Slane Castle, Co Meath
At the entrance to Slane Castle, in Co Meath, on Saturday afternoon, hordes of people in big sunglasses, cowboy hats and bright clothing look ready to take on the day. Though the directions to Harry Styles’ highly anticipated gig are easy to follow, the biggest indication you’re going the correct way are the hundreds of feathers lying on the ground after breaking free from their boas.
The crowd is excitable hours before the British pop star makes his appearance, but they go crazy when he utters his cúpla focail from the stage. “Conas atá tú?” he calls out to the 80,000 people in front of him with the self-assured confidence his fans have come to expect. (“Céad míle fáilte,” he says later in the show, before finishing with “Slan leat, go n-éirí an bóthar leat.”)
Styles is a man unafraid to be different or break gender norms. That’s no different on Saturday night: he opts for a green-and-silver sequinned blazer on his otherwise bare torso, plus well-cut white trousers. The choice of outfit is mirrored by the crowd before him, who look as if they have spent weeks bejewelling their own outfits. “Your job tonight is to have as much fun as you can. Feel free to be whoever you always wanted to be in this room tonight,” he tells them.
Walking around and blowing kisses, he says that Ireland has shown him consistent support through his 13-year career – “apart from the time I got headbutted because I went to Tallaght. Is anyone here from Tallaght? I forgive you, Tallaght, I forgive you,” he says.
Never has Slane been filled with so many young girls – it really has turned into Harry’s House. At the age of 29, the singer is half the age of Slane’s previous headliners, Metallica, who attracted a very different crowd in 2019. The announcement that the former One Directioner would be playing the venue this year was met by snorts of derision. But, boy, does he prove the naysayers wrong. Charisma and charm ooze out of him. His two-hour show is more than a performance: it’s like spending time with a friend.
Styles has been taking his Love on Tour show around the world since September 2021; by the time he finishes, in July, he will have played to 1.5 million people. He has already visited Ireland as part of this tour, having played a sold-out Aviva Stadium, in Dublin, last summer. But despite the almost two years of constant touring, Styles has retained his indefatigable energy. Dancing during Adore You, he almost seems to have forgotten about the crowd, moving out of sheer enjoyment.
As for his fans, the only time they aren’t jumping around is during his emotional performance of Fine Line, during which Slane Castle is transformed into a sea of lights.
The opening acts were greeted with almost as much enthusiasm as Styles. Inhaler, the rock band led by Elijah Hewson, Bono’s son, played in front of their biggest crowd so far – and did so with consummate ease. The British duo Wet Leg also proved comfortable in front of an audience that screamed back at them on demand. Though the sound quality at times worked against Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers during the first few songs of their set, it didn’t stop their fans, whether existing or freshly minted, from dancing along.
The fandom of young girls is often dismissed, but with Harry Styles they’re right on the pulse. There’s a reason he’s one of the world’s biggest pop stars. A showman who knows exactly what he’s doing, he deserves every ounce of his acclaim.