“Since we’re at Wembley…” grins Harry Styles, preparing to launch into Freddie Mercury’s infamous Live Aid ‘Dayyyy-oh” call-and-response chant as seen in the stadium’s previous incarnation back in 1985. It’s surely no coincidence either, surely, that the singer’s silhouette tonight cuts an uncanny resemblance to the Queen frontman’s that day; the metallic sheen of Freddie’s studs echoed too by the silver sequins on Harry’s choice of vest. That he segues seamlessly from homage into repeating his own exaggerated “Ohhhh yeah” - a nod back to his One Direction days - seems to somehow encapsulate the whole vibe: he’s simultaneously a stadium rock god and perfect pop star.
The former’s premise has undoubtedly been helped by the two-year delay to ‘Love On Tour’. There’s a whole additional album to populate the setlist, and ‘Harry’s House’ - released to record-setting reception back in May- does make up the majority of the tracks aired tonight. Its ‘70s pomp is primed to ricochet around the circular structure: ‘Music For A Sushi Restaurant’ as jazz hand-stirring opener; the funky strut of ‘Cinema’; epic closer of both album and main set ‘Love of my Life’. The record’s more muted moments, ‘Matilda’ and ‘Boyfriends’, have the chorus of fans’ voices echoing across the stadium as if a late-night campfire singalong. The tightness of, and visible camaraderie with his band (at one point, he and percussionist Pauli Lovejoy’s flailing limbs are in perfect synchronicity), plus the group’s placement on staggered platforms at the centre of the stadium’s giant stage, present Harry as frontman, as opposed to solitary solo star. And yet, with the trio of catwalk stages that create a square around the foremost section of the crowd; the countless homemade banners held aloft; the ear-piercing screams that pepper any semblance of audience interaction: this is still very much a pop concert.
There’s a palpable joy that runs through the night. Young fans shakily film on mobile phones; one particular section of the crowd somehow successfully combines the hokey cokey and a circle pit. When the 90,000-strong stadium joins in the choral-like opening bars of ‘Treat People With Kindness’ - a song which, under most circumstances, oozes pure saccharine - it does feel as if this is what attending a megachurch might be like.
He’s got an astute understanding of pop idols past (he is, after all, a product of all who preceeded him; the hip-shaking of Elvis; a wardrobe that oscillates between Elton and Bowie; the cheeky grin of Robbie Williams; hell, even the boyband-to-rock pipeline of The Beatles). He’s a master of reading the room: while One Direction were first launched into a still largely heteronormative environment (the age-old ‘throw enough pretty, doe-eyed shit at a wall, and hormonal teenage girls will fall for it’), he was regularly waving Pride flags on stage in acknowledgement and support of their more diverse fan base. So while his safe-space declaration of “be who you want to be” is, yes, in itself overly vague, he’s keenly aware that’s not how the world at large treats his audience.
“Help me come out,” reads a sign held by Italian fan Mattia. “When this flag goes above my head, you are officially out.” Harry’s been handed a Pride flag, assignment accepted. “I think that’s how it works,” he smirks. Seconds tick on as he waves the flag, teasing the moment theatrically. “No, still straight,” he mocks, the eventual moment, when it comes, met with heartwarming applause. He knows what he’s doing; everyone (ahem) in the room can see it. Inviting a fan to share a significant moment with tens of thousands of supportive voices; permission to millions more to see whatever they wish in the interaction. He’s the focus of the show tonight, but he’s also just a conduit; returning the positive energy thrown his way, not unlike the sequins that adorn his vest reflecting the spotlights beaming towards it.
Lyrics left for the assembled throng to take on, too, seem carefully chosen, whether the newly-iconic “Cocaine, sideboob” from ‘Keep Driving’, or every single “You pop when we get intimate” from fellow ‘Harry’s House’ cut, ‘Cinema’. He probably could’ve added ‘As It Was’’s “Leave America” to that list, the pointed increase in volume feasibly audible from outside the M25.
Fireworks hit as ‘Sign of the Times’ reaches its apex; they then pummel throughout ultimate closer ‘Kiwi’. Multicoloured feathers litter every windswept crevice of the stadium and surrounding roads. There’s not a single person leaving without a grin.