The return of Harry Styles

An in-depth look at the newest single from this generation’s culture icon

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Harry Styles dropped a much-anticipated new single and music video on October 11.

Courtesy Ashley Buenrostro

First came “Do” — the two letter tweet that broke the internet Oct. 5, but only long enough for the one and only Harry Edward Styles to drop his next album teaser. Cryptic, black and white block-lettered signs popping up all over major cities read, “Do you know who you are?” followed by the subtly powerful acronym, TPWK, referring to Harry’s mantra, “Treat people with kindness.” The signs, which also displayed the Columbia Records logo — Harry’s label — were clearly a promo for his upcoming album, but what do they mean? The answer came on Thursday with the launch of the website doyouknowwhoyouare.com. Here, fans typed their names and were given a positive attribute —  “Anna, you are thoughtful. TPWK. Love, H.” In a way only Harry Styles could think up and pull off, album promotion doubled as an important reminder to fans that they are loved, valued and accepted.

After a long two days of teasing, the fandom — and the world — was on the edge of its seat. That was until Thursday’s Instagram post — the first from Styles in over a year — announcing a new single and music video dropping at midnight sent everyone leaping, or collapsing, from their chairs. After a two year drought, Harry Styles’ new single, entitled, “Lights Up,” is the content fans knew they needed. 

The song is a far cry from the classic rock inspired vibe of Styles’ self titled 2017 debut, but it rocks just as hard and has a vintage groove of its own. With a sound that lies in a brilliant place somewhere between the blissful acoustics of Paul McCartney’s 1971 tune, “Ram On,” and the neo-psychedelics of Tame Impala’s 2012 single, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” “Lights Up” previews a new and exciting chapter. Aided by “Bohemian Rhapsody”-esque harmonies and some tasteful “La-da-da-da-da”’s, Styles has never sounded freer or more himself, and the result is euphoric.

Released within the first minutes of National Coming Out Day, the music video for “Lights Up” depicts a glistening, shirtless Styles engulfed in a swarm of caressing bodies — both male and female. It is steamy to say the least. Although Harry has historically dated women, he has remained sexually ambiguous. He is a vocal advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and a proud defier of gender norms, but he has continually refused to label himself. This being said, many inquisitive fans have begun to interpret “Lights Up” as a long-awaited coming out video. Regardless of whether it is or it isn’t, what is truly impactful about “Lights Up” is it presents a story about identity, rather than a proclamation. 

In the video, Harry comes face to face with himself. Both in the mirror and while suspended above water, he does a lot of reflecting. He hints at his anxiety about exposing who he is to the world when he sings, “Light’s up and they know who you are,” leading him to question if he even knows himself — “Do you know who you are?” However, five piano notes and one cathartic scream later, the doubt and melancholy are stamped out. Harry is back in the sea of bodies and is stepping into the light. The scene transitions, and Harry is on the back of a motorcycle, arms stretched wide, liberated. Rejoicing in this freedom, he is adamant about never going back. 

“Lights Up” is evidence Harry Styles is on his way to becoming a cultural icon. Any man who can create a frenzy with a mere flick of his tongue — check out the two minutes 24 second mark of the video — is undoubtedly powerful. But what’s truly incredible is how he wields this power to show listeners the bliss of letting go of self doubt and fear, and to shine in the light of their truest selves. 

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