For the past two years, the world — and subsequently, my Spotify playlists — have been noticeably devoid of new Harry Styles music. However, that is not to say that the British singer-songwriter hasn’t been busy. This past year alone, Styles co-hosted the Met Gala, became the face of Gucci’s fragrance, Mémoire d’une Odeur Eau de Parfum, and was offered the role of Prince Eric in Disney’s, “The Little Mermaid”. (Which he ultimately turned down. Yes, I’m still reeling.)
In an interview with Rolling Stone back in August, Styles first teased his upcoming sophomore album, which was in its final stages of production at the time. With the promise of a darker sound and aesthetic, fans have been waiting with bated breath for the arrival of new music. That patience was ultimately rewarded in the early hours of Oct. 11 with the unexpected release of “Lights Up.” Styles’ triumphant return to the music world not only entailed an infectious single, but also a mind-bending music video which sent the internet into a collective frenzy. In a post “Lights Up” world, there seems to be one question on everyone’s mind. And that question is: Do you know who you are?
In the days leading up to the single’s release, Styles and Columbia Records launched a subtle marketing campaign to promote the new song. Fans soon took notice as mysterious posters began popping up in cities all across the globe donning the lyrics “DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE?” Although Styles’ name was not featured on the posters themselves, fans quickly recognized the letters “TPWK” featured on the posters’ lower half. As die-hard fans know, “TPWK” stands for “Treat People With Kindness,” a phrase featured on Styles’ tour merchandise.
And to further encourage fans’ sleuthing, the phrase “DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE” also appeared to correspond with Styles’ cryptic Oct. 5 tweet, “Do.” Following this campaign, Styles & co. also launched doyouknowwhoyouare.com, a website where fans could type in their name and be provided with a personalized note from Harry himself. In a true stroke of marketing genius, the “Do You Know Who You Are” campaign instigated indescribable levels of excitement and fans began to desperately wait for the clock to strike midnight on Oct. 11.
When “Lights Up” first met the ears of millions of listeners, it certainly did not disappoint. The single is a departure from the classic rock sound that inspired much of Styles’ debut album. In comparison to high energy songs like “Kiwi,” this song possesses a more soulful and serene quality. In addition to the song itself, fans were also treated to the “Lights Up” music video. Filmed in Mexico, the music video showcases Styles on the back of a motorcycle, drifting in a blush-pink pool, and dancing in a crowd of strangers. The striking, yet enigmatic video juxtaposes dimly-lit scenes with vibrant colors and high exposure. This directorial choice complements the warring metaphors of light and dark, which Styles croons about in the song’s chorus.
In the track, Styles sings about finding clarity after grappling with his own identity. Accompanied by a gorgeous orchestration of guitars and piano, he sings about stepping out of the darkness of self-doubt and into the light of self-realization. The catchy pop ballad could, in fact, be representative of Styles coming into his own as a solo artist and trying to find his own style and sound. Styles sings, “Step into the light / So bright sometimes / I’m not ever going back.” In this line, Styles utilizes “the light” as a metaphor for fame and acknowledges the pressures that accompany superstardom. The song also addresses the challenges of finding your individuality amidst the lights of fame, which in Styles’ case, are practically blinding. But as the ultimately uplifting message of “Lights Up” suggests, Styles is more than comfortable in that light now. And he’s never going back.
So what can we expect from Harry Styles’ upcoming — and yet to be titled — studio album? So far, the album’s tracklist and release date have been kept under wraps. Stevie Nicks, a close friend of Styles, discussed the album with The Face this past September. According to Nicks, “It’s not like his last album, it’s not like anything One Direction ever did. It’s pure Harry, as Harry would say. He’s made a very different record and it’s spectacular.” And if “Lights Up” is any indication, Styles definitely appears to be departing from the pastel, floral aesthetics of his self-titled debut. As we step into the light of a new Harry Styles era, fans can expect his upcoming album to be the most authentic iteration of the pop star yet.
If you haven’t already broken the replay button, you can listen to “Lights Up” here.