Harry Styles ‘As It Was’: Pop’s positivity prince finds solace in the sounds of yesteryear 

For this week’s Subtweets, Jenessa Williams goes on a fan discourse deep-dive to unpick the best parts of Harry Styles' comeback, ‘As It Was’

Advertisement

If anything was truly going to make indie sleaze fetch again, it was Harry Styles. For weeks if not months, the so-called revival appears to have become a ‘thing’ only through nostalgic social media posts and wistful think-pieces. But on our first glimpse inside ‘Harry’s House’, things appear to be changing. At 28 years of age, Styles has returned to his teenage bedroom as the first room of his home tour, holding the potential to truly re-mainstream Californian college indie with it’s double-polo collar well and truly popped. 

Written by Styles, Thomas Hull (00’s indie legend Kid Harpoon) and Tyler Johnson (the same wonder trio that gave us ‘Watermelon Sugar’ ‘Golden’ and more), ‘As It Was’ would have fit comfortable on your 4GB iPod mini. There are shades of The Drums, Phoenix, Comedown Machine-era ‘The Strokes’, even a riff on a little bit of Jack and Meg White energy in the spinning wheel scenes (OK, that might be a little bit of a stretch on our part). It is the sound of Hollister changing rooms and Coachella hotline hold music, and it’s pretty glorious, majestic in an understated, Vampire Weekend kind of way. It’s undeniably pop, but it feels like it has moved along his rock’n’roll timeline; a push away from the 70s inspired of ‘Harry Styles’ and ‘‘Fine Line’ era into something more retro-modern than vintage.

As expected, fans online are lapping it up. In 10 overnight hours, it has secured 12 million YouTube views. There’s lots that deserves a rewatch; the glittery circus one-piece, the vistas of brutalist London, that twirly whirly pool scene as he self-chides; “Answer the phone / ‘Harry, you’re no good alone / Why are you sitting at home on the floor? / What kind of pills are you on?”. As the lyrics start to unpeel themselves with repeat listens, you realise that the perky melody conceals a distinctly vulnerable lyricism. This approach is not necessarily new for him (“From the Dining Room’ hive will know), but given all the shiny exciting things going on in his life, it’s a moment of wall-breaking that fans maybe weren’t expecting this time around. He’s been a busy Hollywood sensation; filming ‘My Policeman’, dropping his own beauty line, prepping a world tour, and living in LA. His accent may have tweaked transatlantic in certain settings, but he’s still obviously invested in keeping things real. 

https://vm.tiktok.com/ZML9Qc1YD/
https://vm.tiktok.com/ZML9Q7JDK/

Fans have theorised that the ‘As It Was’ chorus might be Styles’ version of the classic fame frustration trope, pining for his day ones; “In this world, it’s just us / You know it’s not the same as it was.” Given recent ‘gatekeep Harry Styles’ discourse on TikTok, it’s distinctly possible that this is an overly specific reading. Much more likely is that it is about a great many things at once; not least a nod to the pressures of a high-profile relationship, the switch that flicks when you go from dating privately to being subject of Hollywood news reporters always clamouring for the inte on the next romantic milestone: “Goin’ home, get ahead, light speed internet/ I don’t wanna talk about the way that it was/ Leave America, two kids, follow her/ I don’t wanna talk about who’s doing it first.” Nonetheless, in the morning’s press for the single, he did explain that the love of his fans has allowed him the freedom to create an album that feels “by you and for you”, so it is still possible that a reflection on fandom is at least part of ‘As It Was’, or a piece of other album tracks still to come. 

In terms of the seeds it plants for ‘Harry’s House’, ‘As It Was’ isn’t a full room tour. It’s likely that there will be love songs and self-care songs and even sex songs, but we also knows that he is deeply private about such matters, always writing in the abstract. Via the account ‘@youarehome’, he has been teasing what seem to be choice lyrics, short mantras of kindness that encourage us to return to childlike pursuits in the hope of finding calm. The aesthetic tallies up with the introduction of ‘As It Was’; his goddaughter Ruby Winston clamouring “Come on, Harry, we want to say goodnight to you!”. It’s a cute and playful hook, but it also seems to serve as a reminder of role reversal; Styles is not a kid anymore, but a caregiver. He is learning to grow up, to accept that things are changing, but is also content to keep colouring in the flowers, filling in the gaps of connectivity that feature in the black-and-white chasm of one of the video’s core scenes. Much like ‘Treat People With Kindness’, he appears to be nodding to ideas of camaraderie and community, themes that are central to his brand. When you realise that the music video was filmed by esteemed Ukrainian director Tanu Muino during the first days of Russian invasion, the whole shoot becomes even more poignant, an outpouring of love and resilience in the face of complicated emotion. 

The beauty of Styles best work is that it often ponders vagueness, leaving room for both fan analysis and a satisfying penny drop moment when it all comes together. There is high chance that every one of the above readings are complete nonsense, undermined totally by whatever is to come next. At just two minutes 47 seconds, one suspects that ‘As It Was’ is not the highlight of ‘Harry’s House’, but rather a teaser, an appetite-wetter that cracks open a door and allows only a peek. By looking backwards into sunshine indie, he finds the sense of nostalgic melancholy that many of us feel about growing up, without invalidating any of the sonic pleasures that have made him such an uplifting force in modern pop. It was a fine line to toe, but as always, he’s made it look effortless.