Harry Styles: “Lights Up”
Say this for Harry Styles, he’s nothing if not a talented showman, the kind who titles his first single since 2017’s self-titled solo album “Lights Up” and releases it on National Coming Out Day. Styles is no stranger to statement lead singles: He introduced his debut album Harry Styles with “Sign of the Times,” a nearly six-minute-long piece of feathery, melodramatic rock balladry. “Lights Up” is only a little less over-the-top, layering synth, guitars, keys, drums, chunky bass, and a small choir of backup singers until the finished product begins to glisten with sweat. With its winding, psychedelic pre-chorus, the song seems designed to wriggle through the strictures of pop songwriting. It’s less than three minutes but its strangeness makes it feel longer.
“Lights Up” also seems poised to divide those who feel that the best pop songs should speak directly to the moment, and those who think they ought to stand alone, little worlds unto themselves. In isolation, lines like “Never coming back down/Can’t you see/I could, but wouldn’t stay” scan as banal Noel Gallagher-style acid trip nonsense. But on a day of LGBTQ visibility, “Lights up and they know who you are/Do you know who you are?” sound like a rallying cry. By contrast, the song’s video takes place mostly in the dark, where Styles’ bare chest is caressed by a throng of adoring people, bared to the night sky while he rides on the back of a motorcycle, and, in one particularly odd moment, mirrored as his own sequin-suited body floats above a second body wearing only a pair of boxer shorts. It’s hard to know what the show is—just that Styles is the man putting it on.