Harry Styles’s “Lights Up” marks a two year gap between the releases of his last two singles. His presence never evaded the public eye, but the tribulations and subtleties of his personal life was never at the forefront. He coasts along in interviews with a sheer cheeky charm that never conveys too much and seldom, if ever, brands the gossip magazines you find at the grocery store. An artist to his very core, he captivates us in grand, eye-catching statements. Blooming from the teen heartthrob image of One Direction, he shed the wrapping but wore the attention on his sleeves. These were the sheer Gucci sleeves he co-hosted the Met Gala with this summer, the unrecognizable fervor he brought to the role of British soldier Alex in Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” the melodramatic, spiraling six minute lucid dream of his 2017 single “Sign of the Times.”
“Lights Up” is a move no different. Clocking in at less than three minutes long, it is literally half of “Sign of the Times.” The ’70s-inspired rock balladry makes way for a soulful airiness, a melange of synth, guitar, keys and choir music that sparkle with sweat. The lyrics pour out in abstracts, “I’m sorry by the way / Never coming around / Be so sweet if things just stayed the same,” a seemingly hazy cliche. But with a release on National Coming Out Day, “Lights up and they know who you are / Do you know who you are?” plays out a grander proclamation.
Regardless of whether the fan speculations hold true, Styles furthers the idea of a coming-out statement in the “Lights Up” music video. No formal narrative or symbol congeals the overall plot; instead, scattered glimpses of a glimmering, sweaty Harry Styles grace the screen. Set completely in the dark, it shines in bursts of green, red and white lights that alternate, flash and illuminate Styles’s journey throughout the video. The images feels otherworldly as Styles traverses through them effortlessly. At the very focal point, he is entangled within a throng of sensuous admirers of all genders. They glisten under a pale neon-green light, pressing their bare, sweaty bodies against Styles’s as he sings. Other images fill in gaps between this scene, namely one of Styles seated back-to-back on a motorcycle with an anonymous chauffeur and one of him partially submerged in water in saturated red light while wearing a sequined suit, reflected over a version of himself in boxer shorts.
The significance behind these images and the video are dubious, but they are imbued in an ether of sensuality. They oscillate between a desire for exploration and a visible frustration on Styles’s face in some cuts, culminating to an unconventional, almost strange aura as we struggle to pinpoint the ramifications of Styles’s situation. But for a song that questions if you know who you are, such imagery seems appropriate.