Friday, 12th May was a release day of #rebranding.

Harry Styles underscored his smoulder-adorned foray into toiled earnestness - so seriously serious it's miraculous he's not bursting blood vessels - with his self-titled solo debut; and he's passing Paramore driving in the opposite direction. Mid-00s, with emo's third wave at peak combover, Paramore were so onerously overt the only thing left unsaid was their national insurance numbers.

A decade on from their teenage ballast, they've discarded the riffs and woah-woahs(!) and mascara, and embraced Afrobeat and hey-heys(!) and cardigans. As Paramore approach and enter their thirties, and Styles understandably parades some traces of quarter-life crisis, both have corporealised their evolutions through abrupt stylistic departures. Styles pastiches every rock medium ostensibly ever, personifying the closest we'll ever have to Damien Rice covering the Rolling Stones; and Paramore have pulled back into some variation on restraint, aesthetically and thematically, veering into leftfield (or rightfield?) with a vibrant and cynical dream pop perfume.

After Laughter is fantastic, a carnival of musical fluidity, and Harry Styles stumbles as it overreaches; but is conversationally mesmeric by design.

With After Laughter, vibrant and cynical dream pop is my jam anyways, and the move makes sense on reflection. In theme and often in tempo, emo and pop overlap in surprising motifs; it's just the assumed dialect which discriminates them. Romantic angst is romantic angst, whether it's illustrated in breezy bar flirtations, nailbiting delays expecting a return text, or hurling your now-obsolete necking-on mixtape from the window through mangled tears. If emo is a state of mind rather than a rudimentary sound - if it's emotional pessimism, turmoil and therapy crammed into one great fat flatbread - then the most bubblegum pop can be emo as hell. Indeed there are antecedents.

Beyond the supposed deference to Carly Rae Jepsen, Robyn, and CHVRCHES, Paramore are nailing the soul of Fleetwood Mac. Mac comparisons are exhaustively rote, but the merging sardonicism, emotional outlay, and fundamental songwriting heft on display here is the best sequel to Tango In The Night we never saw coming. Equally, the punkish vivacity and candid exposition which buttresses the synths and clinks and winking hijinks screams Blondie. These are bands with cavernous emo cred.

Hayley Williams as the new Stevie Nicks or Debbie Harry would be something I'd co-sign so damn hard, if she wasn't such an idiosyncratic wunderkind in her own right. After Laughter's apexing deep-cut '26' - in the temporal ageing of its title, lullaby instrumentation, and directness of lyrics - is audaciously saccharine and a complete tonal anomaly, but it succeeds through Williams' incredible charisma and emotiveness, her voice so authoritative and cultured, but so wearied and sensitive.

Then again Paramore's greatest asset has always been Williams - as a frontperson, vocalist, lyricist, and songwriter - and she's remarkable across After Laughter, a tour de force of vulnerability, pathos, wit, and insight. She is the hinge on which Paramore can multifariously flex and remain rooted in memorable melodies and sincere song writing. It's an exhibition of Williams as polymath, such that you gain the impression she could write a great album using washing machine samples.

Talent is not confined to style, and After Laughter is a crinkle of the kaleidoscope, an opportunity to witness one of rock music's most gifted auteurs in uncanny clothing. Cardigans, in other words. I haven't stopped spinning it, and I haven't stopped thinking about its place in Paramore's discography, its relevancy in the interlacing landscape of pop and emo, and how revolutionising a style can so demonstrably underline a songwriter's pedigree.

Styles is invariably more divisive, and truthfully I find his case more provocative; despite my self-aggrandising "ooo I subscribe to Bandcamp and misquote Dylan Thomas" disdain.

One Direction never had a chance. Commercial affluence and critical contempt was congenital to their inception, inevitable and feasibly premeditated. An assembly line boyband, preened, sheened and starved from crumbs of identity and agency; a Beckettian machination of predictability. This isn't to say One Direction were a bad band, they automated pleasant earworms with ruthless efficiency, but there was little there that was authentically interesting or interestingly authentic. It's not hyperbolic to view their break-up as an emancipation, not only from the shackling of label and PR bureaucracy, but from the insipid predication on the arranged marriage between public image and musical mechanics.

Now he's free, Styles has iterated repeatedly how enlightening it's been having complete exposure to, and far greater autonomy over, the recording process. Comprising one of the formerly most popular artists in the world has softened their separate landings, permitting them the financial and moral provision to walk whichever path seduces their whims; and in a splendid about-turn, Harry Styles has decided he wants to be a flat-out, old school, hell-yeah-baby rockstar.

It's a valid truism that interesting failures are worth more than benign successes; and though it's harsh to classify it as a failure, Styles redrawing himself as the new Paul McCartney or John Mayer or David Gray or I dunno, James Morrison, is compelling in a way Zayn Malik latching onto Bieberwave's sad-EDM - or Liam Payne's Joey-futile spin-off arc - simply isn't. Harry Styles as an album is ideologically thin, but cultivates depth and import through its very existence, its creation as its most eloquent statement.

Artistic investigation, the swelling compulsion to venture into uncharted territory, will always arouse curiosity because technical digressions are novelty; and novelty is at its best triumphant and at its worst delectable schadenfreude. Harry Styles snuggles in-between these camps, presenting serviceable imitations of rock's diaspora, and just as with After Laughter I can't stop listening to it. It shifts from bluesy Mick Jagger ('Only Angel') to grandiloquent Elton-John-meets-Meat-Loaf ('Sign Of The Times') to cocaine-and-heartbreak Alex Turner ('Kiwi'). 'Carolina' is an ersatz 'Stuck In The Middle With You' - Styles' stab at '60s country rock - while 'Woman' warmly evokes the '80s New Romantics of Duran Duran and Prince.

The most impressive thing on Harry Styles is the eponymous figure himself. Even where the songwriting falters, his vocal dexterity emulates fifty years of diverging rock aesthetics impressively. The album doesn't work tonally and the quality of the respective songs fluctuates erratically, but it's so personally ambitious, so - like Williams - idiosyncratic in its purpose and manifold in its endeavours, that it enchants. I'll keep at Harry Styles not because it's great, but because it's fun to consider and debate. It's conversation in a calculatedly dishevelled white tee and a £70 haircut.

Whether rebranding soars like Paramore or splutters like Harry Styles, we're talking about it. We're talking about the rebranded artists, their fresh albums, their distinctive songs, the past clues anticipating the rebrand, and the future implications the rebrand suggests. When the majority of chart-proppers drift by in muted ambivalence, content with their inanity, mainstream attempts at doing, well, anything, galvanises outrage and passion and scrutiny and meaningful examination. Pop music should always be this interesting to discuss, so huge props to Hayley and Harry.