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Why Harry Styles’ “Lights Up” Is Sociologically Important

On October 11th, 2019, solo artist Harry Styles released “Lights Up,” his first single since his premier, full-length, self-titled album in 2017. Though this is Styles’ first release in two years, he has been creatively engaged since 2010. 

Styles first came into the public eye during The X Factor in 2011, a UK-based musical TV show. Styles competed in The X Factor in a band of combined solo-applicants. Although the group, One Direction, received third place, their placement did not halt their progression. 

This 5-piece boy band skyrocketed to fame and sold-out stadiums during four world tours from 2012 through 2016. At the end of their ultimate tour, Made in the A.M., the group chose not to renew contracts with their label. Since their split, each artist has released their own records. 

Usually a tarnish to artists’ reputations, the split of globally-iconic One Direction did little to slow the cultural grasp upon former members. Particularly in Harry Styles’ case, social engagement with former One Direction members has remained.

Styles’ artistic progression reflects the generation that has been following him since the beginning. Whereas lyrical themes tackled by One Direction included those typical to boy bands such as dating and friendship, Styles’ discography has matured. In 2017, tracks from Styles’ album discussed alcohol, lust, and romance.

One Direction tickets ran for over $100 USD in 2016, and they had a handful of stadium tours. They won around a dozen awards between the US and UK. In contrast, Styles’ own  album reached number 1 on the charts in the US, UK, and Australia.

While boy bands are most notably known to sway generations of music-listening young folks— specifically those identifying as straight, cisgender women— Styles’ album reached audiences beyond that which he engaged with during his years in One Direction. With a newfound musical sound of indie and soft rock, Styles’ art prompted dads to listen.

However, Harry Styles’ music didn’t “get good” when he left One Direction, his musical style changed to fit the tastes of those who critique music credibly. 

If you were ever a fan of One Direction or a culturally similar music group, you would understand the social backlash for enjoying their music. After all, it’s boy band pop, and music enjoyed by mostly young women is bad and unimportant. After all, what makes bad music, anyway? Is it fair to disregard the immense amount of cultural impact One Direction and their fanbase of mostly young women had on the music industry? 

If Harry Styles’ story says anything, it’s that young women hold a significant impact on the music industry. Boy band art may not be rhythmically brilliant or lyrically progressive, but it does bring young people together joyously.

Though album Harry Styles leaned hard into edgy soft rock, his upcoming release is up in the air. The first single released “Lights Up” combines music genres. Starting with an acoustic guitar before implementing classical piano, the pop track builds to add what sounds like a church choir halfway in. Lyrics read:


 “All the lights couldn’t put out the dark 

Running through my heart 

Lights off and they know who you are 

Do you know who you are?”


It’s a first single, of course, it’s going to be one of the more pop-leaning tracks on his upcoming record; however, is his music all of a sudden “bad” if the rest of the album is leans pop? Think about who decides what music is good. Listen to what your heart loves. 


Your heart probably loves Harry Styles.


Founder and former Campus Correspondent for the Her Campus chapter at Saint Louis University. Graduating in May 2020 with degrees in Public Health and Women's and Gender Studies. Committed to learning about and spreading awareness for a more self-aware public health field, intersectional feminism, and college radio. Retweet this bio and enter a drawing for a free smartphone!
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