Harry Styles has arguably reached the upper echelons of pop royalty. Starting off in the boy band One Direction, Styles was the perfect teenage heartthrob to multitudes of young girls in his fanbase. When the group went on indefinite hiatus in 2016, Styles’ solo material took off. The singer has since amassed a large following with multiple number–one hits and albums under his belt.
When Styles first ventured into acting via a minor role in 2017’s Dunkirk, critics praised his performance, admiring his “surprising amount of grit and pathos.” The Associated Press determined that acting could be another “viable career option” for Styles. Indeed, the singer began diving deeper into the acting world, first becoming an executive producer of the sitcom Happy Together in 2018. In 2021, he shocked the world with his cameo performance in Marvel’s Eternals, signaling his addition to the MCU and its future projects.
2022, however, marks the true beginning of Styles’ acting career. Starring in two feature films, Don’t Worry Darling and My Policeman, Styles seemed intent on making a mark on the acting industry. However, with low critic ratings and audience disgruntlement, it appears that acting isn’t meant for everyone, Styles included. The audience once again brings up the question of whether musicians even be allowed to become actors.
Of course, it’s important to first understand why transitioning into an actor is an attractive choice for singers. For some, it’s merely to expand their craft. Jennifer Hudson, who started out as a musician winning American Idol, is a prime example. Following the Idol win that launched her music career, she went on to star in a film adaptation of Dreamgirls, landing her an Oscar for best supporting actress in 2007. With a Grammy win in 2009, she continued to be in both music and acting ventures, which only grew her resume and reputation. She went on to win an Emmy in 2021 and a Tony in 2022, becoming the 17th person to reach the coveted EGOT status.
For others, it could be a revitalization of their career trajectories. Lady Gaga, who saw critical fallout from her 2013 album ARTPOP, sought to use her acting skills to reestablish her image. Following a drastic course shift in 2014 with Cheek to Cheek featuring jazz musician Tony Bennett, the singer starred in Ryan Murphy’s anthology series American Horror Story. This career move proved to be beneficial, winning Gaga a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress, regaining her notoriety and respect.
In 2018, she starred in A Star Is Born alongside Bradley Cooper, using her star power and renowned singing skills to catapult the film into success. Critiqued for playing a musician in a film while also being a musician, Gaga then starred in the biographical drama House of Gucci in 2021. While the film itself was described as inconsistent, critics once again praised her performance and began the eager wait for her next role in Joker: Folie à Deux, which will be released in 2024.
Where do Styles fit into this spectrum? Given the success of Fine Line and Harry’s House, it appears that Styles is more closely mirroring Hudson, seeking to expand his creative horizons and showing the world his abilities. He may also seek a sort of crossover appeal that helped Lady Gaga, who gained the acclaim and adoration of both the younger and the older generation. Establishing himself as an actor may elongate his career by adding different demographics to his fanbase.
What Styles failed to understand, however, was that Hudson and Gaga’s smooth transition into acting roles was the result of smart and gradual career choices. Hudson started as only the supporting actress in Dreamgirls, which coincidentally became her breakout performance. In the years following, she slowly climbed her way up the ladder, starring again in supporting roles in Sex and the City, Empire, Hairspray Live!, and Broadway musical The Color Purple. In 2021, she landed a starring role in Respect, a biopic about Aretha Franklin, gaining her critical acclaim.
Gaga’s rise in acting wasn’t completely unprecedented, either. Her career began with acting, landing starring roles in high school and local plays. She later studied method acting at Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute for ten years, then landed minor roles in HBO’s The Sopranos and MTV’s Boiling Points. After her music projects exploded, Gaga’s acting career was put on hold until her groundbreaking role in American Horror Story.
Styles, on the other hand, has no prior acting experience. One could argue that being a musician requires some level of acting to put on a charismatic performance. The musician is known to have an allure about him, with his particular fashion choices and theatrical personality. However, a minor role in Dunkirk and a cameo appearance in Eternals hardly qualify as experience, and with no proper training, it would be unwise to assume that his star power could translate well into film.
Perhaps Styles' first venture into acting wasn’t meant to be good, but rather a resume–building effort to better his acting skills for future projects. Instead, adding his name to Darling and Policeman was meant to gain greater publicity for the films themselves. The former is Olivia Wilde’s second directorial effort, and the latter is a smaller drama film adaption of a lesser–known book; adding Styles’ name to these projects could draw more attention to them and bring more opportunities to the people attached to the films.
However, Styles’ appearance only brought the films down with him. As the singer played a major starring role in these films, his performance would affect the overall film. Styles fails to match Florence Pugh’s energy in Don’t Worry Darling, with critics and audiences noting that he “seems oddly uncomfortable on screen.” In My Policeman, critics didn’t think Styles played a convincing closeted policeman, ironic given his controversies around speculations surrounding his sexuality.
Not to mention, during the Don’t Worry Darling’s Venice premiere, Styles fired up the internet when he supposedly spat on co–star Chris Pine. While later proven false, the singer joked about the incident during one of his concert tour shows. For a film already rumored to suffer cast conflicts between Pugh and Wilde, this incident further brought the film more attention it didn’t need. Is it worth sacrificing quality just for extra publicity Styles could bring to the films?
Two commercial flops won’t be the end of the world for the aspiring actor. Take Madonna for example, who had many acting failures in addition to critically acclaimed roles. The legendary pop star has both won Best Actress in the Golden Globes and Worst Actress in the Golden Raspberry Awards. She never gave up on her acting ventures and did manage to have a few commercial successes like Desperately Seeking Susan or Évita.
Styles could see a similar acting trajectory as he continues to crossover from music and possibly star in a box–office hit in the future. As the singer is set to feature in more film roles, with him continuing his Marvel role and a possible Star Wars project, one can only hope that the musician can take up some acting classes before pursuing his next on–screen ambitions.