Is ‘The Idea of You’ Harry Styles Fan Fiction? The Answer Is Complicated

Hayes Campbell, the dreamy protagonist of the new rom-com “The Idea of You,” has a bit in common with the mega pop star Harry Styles:

  • In the movie, Hayes, played by Nicholas Galitzine, is a member of August Moon, a boy band with tons of very ardent teen and tween girl fans. Styles was a member of a boy band called One Direction. You’ve probably heard of it.

  • Hayes is British. So is Harry Styles.

  • Hayes eventually quits his band and starts making soulful pop rock. So did Harry.

  • Hayes likes to date older women, and his relationship with a gallerist named Solène Marchand (Anne Hathaway) is the backbone of the film. Harry, too, has been involved in tabloid-documented relationships with older women, most famously, the actress and director Olivia Wilde.

So does “The Idea of You” come off as an act of fan fiction? Bizarrely, no, even if the shadow of Styles does loom large over the whole project.

Plenty of headlines have already described the movie as “Harry Styles fan fiction,” though Robinne Lee, the author of the 2017 novel on which it is based, is typically coy in interviews about whether the pop star inspired her book.

August Moon, the band in the film, above, resembles One Direction more than the band in the original novel does.Credit…Amazon Studios

“Inspired is a strong word,” Lee has said. The author, who is also an actress with degrees from Yale and Columbia Law School and perhaps best known for her appearances in films like “Hitch” and “Fifty Shades Darker,” has described encountering “the face of a boy I’d never seen in a band I’d never paid attention to” and thinking it was “art.” After the novel became a viral sensation, Lee told Vogue in 2020, “This was never supposed to be a book about Harry Styles.” In a piece for Time published this month, Lee argued that “assuming a novel with a fictional celebrity in a relationship must be based on an existing celebrity — in this case, the internet has decided, Harry Styles — is unimaginative at best and sexist at worst.”

She is certainly less explicit about a pop star connection than Anna Todd, whose “After” series of novels started explicitly as Styles fan fiction on the platform Wattpad and have since been turned into a film franchise. (It’s a path that might be familiar to fans of “Fifty Shades,” which started as “Twilight” fan fiction.) However, unlike “The Idea of You,” the “After” series has nothing to do with a boy band. The Harry of “After” is a college student named Hardin, but when the first novel was published in 2014, the portrayal outraged some One Direction lovers with the way it turned Styles into a bad boy manipulating a young woman. One 14-year-old Styles fan told The New York Times then: “The way Harry in this book is portrayed is disgusting.”

On the other hand, Styles fans have embraced “The Idea of You” as text that can feed their obsession. Kayla Kleinman, a social media manager at, was not a Styles devotee when she first read the novel, but became one after finishing it during the pandemic. She felt “emotionally attached” to the book, and wanted the experience of reading it to continue, she said in an interview. So she sought out Styles’s music. “In my head it felt like a continuation of the story even though I very much knew that they were not,” she said. “But to me that next step was being like, ‘OK, I’m going to dive into this world as a thing to entertain myself.’” Now Kleinman has even gone to Harry Styles concerts with a friend she made from an “Idea of You” Facebook group.

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