Billboard’s Greatest Pop Stars of 2022: No. 2 — Harry Styles

Billboard’s Greatest Pop Stars of 2022: No. 2 — Harry Styles
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For this year’s update of our ongoing Greatest Pop Star by Year project, Billboard is counting down our staff picks for the top 10 pop stars of 2022 all this week. At No. 2, we remember the year in Harry Styles — who had a 2022 for the ages, with one of the biggest albums, one of the biggest songs and one of the biggest tours of the year.

Coming into 2022, Harry Styles already ranked among the biggest pop stars in the world. He was fresh off a successful Love on Tour stint in support of his Billboard 200 chart-topping sophomore album, Fine Line, which got him three Grammy nominations and his first-ever win for best pop solo performance (for his first Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper, the breezy “Watermelon Sugar”). While the first two years of his 2020s were hard to top, it turned out to be only the beginning for Styles – who, over the course of 2022, completely let go of any shallow stereotypes surrounding a former boy band member and solidified his supremacy in the pop world.

Billboard’s Greatest Pop Stars of 2022:Introduction & Honorable Mentions | Rookie of the Year: Steve Lacy | Comeback of the Year: Sam Smith | No. 10: Nicki Minaj | No. 9: Future | No. 8: Jack Harlow | No. 7: Doja Cat | No. 6: Lizzo | No. 5: Drake | No. 4: Beyoncé | No. 3: Taylor Swift | No. 1: Bad Bunny

Styles kept the wheels turning almost immediately into 2022. In March, he announced that his third studio album, Harry’s House, was on the way — and dropped his wildly popular lead single, “As It Was,” which quickly set the record for the most streamed track on Spotify in 24 hours among male artists and became his first single to debut atop the Hot 100. Beyond its streaming and charts feats, “As It Was” represented a new chapter for Styles, with intimate, wistful lyrics bursting over indie-pop synths. It introduced fans to a more mature side of the star, and brought in new listeners from all demographics who might not have given his music a chance before.

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Styles was inescapable throughout the spring, due to “As It Was” dominating radio and TikTok, and his somewhat unexpected promotional campaign for the upcoming Harry’s House — including a Better Homes and Gardens cover. In April, the 28-year-old headlined Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, validating his superstar status in furry coats and sequins, with assistance from guest appearances by Shania Twain and Lizzo.

The singer, however, stayed true to his humble self throughout the wins. “Finally, it doesn’t feel like my life is over if this album isn’t a commercial success,” he told Better Homes and Gardens. “I just want to make stuff that is right, that is fun, in terms of the process, that I can be proud of for a long time, that my friends can be proud of, that my family can be proud of, that my kids will be proud of one day.”

He had reason to be proud when Harry’s House dropped on May 20, as the album separated itself from his two previous albums and won the hearts of critics with its experimental pop nature, from playing with bustling horn sections on “Music for a Sushi Restaurant” to groovy and hooky funk on “Late Night Talking” and vintage, Beatlesque guitar riffs on “Grapejuice.” The release was complete with a one-night-only celebratory show at UBS Arena in New York, where he performed the new album in its entirety. “Over the past however many years of my life, you’ve changed it over and over again,” he told the crowd at the show, maintaining his characteristic graciousness. “I’m so grateful for every single one of you here and every single one of you that’s not here. Thank you all so, so, so much.”

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The hype leading up to the album’s release soon manifested into staggering numbers, as it spent two weeks atop the Billboard 200. In its debut week, the album earned a whopping 521,500 equivalent album units earned in the U.S., the largest week of 2022 for any album at the time. Even the vinyl edition of the album sold over 146,000 copies in the U.S. through May 22, according to initial reports to Luminate — breaking the modern-era record for the largest sales week for a vinyl album in the U.S. The album also went on to develop some more radio hits with songs like “Music for a Sushi Restaurant” and “Late Night Talking,” though nothing quite reached the same level as “As It Was,” which spent 15 nonconsecutive weeks at the Hot 100 summit and topped Billboard‘s 2022 Songs of the Summer chart.

And after all that, Styles still wasn’t done. While dominating the music world, the star dipped his toes into film, playing a gay police officer in My Policeman and co-starring with Florence Pugh in Don’t Worry Darling, directed by Styles’ then-girlfriend Olivia Wilde. The film’s promo was embroiled with backstage drama, starting with rumors about Shia LaBoeuf getting fired from (or quitting?) the lead role, and Wilde’s subsequent feud with Pugh amid the director’s romantic fling with Styles. The highly publicized promo tour was equally rife with controversy, including Pugh’s noticeable absence, and a much-analyzed moment in which Styles appeared to spit on his co-star, Chris Pine. The messiness seemed to be driving the film into a major disaster zone — but Don’t Worry Darling was a hit, topping the U.S. box office and earning a global total of $78 million, proving that there’s no such thing as bad publicity when it revolves around Styles.

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Not surprisingly, Styles wrapped up 2022 even better than his already jaw-dropping 2021, with a whopping six Grammy nominations – including album, song and record of the year. The achievement marks a rare accomplishment from a former boy band member, as alums of male pop groups are rarely afforded that level of grown-up respect in the music industry. However, Styles separated himself not only from association from One Direction in 2022, but also from most of his hitmaking peers, making himself into simply one of the greatest male pop stars of his generation.