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‘As It Was’ Review: Harry Styles Unlocks the Unsaid

Single cover for Harry Styles' "As It Was."
Single cover for Harry Styles' "As It Was." By Courtesy of Harry Styles / Columbia
By Clara V. Nguyen, Crimson Staff Writer

Some things matter so much that their absence, even if for the better, is hard to put into words. Harry Styles’ latest single “As It Was,” released on April 1, confronts this difficulty from both up close and at a distance, making the British pop star’s nostalgia feel universal as well as personal.

In an early-pandemic interview with Rolling Stone, Styles said that isolation — the very subject of “As It Was” — enabled him to adopt “almost like a bird’s-eye view of the world.” The track embraces this newfound perspective right away, starting not with Styles’ own voice but rather with a clip of his goddaughter’s. “Come on, Harry, we want to say goodnight to you,” she insists, as if trying to coax him out of hiding.

When Styles finally answers, his mellow tone takes some edge off the metallic brightness of the ‘80s synths underneath. Still, the polyrhythm formed by the vocals against a snappy backbeat generates tension that rises to match the first verse’s lyrical contradictions. Styles claims he has “nothin’ to say,” but he also admits that “Gravity’s holdin’ me back / I want you to hold out the palm of your hand.”

In the chorus, high-pitched warbles and a buzzing pedal point fill the space between Styles’ repetitions of the lines, “In this world, it’s just us / You know it’s not the same as it was.” As Styles specifies a certain world over and over, his past recedes into another.

The synth hook from the opening reappears before the second verse, which introduces one more point of view when an apparent ex asks two devastating questions on the phone: “Why are you sitting at home on the floor? / What kind of pills are you on?”

After another chorus, the bridge begins with a line about “light-speed internet,” and Styles speak-sings his way to the outro just as quickly. “I don’t want to talk about the way that it was,” he says. In the end, he’s already told us that “it’s not the same” now — and what more do we need to know?

Instead of picking apart specifics, Styles hones in on the shock of change itself. He announced “As It Was” as the lead single off his upcoming album “Harry’s House,” and the honesty of his longing for bygone days will surely hit close to home for many.

— Staff writer Clara V. Nguyen can be reached at

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