Keep It Sweet In Your Memory: What I Observed Photographing Fans at HSLOT

photo: olivia cagle

On May 9th, 2022, Texans and Harry Styles fans alike celebrated an announcement from the HSHQ Instagram: A Texas HSLOT residency was coming to the Moody Center in Austin. Tickets and cowboy hats were purchased, plans were made, and finally, September 25th was here.

I was lucky enough to attend nights one and two of the show, as well as witness the entire phenomenon of Love On Tour from the comfort of my dorm, which was a mere ten minute walk from the Moody Center. On nights five and six, I visited the venue moments before fellow fans were let inside, photographing their outfits and exchanging anecdotes about our shared love for Harry.

In short, it was magical. Love On Tour has at times grown into a beast of obsession, jealousy, and yearning for attention, however, all of that seemed to disappear as I stood in line with thousands of other fangirls. These fans were, for the most part, a mirror to me (a cheerful college student). They wore feather boas and colourful pants while juggling their phone, water bottle, wallet, and portable fan in one hand. 

Others were a starry haze, crystal ball, seeing into my past and future. One specific fan I talked to was only five years old; she had seen Harry just as much as I had. Not many spots in line behind the little fan stood a group of mothers and grandmothers, just as excited as the daughter-aged fans they were surrounded by.

All of them, young and old, barricade or nosebleed, were beginning to come together. This process had started years ago for some, days ago for others, and the excitement was beginning to boil over. Electricity hung in the moments between comments like “I can’t wait to see what he’s wearing” or “I just need to see him”.

One fan I spoke with on the last night of the residency held wilted flowers, a gift for Harry and an expression of gratitude for making Harry’s House (the album of the year, might I add). She had already thought out when she would toss him the tulips–  during Little Freak– and we went on about why that was significant. She told me that it was her favourite song on the album, and she just wanted to give him as much love as she could from a few hundred feet away.

Others smiled at this sentiment as we talked; we shared a mutual agreement about Harry’s effect on our lives although no one will ever truly be able to understand. That’s what I find so interesting about all of this. Thousands of people are gathering in this space to see Harry perform, and somehow we all see him differently, and somehow we all adore him in a unique way.

My personal connection to Harry stems from his music, others could stem from his charisma or creativity. Either way, at that moment we were all level with each other.

Whether or not fangirls are conscious of this, we have found ways to maximize this time of equality, the time between screams and album drops and content. Hannah Ewens, author of Fangirls calls this “fan made time”. Reading about it was one thing, and as someone who has never been in the pit at Love On Tour, I never thought I would experience it until I was photographing the people that were. In line, people were singing his songs, playing cards with One Direction on them, doing makeup, and reminiscing on Harry’s past outfits. Again, the only word I can use to describe it is magical.

As I was sitting in my dorm, a ten-minute walk away from where I took the pictures, I glanced out my window and realized I could see the venue from where I lived. I followed a trail of boa feathers through campus to my destination, and I made fleeting eye contact with merch-wearers all around.

My surroundings that week were so visceral that I do not think I will ever forget them. Wide legged pants, the hot summer air as I jogged to the venue with my friends for the first two nights, boa feathers strewn about (oh god there were so many), and the song ‘Daydreaming’; all of those things give me goosebumps every time I see, hear, or remember them. Even the week after Harry had performed was like dust from a glittery storm had settled, and people had to just move on, and they did, with some new merch in their closet, videos in their camera roll, and memories to share.

Harry wasn’t the only person people were taking pictures of, though. Celebrities of the pit line recognized one from TikTok, and I was too starstruck to approach her, so I just watched from afar. When she went to the bathroom, her friends fiercely protected her place in line, and when she returned, they resumed crowding around her, showering her with questions and compliments. As much as I loved the Tik Tok star, my personal celebrity was the five year old who had a better outfit than Harry that night (in my opinion).

It’s classic fan behavior to find other fans to obsess over and with. It’s just like a group of mostly feminine identities to be fans of each other so much that statuses are achieved. Being such an adamant part of this group, at its best, feels like a massive slumber party out of a teeny-bopper movie. We share snacks and makeup, snap thousands of pictures and squeal when the right one is taken, and even if we aren’t close, we have a mutual interest already (Harry), so what more could there be?

Just in my few hours taking pictures in the pit line, I was recommended to a tattoo artist, given hugs, and relationship advice, and most of all, I felt at home. How cheesy to make a homey joke at Harry’s House, but it’s true! At that point, it wasn’t about Harry; for a moment, the concert was merely the background setting for dozens of meet-cutes.

It felt like upon meeting people in line, the understanding was: We both love Harry Styles, so you’re cool, let’s find out more about each other,  and I loved that. We were like friends that just needed to catch up for a second, and I have not felt that anywhere else besides Love On Tour. 

Phenomena like Love On Tour are every journalist’s dream come true. Visually entertaining, everyone has a story, and there’s a lot of them to be told yet.

As a journalist, I watched Love On Tour grow, and the closest I got to covering it was taking shaky videos and pictures for my own safekeeping. When this opportunity arose, it made me feel official, I was covering something I was passionate about and that had a big name attached to it. Score.

Objectively speaking I am presented with a double edged sword. I am a fan, but I am also an observer. I observe the homogeny of fandom, the delusion and sometimes faulty whimsy of it all. It’s hard to miss sometimes. However, I am also delusional and whimsical myself, so who am I to judge?

I have the opportunity to tell the world that Harries are in fact crazy, and I also have the opportunity to speak to how incredible of a fanbase we are. I’m biased, I know, but as outlandish as we can be- I will always choose the latter.

Harry on the other hand is someone where objectivity is not even an option, and I know many readers feel the same way. Every fan I talked to outside the Moody Center was just so excited to see Harry, of course, but also to be in that space with him where there’s no judgment and anything is possible. 

He has written songs that make everyone feel seen and heard– on good days and bad. I remember my flower bearing fan friend specifically was passionate about her love for ‘Little Freak’ and said she never felt more seen by a song. Hearing Harry sing that song among other people who also feel seen by this piece of art is something that words simply cannot describe.

For me, that song is Matilda. Satellite is a close second, and I definitely cried during both, but after hearing the songs when the album was released, talking about them all the way up to the day of the concert, and then hearing it materialize into the air of the venue is enough to make me want to write a long form article about how restorative that feeling is (oh hey, I’m doing that right now).

Those moments between are where I love to reminisce. Of course, the concert changed my life. What also changed my life, though, was the walk home with my flatmate, glitter and mascara smudged on my face, and we recounted our favourite moments from the show. Sharing smiles and Instagram handles, taking pictures for strangers, and holding spots in the merchandise line, also changed my life a little, too. 

There was a muffled conversation between the drunk girls sitting next to me on the second night as they showed me their brand-new Harry tattoos. It’s always the strangers you talk to at a concert that you can’t forget, I wonder why that is. They said (of being a Harry fan) “Why not? You’re young, it’s fun, and you’re gonna want to remember this forever.” 

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