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Music

From Fleetwood Mac to Joni Mitchell: Harry Styles’ 10 best covers

@TylerGolsen

Former One Direction and current mega pop star Harry Styles has never been afraid to wear his inspirations on his sleeve. Let the man talk for a little while and things will inevitably turn to his love of Stevie Nicks or the devotion he has to Harry Nilsson. And, more often than not, those inspirations come out in his cover songs.

Harry Styles was a global superstar from the very first time he stepped out on a stage by himself. After One Direction’s implosion and the release of his self-titled debut album in 2017, Styles was expected to get in front of a crowd and headline major concerts. Between his two studio albums, the man only has 22 songs to flesh out live performances. Some of those tracks, like Fine Line‘s ‘To Be So Lonely’, have rarely been touched in the live setting.

So how do you burn through the rest of your concert time? By filling in with some covers, obviously. One of the most straight-up fun aspects of Styles is the range he clearly has in his listening habits. When Styles comes out of the gate with a cover, there’s no telling whether it’s going to be a Peter Gabriel song, a Little Big Town track, or a Lizzo banger. The man has sung Shania Twain, rapped Kanye West, busted out some Britney Spears and even taken on Stormzy.

Where does he get all of these songs from? Maybe he really does cast a wide net in his listening habits. Or maybe he picked up ‘Endless Love’ by watching Friends or Happy Gilmore a ton. In any case, Styles is a man unafraid to take on anything, whether it’s super cheesy or way out of his comfort zone. The man just has confidence to spare, and that clearly comes out when he takes on a cover song with full commitment.

To celebrate his birthday, we’re looking back at some of Styles’ best covers from across the music spectrum. It seems like whenever the guy is on BBC Radio, he always comes prepared with a new cover, and the sheer number of reinterpretations in his repertoire is starting to eclipse his own material. That’s fine, though, because Styles always seems to rise to the challenge of making some legendary songs his own.

Harry Styles’ 10 best cover songs:

‘The Chain’ – Fleetwood Mac

Styles needed a bit of help when he was set to embark on his first solo tour. He had the ten songs that made up his debut LP, but that only covered about 40 minutes of stage time. You can’t banter with the audience for an hour, so Styles went about cultivating some covers.

One of the first he attempted was his take on Fleetwood Mac’s legendary Rumours side two opener ‘The Chain’. Styles first played it at Radio 1’s Live Lounge in 2017, and he proceeded to play it at nearly every show of his first tour.

‘Juice’ – Lizzo

When it no longer became a necessity for Styles to fill out his setlists with covers, he began to do them just for the hell of it. Styles is probably the only man in the world who could credibly rap the hell out of a Lizzo track, and that’s exactly what he did when he once again visited the Live Lounge in 2019, but there’s nothing that compared to Styles joining Lizzo onstage to perform the song in 2020.

It’s a powerful duet from two of the pop world’s brightest stars.

‘Big Yellow Taxi’ – Joni Mitchell

Personally, it was a major blow for my personal playlists once Joni Mitchell pulled her catalogue from Spotify in solidarity with her Canadian compatriot Neil Young. It’s all noble, and I support both in their decisions, but that was seriously close to half of my liked songs.

It looks like I’m going to have to make do with covers in the meantime, and Styles has a great take on Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon cut ‘Big Yellow Taxi’.

Kanye West – ‘Ultralight Beam’

Styles was dropping wacky covers from the very start. At his first-ever solo show in 2017, Styles broke out the acoustic guitars for a truly unexpected take on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo standout track ‘Ultralight Beam’.

Rather than try to emulate one of the most iconic rappers of all time, he takes the Chance the Rapper-led verses and turns them into an emotional torch song, showing off his early embrace of off-the-wall musical choices.

Peter Gabriel – ‘Sledgehammer’

Unless it has to do with Stevie Nicks (seriously, the guy is obsessed, considering how he’s also taken on ‘Landslide’ and ‘Leather and Lace’ at different points), Styles doesn’t always lean into the ’70s and ’80s material that has clearly laid the groundwork for his own sonic style.

But his cover of Peter Gabriel’s So single ‘Sledgehammer’ at The Howard Stern Show in 2020 was nothing but pure reverence.

‘Just a Little Bit of Your Heart’ – Ariana Grande

So this one is definitely a technicality – it’s not a cover because Styles actually wrote the song with Carolina Liar keyboardist/Grande producer Johan Carlsson. But the world knows it as an Ariana Grande song, and so when Styles breaks it out in concert, that’s who most of the audience is associating it with.

Despite this slight confusion, it’s still a wonderful track, one that Styles reclaims and makes all his own when he performs it live.

‘Toxic’ – Britney Spears

For his Halloween performance at Madison Square Garden in 2021, Styles clearly planted his flag in the #FreeBritney movement by taking one of the legendary pop star’s most famous singles, ‘Toxic’. During his encore, Styles interrupted his first performance of ‘Medicine’ in three years to bust out a costume better than his harlequin clown.

Styles is at his best when he goes for the gender-bending covers, and ‘Toxic’ is just too good of an earworm to pass up.

‘You’re Still the One’ – Shania Twain

Am I blinded in my love of Kacey Musgraves on this pick? Absolutely, as I kind of hate the Shania Twain version of this song. And yet, that’s what makes this such a good cover: if you can make what is usually an unbearable listening experience not just passable but actually quite entertaining, then you deserve a spot on this list.

Styles might have to go country on his next record if this is what it would sound like. It’s pure pop brilliance.

‘Wild Thoughts’ – DJ Khaled

What I’m learning is that some of the best Styles covers come from songs that I otherwise have an ambivalent relationship towards. DJ Khaled’s collaboration with Rihanna and Bryson Tiller is easily one of his most popular songs, but it never really moved the needle for me.

I much prefer Styles’ cover, which retains the wild central guitar riff but dispenses of most of the song’s histrionics.

‘Over the Rainbow’ – Judy Garland

Cut back to Harryween 2021, and night one saw Styles dressed up in the iconic blue dress that Judy Garland wore as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Of course, knowing how much Styles loves covers, it should have come as no surprise that the singer would break into the iconic movie’s central ballad after ‘Sign of the Times’.

Styles brings all the necessary gravitas and it’s quite a stirring performance, even when you occasionally get blinded by his ruby slippers.