Is One Direction's Harry Styles a little twerp and cougar fodder or just misunderstood?
His partying and love of older women have made headlines...as One Direction begin four sell-out shows in Belfast today, is the band's biggest star pop's new bad boy? Una Brankin and Jane Graham go to war
Harry Styles is the new bad boy of teen pop, or is he? The tousled haired teenager, part of the world's biggest pop group, has gained a reputation as a cougar hunter for his affairs with older women, most famously television presenter Caroline Flack who was 14 years older than her talent show beau.
But he has also dated a number of girls closer to his own age and millions of his adoring fans – most of them young teenage girls – around the world wish it was them who were the focus of his love.
What is beyond doubt is that the publicity over Harry's love life is all grist to the mill for the group which is coining it beyond even their wildest dreams.
For the five members – the others are Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, Zayn Malik and Liam Payne – all entered the X Factor as solo singers and were only morphed into a group when their individual performances failed to impress the judges.
And even then they only came third behind the winner Matt Cardle.
They arrive in Belfast tomorrow for four sell out concerts showing that their appeal is as strong here as elsewhere.
And no doubt Harry Styles will be the main focus of attention for the hordes of fans descending on the Odyssey Arena.
Ahead of their gigs, two writers give their take on the Harry phenomenon and whether he deserves his bad boy tag.
Una Brankin... on why Harry is all Styles, not substance
Teenage and pre-pubescent girls can be a very scary bunch and Harry Styles has millions of these frightening creatures infatuated with him.
I've heard a few things about what young female fans are like in action and it's not nice.
Back in the day when my husband was in a well-known band in the Republic, he was at a hotel bar with an older sound engineer, and he noticed two under-age girls "kissing the faces off each other," as he put it, at the other end of the bar.
Amazed, he gave his friend a dig to draw his attention to them.
"That's what they do these days," shrugged the indifferent sound man. "It's to get you turned on so you'll invite them to your room."
That's the least explicit anecdote I can write here.
In a way it's not entirely these girls' fault they're so crazy; at that age their brains aren't even fully formed, while their hormones are on the rampage just as much as boys' are – and to a far more intense emotional degree.
Add to that their early sexualisation from influences like Rihanna making them think they have to be sexy, and those awful teen magazines advising them on how to do oral sex and so on, and you've a major problem on your hands if you have an impressionable young daughter.
If I was in that position I'd try to get it through their thick heads that this Styles guy is so used to girls throwing themselves at him, he's far more likely to go for someone more unattainable, who doesn't see herself as a sex object to be used. And if I was Harry Styles's mother I'd make him put that message out.
If this little twerp really loves and appreciates his fans – as the whole band continually insists that they do – he has a responsibility to them as a role model. He must remember that he can do no wrong in their silly minds and whatever he says, goes.
Of course he can't be expected to live like a monk, but he can choose the signals he puts out.
Robbie Williams said he gorged himself so much on groupies he lost all respect for himself and that sex became meaningless for him. One particular idiot slept with him in a train carriage after he'd been on a four-day binge without washing, brushing his teeth or changing his underwear. He had no idea what her name was and passed out afterwards. I've no doubt there are a plenty of others who would do the same with Dirty Harry.
Especially when they see former fling Taylor Swift writhing on stage at the Brit Awards in black lace and boots. He may not have any control over the example his flings give, but he can ask that his fans show a little respect for themselves.
He can also take to Twitter or Facebook to condemn the psychos who make the vile posts against the girls, like model Cara Devigne or TV presenter Caroline Flack, associated with him in the gossip columns – and not just to speak up for those particular girls.
Cyber bullying has reached horrific proportions; two teenage sisters took their lives in the Republic as a direct result of it recently and the more it is tolerated in the all-powerful celebrity sphere, the worse it will get on the micro level, particularly at schools.
It takes idols like Styles to stand up and say it's NOT COOL, and to stamp it out. He and his band-mates went to the slums of Accra, the poverty-stricken capital of Ghana, to film a Red Nose Day report last month and described the experience as life-changing.
Styles was so taken by an "adorable" raggedy seven-year-old that he took off his St Christopher's medal and gave it to her "to keep her safe".
"This trip has been such an eye-opener," he said. "It has made me realise that being loved and looked after is the most important thing in the world. These people in the slums can't walk away from their lives."
Neither, potentially, can the deluded young girls who will end up used, abused, rejected, damaged, pregnant or worse if they are hell-bent on following the example of bad role models.
I'd ask whoever gave Harry Styles his St Christopher's medal to keep him safe on his travels, to also think of the young girls at his feet as he flies around the world riding the crest of fame – and have a word in his callow ear about what he can do to help keep them safe. Ultimately, this modern idol should stand up and say promiscuity is uncool.
He'll be accused of being a hypocrite but mums will love him for it – and increase his already huge fan base. Isn't that what pop's all about?
But Jane Graham can't help being wild about the boy...
Last week that panacea of rock'n'roll rebellion, the NME, which likes to freak out The Man by putting rock stars making rude gestures on its front cover, announced at its annual awards ceremony that readers had voted One Direction's Harry Styles as their Villain of the Year.
How the wild men and women of rock cheered and whooped to see this 19-year-old floppy-haired kid who sings pop songs about falling in love with beautiful girls brought to book, just as previous Villains of the Year, such as George W Bush and Osama bin Laden, had been in the past.
How they hated him, the breezy, happy-faced little git, for his global success, his vast gaggle of female fans, his wealth and his easy charm. Unfortunately Styles couldn't be at the NME Awards, as he was still recovering from the all-night party after One Direction's performance at The Brits the previous week. There, watched by a TV audience of 6.5m, his band had sung their latest number one (in this country and 52 others) before picking up the award for Global Success. His absence at the NME bash was regrettable but we can be sure that Styles heard about his declared villainy in the eyes of the magazine's readers and felt chastised and sad. Until the sexy blonde who has allegedly replaced flirty pop sensation Taylor Swift in his affections was able to cheer him up. You can see why the band's rise has rattled a few cages. It's rare for an X Factor winner – never mind a third placed runner-up, as they were – to have any kind of presence outside the UK, or even inside the UK beyond that first, heavily promoted album.
The US-smashing success of One Direction – their debut album went straight to Number 1 in the Billboard chart and has sold a whopping 8m worldwide – took everyone by surprise. There was always going to be carping, both from other manufactured bands such as The Wanted, and striving new artists.
The latest 'new Dylan', Jake Bugg, has already had a go, pointing out that One Direction exemplify an enthusiasm for 'fame and looks and boy bands' which makes him fret. Bugg appears to think this is a new trend in pop music but he's just a baby really, a mere month younger than Styles, so we'll forgive him his sweet, earnest naivety as it comes from a good place – a genuine passion for original artists with something to say. He'll see in time that the real villains of the music industry aren't the Harry Styles but the greedy, megalomaniacal moguls who are squeezing the life out of independent artists, ideas and record rebels. My nine-year-old daughter, who has something of her mother's innate contrariness, is not a Harry Styles fan. She has a distaste for consensus thought, and not being in love with Harry Styles is as rebellious as a nine-year-old girl can get right now.
She says her friends are mesmerised by Styles 'as if he's magical or something'. This makes me smile, remembering just how intense a young girls' passion for an unthreatening, sweet-faced boy with a touch of charisma can be.
Surprisingly, despite being created in a lab by Simon Cowell, Harry Styles is actually rather likeable and a little smarter than the average popette.
Anyone who saw his acting turn in Nickelodeon sit-com iCarly will attest that not only is he a natural, appealing performer, but he also has an affable, self-deprecating sense of humour.
His spirited defence last week of the Scottish fan who, over-excited at the sight of him on stage, threw a shoe which landed square on his crotch, also suggests he has so far avoided the self-righteous 'it's tough being me' persona so common among his peers.
I struggle to understand why he attracts such vitriol, especially among older men who often describe themselves – as if in explanation – as 'serious music fans'. Is it pure jealousy? Styles' list of alleged sexual conquests – including TV presenter Caroline Flack, exotic R&B princess Rita Ora and supermodel de jour Cara Delevingne – might have any not so lucky in love chap smarting a little.
But music fans and critics aren't serious when they hold up One Direction as an example of what's wrong with contemporary music surely? They're just delirious kids in a sweetie shop, innocuous boys who were offered a few years of a fantasy life on a platter and took it.
They make pre-pubescent girls happy, and give them nice, escapist daydreams to ward off scary thoughts about exams, school bullies, body fascism and real-life boys. Harry Styles is only the enemy if you yourself are a pre-pubescent boy trying to make an impression on a Harry Styles obsessed schoolgirl. Any older, and it's time you got wiser.