“Fine Line:” the delicate balance between heartbreak and moving on

Harry Styles’ second studio album, Fine Line, was released Dec. 13. The album shows off Styles’ more feminine, delicate side while discussing love and heartbreak.

Harry+Styles+performs+live+in+Los+Angeles+to+promote+his+new+album%2C+%22Fine+Line%2C%22+Dec.+13.+Photo+by+Helene+Pambrun%2C+courtesy+of+Harry+Styles+on+Instagram.

Harry Styles performs live in Los Angeles to promote his new album, "Fine Line," Dec. 13. Photo by Helene Pambrun, courtesy of Harry Styles on Instagram.

Harry Styles’ self titled first album completely rocked my world. It was on repeat for the good part of 2017 and songs from it pop up on every playlist I make. I connected deeply with the classic rock-style of songs on the album because they reminded me of the music my dad and I would listen to as a child. That was why when I heard “Lights Up”, the first single from his 2nd studio album “Fine Line,” I was initially disappointed. My immediate reaction was, “this is too poppy to be Harry Styles, he makes rock music.” However, after playing the song on repeat for hours on end, I came to a conclusion; “Harry Styles” and “Fine Line” are two different albums. Styles is evolving, and so is his music.

When I say that Styles is evolving, it’s not just his musical sound and style. In recent years, he has been a recurring face in the movement to break down gender roles and toxic male stereotypes. Styles is comfortable embracing the feminine side of himself, and he is often seen publicly appreciating this by wearing nail polish, sheer clothing or even a tutu.

Once I learned to look at the album through that lens, I was able to see the beauty in its composition. The piano riffs and subtle guitar plucking mixed with a traditional pop drum line on “Lights Up” make it so much more than a pop song — it is a catchy and alternative new voice to pop. However, it still hosts hints of Styles’ first album with the manually played guitar, bass and piano.

Of the three songs that Styles released prior to the album, “Lights Up,” “Watermelon Sugar” and “Adore You,” “Adore You” is my favorite. I was initially put off by the obscurity of the music video, featuring a distinctly frown-shaped island called Eroda and a sad fish. After looking past the music video, I found the song itself to be incredibly engaging — I love the fast-paced bass and ambient chords in the background, as well as the chorus of soft voices in the background of the chorus. It also gives nods to his first album with a guitar solo in the bridge, which gives a similar effect to “Lights Up:” an alternative take on pop music.

It’s no secret that Fine Line is about Camille Rowe, a French model that Styles was in a relationship with in 2017 and 2018. The intention of the album makes itself clear in “Cherry:” a sad folk song that includes soundbits of Camille speaking at the end of the song. While the three singles that were previously released are fast-paced, Styles shows off his more delicate, slow side with the other tracks on the album. “Cherry” is a great example of this; its slow guitar and emotionally charged lyrics continue to bring tears to my eyes.

In contrast, “Treat People With Kindness” is the only song I was disappointed in. The song features borderline basic chord progressions and a juvenile-sounding chorus. While I’m not necessarily against “sing-along” type songs, this one reminded me a lot of theme songs from kids shows. I found that “Treat People With Kindness” doesn’t  reflect the same sound that I heard in songs like “Lights Up” and “Adore You,” I thought it stuck out from the rest of the album in terms of sound. I actually like the theme of the lyrics, as it reflects the ideas of self-love and kindness to others, but I think they were approached in a childish way, as it is a simple, idealistic chorus of “we can treat people with kindness,” and “Feeling good in my skin, I just keep on dancin’.” Overall, though, I’m not very impressed by the composition of the song and I think its simplicity wasn’t executed as well as other songs on the album.

However, I was redirected back to the sound of previous songs in the title track and final song on the album, “Fine Line.” It is, without a doubt, my favorite song on the album. There is a specific emotion (I like to call it happysad) that I feel when I listen to a song like “Fine Line”— a blend of sadness and calm that leaves me feeling nostalgic and quiet after listening to it. I felt a similar emotion with “Cherry,” but “Fine Line,” which is another folk-type song, gives me some of the most intense happysad I have felt in a long time. I especially love the ending, the powerful horn and drum lines left me stunned and in tears.

My favorite thing about “Fine Line” is that it finally explains to us what the fine line that Styles speaks of is.

Styles is balancing between missing a relationship and getting over heartbreak across all 12 songs, and he recognizes this in the song “Fine Line.” He sings that “we’ll be a fine line” in the chorus, which I took to  reference he and Camille’s relationship. I find this theme scattered throughout the album, but I think Styles intentionally talks about Camille but leaves the meaning of the fine line up to listeners. 

“Fine Line” as a conclusion brings a bittersweet close to an emotional album, telling us that Styles isn’t quite over Camille- but he’s on his way and will stray further from the fine line of heartbreak with every day.

Styles has grown a lot since his debut on the music scene in 2010 with One Direction. In recent years, he has been a game-changer for pop culture with his embrace of femininity and incredible stage presence. I saw this reflected in “Fine Line” as a whole, which gave listeners and fans a picture of Styles’s way of embracing change and molding it into music. His new pop sound partnered with his experience with heartbreak gave the world a powerful and relatable album chock-full of emotion.