Harry Styles gets free of “As It Was”: You might try it

At 28, Harry Styles has plenty of time to become the most influential person on the planet. Already, people in India argue whether his Vogue cover in a dress (above) is appropriate — you can buy a copy for $300 on Ebay, in case you missed it. No matter where he shows up these days, he will probably be prominently featured in the photo history. His stint at modeling for the rebranded Gucci catapulted him into a fashion icon whose willingness to play in public makes him hard not to look at. People and GQ have both collected his best fashion moments for you.

After Christopher Nolan cast Styles in Dunkirk in 2017 he admitted he was unaware that Harry was so famous – and now worth over $100 million. Nolan just turned 52, so you also might be too old to be fully aware of the singer, songwriter, actor, activist, and fashionista. But you might benefit from getting to know him. I think his latest hit song “As It Was” is worth pondering.

“As It Was” was released on April 1 and spent 10 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. It is the lead single of the Album Harry’s House.  Like his fashion sense, the lyrics are more about ambiguous impressions than direct statements.  The first impression you get comes from Styles’ now-five-year-old goddaughter, Ruby Winston,  introducing the song with, “Come on Harry, we want to say goodnight to you.” Harry impresses me as pretty clean. He’s notorious for not partying on tour because it diminishes the energy he needs for his manic performances.  I hope he and Ruby are spreading kindness. At least I felt sincerely invited into Harry’s House  — I imagine him at the door wearing one of his signature sweater vests (my only fashion connection to him).

Ambiguity is closely seconded by melancholic nostalgia these days as the most popular post-pandemic outlooks in art and daily relationships. Harry is looking around his house, like your probably are, wondering what happened to his life.

After mask mandates were recently reinstated in some places, I heard people groan about never getting over the virus crisis. We groan about children who don’t have memories of a time before pandemic procedures and caution. We groan about losing a world in which we could feel safe from gunfire and free from climate-change induced deluge or drought. Most Christians are so deeply in bed with capitalism that they can’t imagine what to say about the mess we are in. But Harry is working on it. He asks, “What used to be in the house? What has changed? Who am I now?”

Spinning

An Apple Music interview with Styles suggests “As It Was” is about a metamorphosis that occurred during the pandemic. As he was forced to slow down and he wasn’t as wrapped up in his music performances, he remembered he was also a friend, a brother, and a son. Even more he realized, “Everything that happened in the pandemic, it’s just never going to be the same as before. All of the things happening in the world, it’s so obvious that it’s just not going to be the same. You can’t go backward, whether that’s us as a people or me in my personal life or any of those things.”

Holdin’ me back
Gravity’s holdin’ me back
I want you to hold out the palm of your hand
Why don’t we leave it at that?
Nothin’ to say
When everything gets in the way
Seems you cannot be replaced
And I’m the one who will stay, oh

In this world, it’s just us
You know it’s not the same as it was
In this world, it’s just us
You know it’s not the same as it was
As it was, as it was
You know it’s not the same

The video gives more than an impression that things are spinning and what will remain is uncertain. All we have, really, is us. That sentiment is so popular that Jesus followers  despair over whether they can even talk anymore about not being “just us” in the universe. Humankind has a special relationship with their Creator which is elemental to making us an “us.” But has Jesus spun off the wheel of time?

Regardless, things are changing. Harry is pushing some of that change. He is an influential advocate for gender assumptions to “not be the same as it was.” In a 2022 interview with Better Homes and Gardens (I told you he was everywhere), Styles objected to the expectation he should publicly label his sexual orientation as “outdated.” (I’ve been on his wavelength for a long time). He said, “I’ve been really open with it with my friends, but that’s my personal experience; it’s mine,” and “the whole point of where we should be heading, which is toward accepting everybody and being more open, is that it doesn’t matter, and it’s about not having to label everything, not having to clarify what boxes you’re checking.” Meanwhile, whole denominations are splitting up over getting the labels right.

Trauma

Styles’ parents divorced when he was seven. He claims to have had a good childhood with supportive parents. But his lyrics suggest he’s still working out his attachment issues.  Again, the lyric has just enough personal-sounding elements to make it relatable for all of us — feeling alone, self-destructive behavior, an absent father, a broken marriage. Someplace in our family systems, all those things probably exist and make an impact.

Answer the phone
“Harry, you’re no good alone
Why are you sittin’ at home on the floor?
What kind of pills are you on?”
Ringin’ the bell
And nobody’s comin’ to help
Your daddy lives by himself
He just wants to know that you’re well, oh

Chorus

I’ve been pondering the person who questioned me last week when I was generalizing from the people I had talked to: “You mainly see people who are traumatized, right?” They had a point. I hope I don’t assume everyone is in trouble just because I hear about troubles every day! — so don’t let me mislabel you. But I still think many of us are “sittin’ at home on the floor” and many of us are spinning. I’ve talked to many Christian leaders this year, and I know they resemble that impression. Only they are not getting checked up on, they are being criticized and cast off.

Styles has been pondering how to have a healthy life in this mess. In October 2019, teaser posters for his world tour concerts included the phrase “Do you know who you are?” and the acronym “TPWK” (later made into a song). To mark World Mental Health Day, Styles launched a website bot called “Do You Know Who You Are?” that gives users positive randomised messages using words such as “bright, determined, loving,” and “wonderful,” and ending with “TPWK. LOVE, H”

Intimacy issues

In an interview with The Guardian in 2019, Styles said “If a song’s about someone, is that fine? Or is that gonna get annoying for them, if people try to decipher it?” He has no intention of being normal. But he would like to be normal. He’s the master of fame culture on most platforms but he would like to be private. So “Do you know who you are?” must be an important question. And “Will you every have a lasting relationship?” must be a close second. Many of his fans think his former girlfriend,  Olivia Wilde, inspired the following part of “As It Was.” Wilde, ten years older than Harry, has two children.

Go home, get ahead, light-speed internet
I don’t wanna talk about the way that it was
Leave America, two kids follow her
I don’t wanna talk about who’s doin’ it first

As it was
You know it’s not the same as it was
As it was, as it was

I think one of the reasons Harry Styles is so popular is because his songs speak to everyday circumstances. His lines are ambiguous in fact but clear in meaning. Perhaps it is truthiness. Or maybe we are all truly running in circles, never keeping up with what the internet is making us, and never able to keep up our relationships.

I think Styles is managing to be kind about who he sees in the looking glass and how he sees and relates to others. At the same time, he is trying to make a difference in hard times. He said “We’re in a difficult time, and I think we’ve been in many difficult times before. But we happen to be in a time where things happening around the world are absolutely impossible to ignore. I think it would’ve been strange to not acknowledge what was going on at all.”

Jesus followers could learn a few things from Harry Styles. He seems to have a lot fun with is art. He seems honest. He’s alive in his moment. He is serious about kindness and mental health. That’s not usually our reputation — even though Paul tells us, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

Leave a Reply