Thursday, October 17th, 2019

Harry Styles – Lights Up

If Harry puts his Lights Up, maybe he can change the world?


Kayla Beardslee: When I say, What the hell is this structure?, I mean it in both a complimentary and a confused way. On one hand, it’s nice that Styles is experimenting beyond the traditional pop song structure, but on the other, “Lights Up” ends after a single chorus, barely even establishing itself as worthy of attention. Maybe it’ll sound better in the context of the album (an argument I’m not particularly fond of), but releasing a slightly muddled, interlude-like creation as a lead single is a risky move. The production is fine (glad to see Jeff Bhasker get a new production credit), but my real quibble is with the lyrics, which are, frankly, a mess. Maybe they’re trying to say something personal, but there are absolutely no specific images here, only meaningless abstractions. “What do you mean?,” “I’m sorry by the way,” “Can’t you see?”: we never learn what these lines are actually referencing, what conversation or larger topic they’re responding to. Styles just throws them out like they’re important — he’s singing these lines, so they must be, right? — but never bothers to elaborate. And let’s talk about the central light/dark conceit. The prechorus says, “All the lights couldn’t put out the dark / Running through my heart,” so the idea is that there’s a darkness inside Styles that isn’t affected by the light. But the chorus switches to him stepping into the light, shining, and saying “I’m not ever going back,” so I guess the dark has been put out and that first part was an irrelevant lie and oh my god what’s even the point of all this hype if the music can’t communicate anything of substance.

Isabel Cole: Remember how Leonard DiCaprio used to be like, I mean, yes, super pretty, but also a gifted young actor with an unteachable movie star charisma and a wonderful sincerity that brought real feeling even to schlock like Titanic, only it was not enough for him to be rich and beautiful and famous and actually, in fact, extremely good at his craft, he decided he needed to be, like,serious, he needed to earn the respect of the joyless mediocrity-lovers of the Academy, he had to prove himself as An Artist as defined by perhaps the least imaginative deliberative body in the performing arts, and now he hasn’t given a good performance since 2002 because no matter how committed his choices and no matter how thoughtful his physicality, he is incapable of convincing because you can always see the thinking behind the acting, you can’t ever believe he is anyone other than a man desperately committed to embodying his own self-seriousness which is leaking off him so potently you wonder if his castmates can smell it on set? Anyway, “All the lights couldn’t put out the dark running through my heart” is a pretty great line, so it’s too bad that this song sucks.

Alfred Soto: A hashtag in search of a song, a yearning in search of an object, messianic in a godless world, strummy without sincerity, “Lights Up” incarnates 2019. But I light a candle for another “Fireproof” and “No Control.”

Alex Clifton: Harry certainly isn’t afraid to take risks. He’s got a bit of an oddball swing to his singles–making his solo debut track about childbirth was a creative move. “Lights Out” sounds like nothing on the radio currently which is pretty awesome; I love the tonal shift in the chorus that’s reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” in particular as that is a rare move in pop music. I would love to see Harry go full on avant-garde on this album with hints of Elton and Bowie and judging by this single, he is on his way there.

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: For all of the think-pieces that “Lights Up” is getting for its sultry music video and Harry Styles’s statements (or lack thereof) regarding his sexuality, it’s easy to forget what this song even sounds like: it’s a slice of gourmet vanilla cake, light and airy, rich in texture, basic but tasty. Lyrically, it’s effective if unambitious, perfectly what Harry described in own words, “It’s all about having sex and feeling sad.”

Katherine St Asaph: All the fancy production styles Styles pulls out of his voluminous costumes — the “Rock With You” chords in the chorus, the gospel-ish backing vocals, the pummeling percussion breaks — and all the glomming-on by Rolling Stone can’t disguise the fact that this is a slightly gussied-up Shawn Mendes or OneRepublic song. Between this and the Niall song, One Direction’s alumni seem to have a taste for the blandest of the band’s old meat-and-potatoes rock influences.

Claire Biddles: No fan of Harry Styles was surprised when, instead of trailing the imminent sort-of-surprise release of his new single on social media, he popped up in the replies of a fan on Twitter, telling her to spend her money on therapy instead of tickets to his next tour. “I’ll wait for you,” he promised. Like therapy, Harry Styles exists to reflect our selves back at us; a reassuring presence that can be whoever we need him to be. “Lights Up” is a good song, but that matters less than the comfort and affirmation of the open question at its heart. “Do you know who you are?” Harry asks us — as always centring our needs, giving us space, listening rather than waiting to speak. The best pop stars, the best crushes, aid our self-actualisation. Harry Styles is the perfect pop star, the perfect crush, because he understands this dynamic better than anyone else — an uncomplicated delivery system for our multitudinous desires and selves. 

Stephen Eisermann: What a breathtaking declaration this is. The chaotic production are wrapped perfectly by Harry’s warm vocals, and it all builds to that wonderful climax of a bridge where we meet Harry. He introduces us on his terms, using this song’s video and the release date (yes, releasing on National Coming Out Day is quite the stunt) to really drive home the message, but man if this doesn’t feel like some kind of big event. There are so many arguments that coming out shouldn’t be an event, but man if this isn’t an argument that it should be.

Elisabeth Sanders: Rock and roll is no longer the counterculture, and hasn’t been for decades. Most of us know this, I think–that a genre that was scandalous catharsis more than half a century ago is now a bastion of old-school respectability cloaked in nothing but the thin aesthetics of its long-gone indecorousness. And so, in a way, it’s the perfect thing to turn to if you’re, say, a former boy-band pop idol trying to shrug off the casual disdain that a certain kind of modern pop evokes. If you want patriarchal legitimacy, sour cream and onion flavor, but you never want to have to admit it.This is not to take some ultracontrarian edgelord view that the only truly authentic thing is commercially-viable stadium pop, because at least it’s honest, but to say merely this: everybody’s trying to signify something, no matter what. Even the painfully earnest.Which brings us past the folk-rock village of Harry’s 2017 self-titled debut, around-about the gorgeously flamboyant suits and the Met Ball hosting gig, through the Rolling Stone interviews and carefully-minimal social media presence, to Lights Up. And it’s… fine. It’s certainly not a bad song, but it is one that I forgot the tune of immediately after hearing. Frankly, I still can’t remember it even now, and I listened to it for the dozenth time a few seconds ago. It’s just pop enough to be pop, just ponderous enough to not really be THAT kind of pop. It’s got some fun spangly bits. It’s probably got a lot of noises made by real instruments in it. And, most notably, it’s got a fantastic, evocative, gay as hell video, which almost successfully conceals the fact that the song itself is playing it safe as midcentury, tastefully-appointed houses. And I guess all this makes me kind of wonder: Harry, DO you know who you are?

Reader average: [4.5] (6 votes)

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4 Responses to “Harry Styles – Lights Up”

  1. The new Niall track, though. Will you be reviewing it?

  2. Yes! Keep an eye on this space next week

  3. “Lost Stars” by Keira Knightley is, IMO, the better version of this song.

  4. Found out that Jeff Bhasker worked on other tracks on Fine Line but not this one as I said in my review, wanted to put it in the comments for the sake of transparency (Tyler Johnson and Kid Harpoon produced Lights Up). Should not have trusted the Genius credits only a few days after release, my bad.