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You will soon be able to study Harry Styles at university

We speak to the Texas State course leader, Dr Louie Dean Valencia, to see what Harry stans can expect from the classes

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? Do you have a syllabus or a reading list?

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”.

The reading list and syllabus aren’t finalised yet though, because I want it to be as up-to-date as possible when the course starts. 

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.

“For those who can’t attend our classes, we will be developing a podcast series as part of the course, which hopefully will give people a chance to be part of it” Professor Louie Dean Valencia

How have people reacted to the course?

Dr Louie Dean Valencia: It’s been a whirlwind! Overwhelmingly, the reaction has been fantastic. It’s also been great because it has put me in contact with school friends, former teachers and colleagues, and people I never expected to talk to again who I maybe just met by happenstance. I’ve gotten so many requests from people all over the world to know more about the class.

One woman who was 75 years old reached out to me and left me a voice message expressing her desire to learn about how the world has changed in the last decade or so. It was really touching to hear. For those who can’t attend our classes, we will be developing a podcast series as part of the course, which hopefully will give people a chance to be part of it.

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.