Home. It’s a place that – as we’ve seen over the last couple of years – encourages you to do your deepest reflections. A sanctuary filled with souvenirs of life outside its four walls; a residential museum to memories. The title of Harry Styles’ new album – ‘Harry’s House’, to be released May 20 – suggests retreating to his own digs could play a part of the record’s concept, while ‘As It Was’, our first taste of it, offers up both contemplation and a shunning of self-examination.
The British pop star’s first piece of new music since his 2019 album ‘Fine Line’, the ‘80s synth-pop single depicts running from the past and battling with change. It’s bittersweet – Styles shutting down attempts to process those old times with bouts of melancholy (“I don’t wanna talk about the way that it was”). Yet, as the track reaches a crescendo filled with bright tubular bells, a subtle euphoria creeps in. “You know it’s not the same as it was,” he sings repeatedly as the track wraps up but, while previous iterations of the line might have felt desolate, now they’re washed with hints of possibility and optimism.
In the video, this is the moment where the singer launches into giddy theatre kid-style dancing around London’s Barbican, the previously pensive, pained expressions on his face replaced by a broad, relief-filled grin. Moments earlier in the visuals, which were directed by Ukranian director Tanu Muino, Styles and a partner lie on boards daubed in blue, pink, red and black, their hands intertwined. As the boards start to pull apart and they lose their grip on each other, another canvas appears beneath them – one waiting for its lines to be filled in with the colour of a fresh start.
Mirroring the process of working through your personal situations, ‘As It Was’ goes on a journey – musically, lyrically and visually. It takes us from the depths of despair and self-medication (“Harry, you’re no good alone / Why are you sitting at home on the floor? / What kind of pills are you on?”) to embark on new beginnings, even if they are ones still accompanied by the peaks and troughs of life. “Leave America – two kids follow her / I don’t wanna talk about who’s doing it first,” Styles sings in a semi-spoken word bridge, a possible reference to the gossip frenzy that surrounded the news of his relationship with actor/director Olivia Wilde.
It also continues the star’s journey as a solo artist, finding him not a million miles away from where ‘Fine Line’ left off, but hardly retreading old ground. That last album took him from the grandiose but radio-friendly rock balladry of his self-titled 2017 debut to firmly finding his footing as a superstar soloist. ‘As It Was’ hints that this new era and third record will see him dancing to even greater heights on his path, cementing his position as one of the current pop landscapes’ best icons – at home or outside of his comfort zone.