Home Music Music Features

Harry Styles’ ‘As It Was’ is Nakedly Vulnerable — and Unlike Anything He’s Done Before

The first single from Harry’s House is a both a straight-from-the-heart cry and an irresistible dance-floor challenge

Harry Styles has dropped his hotly anticipated new song “As It Was.” It’s the lead single and video from his upcoming third album, Harry’s House, due May 20 — the first music he’s released since his 2019 blockbuster, Fine Line. It’s one of the most emotionally powerful songs he’s ever done. He sings about facing up to personal transitions, with the chorus “In this world it’s just us/You know it’s not the same as it was.”

It’s a daring change-up for Styles, unlike anything he’s done before musically. He kicked off his first two album eras with grand statements, “Sign of the Times” and “Lights Up.” But “As It Was” is more nakedly vulnerable, a straight-from-the-heart cry that’s also an irresistible dance-floor challenge. It begins with children’s voices calling “Come on, Harry, we wanna say good night to you!”

But the song goes deep into feelings of isolation and melancholy. The lyrics are a plea: “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?”

“As It Was” swerves into Eighties-style synth-pop, in the vein of A-Ha or Depeche Mode. The synth hook sounds like warped steel drums, with tolling chimes at the end — Styles is credited with playing “tubular bells.” His vocals are bittersweet, almost piercingly poignant, with the intimate vibe of a journal entry. Yet it also feels like it’s about a relationship, full of secret confessions shared between two people — the first time he’s ever started off an album era with a love song.

It’s the first taste from his astounding new Harry’s House, which is even better than you hope it is. The 13-track Harry’s House will be released globally on May 20, on vinyl, CD, and cassette, available on preorder now. The vinyl will include exclusives like Sea Grass Green (on Harry’s website) and Target Translucent Yellow; there’s also a CD photobook with 32 new photos. Later this month, he’s headlining the Coachella Festival, on the weekends of April 15 and 22, where he’ll debut “As It Was” live. This summer he returns to the road for the international stretch of Love On Tour, starting June 11 in Glasgow with Mitski, and stretching into December.

The “As It Was” video evokes the song’s sense of personal conflict, with Styles and a partner literally running in circles, fitting for sentiments like “Gravity’s holding me back.” It was filmed in London by Ukrainian director Tanu Muino. As she says in a statement, “Shooting him was bittersweet, as it was one of the happiest days of my life, but on the second day of the shoot, my country Ukraine was invaded, so you can imagine the insane emotions we had while shooting. Me and my team from Ukraine poured so much love into this video, and you can see it onscreen.”

Styles wrote “As It Was” with his trusty longtime collaborators Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson, who both produced. Guitar wingman Mitch Rowland is on drums along with Harpoon. As Styles told Rolling Stone when Fine Line came out, “If you’re going in with session writers or something, you spend one or two days there, and there is no way that person really cares about your album as much as you do. Because they’re into something else tomorrow.” That’s why he’s so unusually devoted to his team. “We’ll bond over music we love and things we’re going through. It’s not like there’s one person in the group that’s like, ‘Well, no, I don’t talk about that. I just make beats.’”

When Paul McCartney — one of Styles’ main heroes — released his solo debut, he summed it up as “Home, Family, Love.” The title and cover of Harry’s House seem to evoke similar themes, as does the cryptic You Are Home site, with daily messages like “Whisper to your houseplants/Sing to your neighbors.” The gatefold to the vinyl album, as teased on his website yesterday, has a very Linda McCartney-style photo of domestic life: a garden breakfast table set for two, with coffee, eggs, and an orange. (In case you’re following the Harry Fruit Universe, there’s another one to check off your list.)

Styles has always made a point of mixing pop glam with raw emotion. As he told Rolling Stone in the Fine Line era, “It’s all about having sex and feeling sad.” That perfectly describes “As It Was” — the moment when being in love forces you to confront some of your own baggage, the feelings you usually hide from yourself. “As It Was” comes out almost exactly five years after he began his solo career. (He dropped “Sign of the Times” on April 7, 2017.) Yet it sounds like an artist who’s just getting started. “As It Was” is more than a creative peak — it’s a fearless leap into a new era.

Find a playlist of all of our recent Songs You Need to Know selections on Spotify.

From Rolling Stone US