Lights Up
Harry Styles continues themes of vulnerability and confession in his new single, "Lights Up." (Illustration by Simon Wang, Case Western Reserve University)

Mysterious billboards with the phrase, “Do You Know Who You Are?” began popping up in different cities around the world. While the posters were simple and did not have Harry Styles written on them, it was clear to see that they were linked to the British singer due to the acronym “TPWK,” Treat People with Kindness, printed on the bottom of them.

With little warning, singer-songwriter Harry Styles breaks his silence in the music industry by dropping his new hit single, “Lights Up.” This song introduces fans to a new side of Styles and provides a good indication of what the central theme of his album is going to be.

Styles took the music scene by storm once he was discovered by Simon Cowell on the British reality show, “The X Factor” in 2010. He was put into the boy band One Direction, which became an international sensation. The band released five albums before breaking up and venturing off into their solo careers; once they disbanded, each member took on their different musical styles.

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Thank you @rollingstone

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Styles himself ventured away from pop and started experimenting with a variety of different genres. He released his first self-titled album in 2017, which featured massive hits such as “Sign of the Times” and “Kiwi.” The album had a relatively soft-rock and pop-rock sound.

Styles embarked on a world tour following the release of his album. Once the tour concluded, he announced his break from music in 2018. While fans were speculating his return to music would be soon, they weren’t anticipating the release of “Lights Up.”

“Lights Up” is an indie pop hit that spreads a message of finding who you are, coming to terms with it and finally expressing it. The first verse touches on coming to terms with who you are. Lyrics such as, “What do you mean? / I’m sorry by the way / Never coming back down” hint at the idea that Styles is changing, and he isn’t going to go back.

This verse ends with the phrase, “It’d be so sweet if things just stayed the same.” This hints at the idea that some people are going to be upset about what is to come. However, he is not letting them hold him back.

The song then goes into the chorus, which references learning to accept who you are and starting to embrace it. The line, “All the lights couldn’t put out the dark,” emphasize that no matter how many times he tries to deny who he is, he won’t be fully happy until he accepts himself.

Finally, the bridge focuses on expressing who you are to the outside world. The word “shine” is repeated multiple times in this part of the song, which emphasizes the idea that Styles is going to start expressing who he is to his fans. The song hints at the artist coming to terms with who he is but also challenges listeners to look deep within themselves.

The “Lights Up” music video showcases a side of the artist that fans had not seen before. The video has a ‘70s rock theme and showcases three central themes through four different scenes. The first theme is accepting your sexual orientation. At first, it appears that Styles is quite distant from the crowd, but as the video continues, Styles ends up going deeper and deeper into the group.

These shots are then separated by what gender he is surrounded by. In a few shots, he is only surrounded by men while in others he is only surrounded by women. There are also a few shots where he is surrounded by both. This part of the video also has a sexual undertone, which is why it could be hinting at coming to terms with one’s sexuality. Whether it be Styles’ sexuality or sexuality in general, these scenes of the video contribute to the message of figuring out and accepting who you are.

The second theme is freedom. The music video features shots of Styles riding on the back of a motorcycle. He has a carefree expression, and it seems like he does not have any certain destination. This part of the video symbolizes going with the flow and letting go of any personal expectations you or other people may have. It contributes to the theme of freedom because it encourages viewers to let go of outside influences and free themselves from anything holding them back from expressing who they are.

Lastly, the third theme is loneliness. There are two scenes of Styles alone in a house and on a beach. In these scenes, he is distressed and fighting an inner battle of accepting or running away from who he is. These scenes are also where he is seen singing the first verse and parts of the bridge.

While the release of “Lights Up” caught fans off guard, there were a few indications that Styles was making his return to the music industry. Following the billboards popping up, a website started circulating that caught the attention of fans. The website, doyouknowwhoyouare.com, was launched to promote Harry Styles’ return to music and send a reminder out to fans to continue to treat people with kindness.

The phrase “Treat People with Kindness” is one of Styles’ iconic statements. It is printed on a lot of his merch and was the overall message of his last tour. His new website combines this message with a new one centered around being proud of who you are. The site is fairly simple, with only one option.

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Madrid, Live On Tour.

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Once fans enter the site they are prompted to type in their name to find out “who they are.” After pressing enter, messages from Styles, complimenting the viewer, pop up on the screen. The message ends with the acronym “TPWK,” followed by “-H,” which is the singer’s iconic closing.

The release date for Styles’ new album still has not been announced. However, it is safe to assume that Styles’ new album, and potential tour, is going to be centered around finding out who you are and learning to accept yourself rather than running or hiding. Along with this, he will most likely continue to explore more of the indie-pop genre and potentially add some more rock-based songs.

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