Here’s some interesting news for Harry Styles fans: starting next spring, Texas State University will offer a course on him. In addition to studying Harry, his career and its output, the course will delve into the “cultural context” around him, other creatives who have influenced Harry’s work, and the comics featuring his Marvel character. The course will also examine the “world he has come up in as a celebrity” and issues that are important to him. The professor teaching the course says that Harry’s work is really important to him and that Harry frequently came up in discussions with his students, which led to him creating the course.
Good news for Stylers: you can now study Harry Styles at university.
Texas State University is set to offer the first-ever course on the singer, with classes led by Dr Louie Dean Valencia starting in spring 2023.
The course – named “Harry Styles and the Cult of Celebrity: Identity, the Internet and European Pop Culture” – will explore “cultural and political development of the modern celebrity as related to questions of gender and sexuality, race, class, nation and globalism, media, fashion, fan culture, internet culture and consumerism.”
Speaking to CNN, Valencia said that Styles has often come up in conversation with his students. “I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with students over the last two years that started with a shared love of Harry’s music, but that quickly went into larger societal questions about gender, sexuality, race, gun control, sustainability because of Harry’s art,” he said.
“Self-expression, and comfort with oneself, is a big part of Harry’s message – along with treating people with kindness,” Valencia said. “A lot of people, myself included, feel like they’ve grown up with him – and so there is a connection.”
The class will look at Styles’ work through time, stretching back to his time with One Direction through to his recent solo records. The course will also delve into the cultural context surrounding Styles, as well as explore the writers that have informed Styles’ work such as Susan Sontag and Alain de Botton.
We spoke to Valencia, the academic behind the course, to get the lowdown on what his students can expect.
Please could you tell us a bit more about the course?
Dr Louie Dean Valencia: We will be looking at all the music, film, and products that Harry has released, as well as many of his favourite authors, including Susan Sontag, Rumi, Alain de Botton, Murakami, and Bethan Roberts, to name just a few. We’ll also read comics featuring his character Eros from the Marvel films. Given that “love” is so important to Harry – as seen in the characters he portrays and even the name of his tour – it will be central to this course too.
The idea of the class is to not just learn about Harry Styles and his work, but also to look at the world he has come up in as a celebrity. We will look at issues that are important to him, such as sustainability, gender equality, feminism, antiracism, queer acceptance, and “treating people with kindness”.
Why do you think Harry Styles in particular is so culturally important? Did you consider doing a course about any other musicians?
Dr Louie Dean Valencia: Harry is the only musician I’d considered doing such a course on. His work has been part of my life since the early One Direction days. One Direction got me through my PhD work, and his solo work got me through a pandemic! I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing such a course with someone else.
The idea of the course began during the pandemic, when I couldn’t travel to do my regular research – so I started to work on a book on the world around Harry Styles – partially inspired by Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life. As for the course, over the last two years, I found that my love of Harry Styles’ work opened a lot of fantastic conversations with students, beyond just the superficialities some might expect. We’ve talked about issues around globalism, consumerism, environmentalism, self-love, amongst other things – all starting from Harry’s work and activism. I realised students were really interested in getting to know the world around them, grounded in a conversation about someone they felt they grew up with.
Have you spoken to Harry about the course – or do you plan to?
Dr Louie Dean Valencia: I wouldn’t even know how to! I obviously would absolutely love to! I will be at his upcoming Madrid concert, and three of his shows in Austin. If I were to meet him, I would emphasise that the class is not about his personal life, but his art. In the same way, I believe a class about the Beatles can tell us something about the 1960s, I think a class anchored in the issues important to Harry can tell us something about our world today.
I’ve already seen some people on social media criticise the course. Do you think it’s time we stopped treating pop music fandom – or pop culture more generally – as trivial and unimportant?
Dr Louie Dean Valencia: I think there are a lot of people who think that studying popular culture is a waste of time. However, as any historian will tell you, to understand any historical event it’s important to understand the cultural zeitgeist around it. When we look back at any historical period we always look to the artists, writers, and dreamers to get a pulse of the times. Sometimes, it’s harder for people to see that when they are living in the moment. Still, the response I’ve gotten has really been inspiring. There will always be naysayers – and I’m OK with it.
The reading list and syllabus aren’t final yet because the professor wants it to be as current as possible when the course begins. This is definitely interesting… Dr. Louie Dean Valencia is an Associate Professor of Digital History and from his interview it sounds like he’s a huge fan of Harry Styles. He’s going to four shows in the near future! It’s cool that he managed to turn something he enjoys, Harry’s work, into his job. It’s good that the course goes beyond studying just Harry’s work, but the context surrounding it. The course does sound interesting and contemporary and I’m sure many students will love it. But I’m a bit skeptical. I think it’s still very early in Harry’s career for this sort of thing and if I were in college, I don’t know that I would take it. Or maybe it’s something I would take second semester senior year just for fun and course credit. I do agree with the professor’s general idea that pop culture and the cultural zeitgeist is important to history, I’m just not sure if Harry Styles is it, yet.