Harry Styles “Lights Up” Discussions of Identity and Sexuality


Harry Style’s new single inspired discussion on identity and sexuality. (Courtesy of Facebook)

A guitar begins to strum a soft melody and you think you are about to hear a song that could have been written by Shawn Mendes. However, then the bass drops and a synth and low drum are added to the beat, accompanied by a voice that could be no other than Harry Styles. His signature voice is slightly electronically altered. It sounds hazy, as if you are listening to him through the fuzzy speaker in an empty public bathroom.

“Lights Up,” Styles’ new single, keeps you in this trance for the entirety of the song. Fans have been waiting for Styles to release new music since his highly successful first solo album “Harry Styles.”

Styles’ solo debut was a mix of soft acoustics and powerful rock. Many compared him to Mick Jagger, but I disagree. Styles’ sound was not eccentric and in your face the way Jagger commands his listeners. He most definitely commands every song like a true rockstar, but his smooth voice subtly entrances a crowd while it is Jagger’s powerful drawl that grips you.

However, Styles is channeling Jagger in other ways. Jagger notoriously excessively used drugs and Styles has recently been experimenting with substances. In Styles’ Rolling Stone profile, he admits to using psychedelics and the “Lights Up” music video is clearly influenced by these experiences. As sweaty bodies push and pull at Styles you feel as though you have been transported into a Parisian club where you are among the intoxicated crowd surrounding Styles. Other scenes where Styles hangs above his reflection in the river also make you question your senses when he, or the reflection, seems to glitch like a hologram then disappear.

Many have also interpreted the song and video to reflect Harry Styles “coming out” because men and women touch him. His Rolling Stone profile addresses how “He’s dated women throughout his life as a public figure, yet he has consistently refused to put any kind of label on his sexuality.” The video is a confirmation of Styles not only exploring his sexuality, but what he finds as he looks deeper within himself.

Images in the video, such as Styles riding on the back of a motorcycle with no destination, produce an aura of melancholy. This song and video are just a taste of an album that, Styles says in his Rolling Stone profile, is about “sex and feeling sad.” You feel this as he sings “All the lights couldn’t put out the dark/Runnin’ through my heart/Lights up and they know who you are/Know who you are/Do you know who you are?” Styles feels there is no getting out of his depressed state. He describes the feeling of turning the lights on after sex and realizing that while this individual knows you in an intimate way, you do not know yourself.  Styles is conflicted and questioning himself despite partners and the public audience’s desire to label his sexuality and identity.

This kind of music may seem surprising to those who will forever associate Styles with One Direction, and its popularity doubly shocking. The single was released with almost zero promotion besides posts saying “Lights Up” that did not say anything about a single being released. The YouTube video currently has over 28 million views.

The song and video speak for themselves, and Styles’ loyal fan base has matured with him for style changes post-One Direction. Styles appeals to new-age alternative while remaining a heartthrob and channeling his inner rockstar brought out in his debut album.

Styles is set to host and be the musical guest for “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) on Nov. 16. Such a sudden comeback and the mystery surrounding it has raised the anticipation amongst fans for Styles’ new album. As I said, the teenage girls who once loved Styles are now young women.

These women are no longer listening to pop tunes about young love. They themselves are also exploring their sexuality and relate to Styles. His music appeals to them because it is the same voice now singing about topics relevant to them at this stage in their life. These women are ready for what is to follow “Lights Up,” and I am as well.

The album should live up to the hype if like “Lights Up” the album ambiguously falls under multiple genres and reveals to us subtly and answers what we all want to know — what is going through Harry Styles’ mind.