Harry Styles is hard to extrapolate from every Harry that has come before from 2009 to today. As It Was is a love song, but it’s also a reflection on the past as it was, as he imagined it, as it could have been yet, in unfurling the past, he also looks forward and outwards (“in this world, it’s just us”), because, as this song suggests, here was everything and more.
His self-titled debut album Harry Styles (2017) was a melancholic reflection on being young (Sign of the Times, Two Ghosts), Fine Line (2019) was about the free expression of sexual energy (Watermelon Sugar, Lights Up), his latest single, As It Was, released ahead Harry’s House (2022, hopefully) is to represent a working through of his conflicts. In this way, he aligns strongly with the revolutionary musical suffusion of Prince. In songs like When Doves Cry Prince sang “Maybe I’m just like my father, too bold/Maybe you’re just like my mother, she’s never satisfied/Why do we scream at each other/This is what it sounds like when doves cry.” As It Was is equally self-referential and engaged in personal storytelling ‘’Answer the phone/ Harry, you’re no good alone/Why are you sitting at home on the floor? What kind of pills are you on?/Ringin’ the bell/And nobody’s coming to help/Your daddy lives by himself/He just wants to know that you’re well.”
In other aspects of his career, Harry has created a supercharged vision of himself as a metrosexual icon, merging his strongly masculine physique with a conventional image of feminine loveliness. With his fashion, his aesthetic, his public image, his love life, he has moved the fence so many times it’s hard to know where it first stood.
Through its heady combination of elements of high tempo, personal storytelling, the skit-like voice of a child, rock-like instrumental skills, and narrative flashbacks, all swirl to create a sonically transformative theme to feed great anticipation for the upcoming album. The high tempo itself I can only associate with a subtext of anguish and longing, as in 180bpm songs like I Would Die 4 You by Prince or Savage Garden’s Affirmations.
The opening which features a children’s voice reminds me of the baby’s voice in Taylor Swift’s Gorgeous. Both songs explore the feeling of finding the love of your life, Taylor wrote the song about her rumored to be fiance Joe Alwyn and Harry Styles seems to be singing about his long-term partner Olivia Wilde: ‘’Seems you cannot be replaced/And I’m the one who will stay, oh-oh-oh” Harry and Taylor (who briefly dated) share the sense of being pop artists and revolutionary forces in their own right.
The video itself features Harry Styles stripping down to red pants and spinning on a wheel with his partner, struggling to hold on to her. The video is visually loud, like Elton John’s I’m Still Standing, and mostly uses Harry’s body to carry the story of the song, in his performance he uses distance, tension, he wants us to react to him, not to his performance, his music has always been very Harry-centric (interested in naked self-expression, self-taught eclectic musical innovation, casting off norms … ‘Do you know who you are’ is a lyric from Lights Up.)
Part of the pleasure of Harry Styles is that he wants us to react to him, for the audience to love him, and that accounts for the soap-like elements of his music ‘’Leave America, two kids follow her/I don’t wanna talk about who’s doin’ it first.’’ He doesn’t (and never has) shied away from making direct references to his personal life.
His newly founded beauty brand asks people to ‘’Find your pleasing.’’ Perhaps this is the purpose of his music, Harry makes himself an example of pleasure and love, his lyrics are vulnerable and hopeful and beg you to look at yourself with courage and frailty, and regardless of gender, to know who you are, what love is, and what pleases you. His latest single As it Was unlocks yet another dimension of the soul of Harry Styles and his version of happiness.