Well over a year has passed since Harry Styles’ excellent debut. The One Direction alum and Dunkirk star impressed critics and fans with his sprawling rock/pop album. Between touring the world and turning down the role of Prince Eric in the live action remake of The Little Mermaid, Harry has been silent on the music front. That all changed today (Oct. 11) with the release of the lead single for his sophomore album, “Lights Up.”
Harry’s debut single, “Sign of the Times” was a six-minute drum-laden and guitar smashing epic. On “Lights Up” Harry draws less from classic rock and more from modern indie rock. Shimmering harmonies and fluttery falsetto anchor the track while a catchy guitar riff provides the foundation for the verses. “Lights Up” sounds like a standard pop song until the chorus hits. The song switches into a sinister sing-songy section that sounds like a cross between Lana Del Rey and David Bowie. The structure of “Lights Up” is by far the most interesting part of the song. The change in tempo seems to signal “all the lights couldn’t put out the dark” as the pre-chorus, but in fact, it’s actually the main chorus. The catchiest part of the song (the “shine!” refrain) is structurally the bridge, but feels like it could be a chorus as well. All of this sounds a bit confusing, but it works incredibly well. The main reason why this sort of risk pays off is that Harry has been steadfast is his artistic identity from the beginning of his solo career, and it shows in the music and visuals. Kid Harpoon, Tyler Johnson, and Harry Styles have written one of the most interesting pop songs of the year. “Lights Up” challenges the traditional structure of pop songs while also being both introspective and triumphant.