stage, for those who had been there “for two years, for five years, for 11 years, however long.” On Sunday night, that community showed up at Madison Square Garden, and ended up highlighting the experience.