At a certain point in time, Harry Styles had the power to elicit a wave of congratulatory headlines for doing literally anything: wearing a feather boa, painting his nails, or just breathing. But in just a few short days, the pop star has gone from unproblematic fave to Twitter’s public enemy number one.
The first sign of trouble was Styles’ new Rolling Stone cover which began blowing up the blogosphere earlier this week. In the feature, the former One Direction frontman discussed his upcoming film, My Policeman, which sees his character pursue a same-sex affair despite homosexuality being illegal in 1950s England.
Reflecting on the sex scenes in the film, Styles said: “So much of gay sex in film is two guys going at it, and it kind of removes the tenderness from it… There will be, I would imagine, some people who watch it who were very much alive during this time when it was illegal to be gay, and [director Michael Grandage] wanted to show that it’s tender and loving and sensitive.”
The comment was quickly derided across social media, where fans and detractors debated the singer’s characterization of gay sex in movies. Grindr, the queer hookup and dating app, even weighed in on Styles’ comment.
In another hotly debated snippet of the interview, Styles responded to the queer baiting accusations that critics have leveled against him.
“Sometimes people say, ‘You’ve only publicly been with women,’ and I don’t think I’ve publicly been with anyone,” he said, a statement seemingly at odds with his relationship with Olivia Wilde. “If someone takes a picture of you with someone, it doesn’t mean you’re choosing to have a public relationship or something.”
The quote seems to have divided Twitter into two camps: one that believes Styles’ refusal to clarify his sexuality is a form of queerbaiting, and another that believes the public’s determination to label him as either “straight” or “queer” amounts to a backwards policing of sexual expression (after all, his sexuality is no one’s business but his).
A third camp has taken a more moderate approach, taking less issue with Styles himself and more so with the media’s portrayal of him as a boundary-breaking Messiah for subverting gender expectations through dress — something that the queer community has done for decades.
Adding fuel to the fire, Rolling Stone shared a never-before-seen clip from Styles’ new film, Don’t Worry Darling. The 20-second snippet left the 28-year-old with another allegation to beat: that his acting chops are not up to par. Honing in on his accent and the un-subtlety of his delivery, Twitter clowned the video with reaction GIFS and unflattering comparisons to a certain moment from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
It’s been a tough week for Styles, who once enjoyed unconditional praise from all fronts. But don’t worry, darling: the trials and tribulations of the past several days are likely to fade with the next Viral Celebrity Moment. The week of August 22 was just a brief flop in time.