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These were the two letters Harry Styles tweeted on Oct. 5 to tease the release of his long awaited single, “Lights Up,” sending fans into a frenzy.
Coming off the heels of a two-year hiatus after his self-titled debut solo album, the single’s drop on Oct. 11 shattered expectations while remaining characteristically Harry. With its focus on catchy melodies and saturated harmonies, it marks a departure from his rock n’ roll-tinged debut, yet maintains the distinct air of melancholia from his debut. “All the lights couldn't put out the dark / Runnin' through my heart,” he sings.
Throughout the song, Styles croons over an endlessly catchy beat with lyrics of self-acceptance and self-love: “Shine, step into the light / Shine, so bright sometimes / Shine, I’m not ever going back.”
He sings of coming to terms with and having pride in one’s own identity. This seems to be a major theme in the forthcoming album and Styles’s public life as a whole. With his trademark slogan, “Treat People With Kindness,” the launch of his website doyouknowwhoyouare.com through which fans receive compliments from Styles himself, and his promoting of various issues from Black Lives Matter to LGBTQ+ rights on stage, Styles is making strides towards creating a culture of acceptance and love among his fans — and it seems, himself.
As often happens with anything Styles does, fans quickly jumped to speculate on the meaning of the single’s lyrics, especially because it was released on National Coming Out Day. Many fans believe this was Styles’s own way of coming out, though nothing has been confirmed. This belief was only heightened by the single’s music video, featuring a sweaty, slicked-up Styles standing shirtless in the middle of a pulsing throng of semi-nude men AND women. Some have gone so far as to declare the song a bisexual anthem. Though rumors about Styles’s sexuality have been widespread even from his days in One Direction, he has never confirmed or denied them, adamantly refusing to put a label on it, choosing instead to remain ambiguous with his characteristically glittery suits and painted nails.
There are no dates set for the upcoming and no doubt highly-anticipated album, but fans can expect a shift away from the ’70s rock persona he adopted in songs such as “Kiwi” and “Carolina” to a more RnB vibe. If “Lights Up” is any clue, the album will move away from guitar solos and piano-heavy ballads à la “Sign of the Times” to more pop-heavy tracks, accented with bubblegum synths and syncopating drum loops. It seems to be almost a homage to his beginnings as a pop artist. Though the song retains certain artistic aspects that characterized the previous album, including Styles’s use of gospel-like choruses, previously seen in the beginning of “Only Angel,” it sounds much more processed. Gone seem to be the funky guitar riffs of “Woman” and the peaceful finger-picking of “Sweet Creature,” replaced instead by pulsing basslines much more reminiscent of mainstream pop music.
In a way, the single and its implications for the future album serve as a sort of homecoming for Styles. The song seems to seamlessly blend elements of quintessential Styles as he’s evolved throughout his career. It brings in elements of his past pop career and mixes them with the edgier and more mature sound of his self-titled album. While he sings about acceptance and self-love, the music itself is a testament to this very acceptance. In essence, “Lights Up” is a marriage of the two distinct parts of his career and his identity, bringing these aspects together into an instant hit.
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