On April 1, fans across the world caught their first glimpse — or, more accurately, listen — into Harry Styles’ house. No, this isn’t an April Fools’ joke. Much to everyone’s elation, the first day of April marked the debut of “As It Was,” the lead single off of Styles’ widely anticipated upcoming album, Harry’s House.
Set to be released May 20, Harry’s House marks the third solo venture for the boy-band heartthrob turned successful pop sensation. Both the album’s title and cover art, which displays a pensive Styles standing on the ceiling of an upended living room, suggest that the artist is homeward bound, or perhaps already arriving at his intended destination. Yet, “As It Was” sees Styles making an intriguing departure from previous works as he welcomes listeners into a new era.
In lieu of the ’70s soft rock and singer-songwriter influences integrated into his past two studio albums, Styles opts for a synth-driven number reminiscent of the ’80s. “Come on, Harry, we wanna say goodnight to you!” a child’s voice cries out as the song begins, immediately followed by an effervescent synth hook and an almost hurried drum beat. Together, these playful opening elements foreground the light, ebullient musicality that permeates the entire track.
Styles’ bittersweet lyrics, however, tell a different story. Under the guise of upbeat instrumentals, “As It Was” takes a melancholy turn as the artist poignantly muses on impermanence and loneliness. The chorus features beautifully layered vocals and an ever-present synth pulse, over which Styles confesses, “In this world, it’s just us/ You know it’s not the same as it was.” Disrupting the intimacy established in the chorus’s initial line, Styles acknowledges changing times with a tone of sorrow.
The track’s second verse elaborates on Styles’ personal struggles: “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?’ ” This emotional plea evokes the image of a completely isolated Styles, not unlike his album cover. As he transitions into the bridge, Styles switches from his piercing trademark vocals into something closer to a rushed murmur. He grapples with his innermost repressed emotions, effectively becoming even more exposed.
With its naked lyricism and resonant vocals, “As It Was” is by no means generic chart-topping fodder. In the absence of these elements, nevertheless, the track could easily be lost in the current tidal wave of retro-inspired indie pop songs performed by artists such as Dayglow, Wallows and COIN.
The instrumentation is further weakened by the abrupt introduction of radiant bells during the bridge. Perhaps intended as a segue from the melancholy introductory verses to a jubilant closing, these distracting chimes come across more like the background instrumentals of a Christmas carol. Although “As It Was” spotlights Styles in one of his most vulnerable moments lyrically, the song’s overall instrumentals prevent it from becoming a patented Styles classic.
From the soaring “Sign of the Times” to the psychedelic “Lights Up,” Styles is no stranger to making powerful statements with his lead singles. With “As It Was,” Styles opens a new door, revealing a reflective and refreshing approach to introducing an album. Like any good host, Styles leaves his audiences satisfied and perhaps even more excited to explore the rest of Harry’s House.