Harry Styles’ single As It Was has made waves worldwide with its beautiful chords, emotional lyrics, and imagery associated with the music video. His third solo album, Harry’s House, is dropping on May 20th, and it cannot come soon enough. The short snippet about his next album and the latest music video that dropped three weeks ago hold an array of hidden meanings and historical references. Fans have already begun to pick apart every detail to fully understand As It Was and what we can expect from Harry’s House.
Naturally, with the name of the next album, many believe most songs will focus on his childhood, growing up in England. Yet, on the album cover, there is a significance to the furniture inside the house as it is upside down, except for a light and Harry himself. The phrase “he turned the house upside down” means to “mess up” or put something in “disorder.” Typically, while trying to search for something else. Perhaps, the symbolism in this album cover is about gaining knowledge or having an epiphany from your inner world. This explanation might seem like a stretch right now. But, the As It Was music video brims with deep meaning and backstories, both of which have to do with the world around us and Harry’s personal world.
The song begins with children’s voices calling, “C’mon Harry, we want to say goodnight to you,” before the music starts. This voice memo hints at both childhood and family. In the opening scene, we see Harry located at The Barbican Centre in London, a brutalist architectural “transformation of how we live in buildings and cities.” The design’s concept is “a city within a city.” We see Harry walking backward as people around him are moving forward in neutral colors, while Harry himself is a central focus in bright red and a black scarf, almost strikingly similar to his Grammy’s look.
At this moment, there is a distinction between the outside world of ordinary people and the inner world of the famous. Perhaps this song is a commentary on his rise to fame at such a young age and how he had to leave his mother’s house for stardom.
The lyrics: “In this world, it’s just us/You know it’s not the same as it was,” are intimate and evoke nostalgia. Harry here is talking to someone or multiple persons in particular. While he is in the world as a well-known figure, his world is just him and this other person. His world is small and delicate. It could even be a statement on love and how when you fall for someone, your day-to-day is consumed by them.
Many fans have questioned if the lyrics, “Leave America, two kids follow her,” are connected to actress/director and Styles’ girlfriend, Olivia Wilde. She notably has two children with her ex- Jason Sudeikis. However, others think Harry is singing of his immediate family and that the woman featured in the video is supposed to be his sister, Gemma.
In the scenes before us, Harry, who is in red, and this woman in blue are coming together, only to be torn apart. We see moments where they run towards one another, pulled away by gravity or pushed apart by people, and they cannot seem to stay together despite their best efforts. Other theories are that the other person is supposed to represent Harry himself. There is that one shot where he reaches up only to have himself reach back.
More specifically, fans believe the other character represents his feminine side. With the infamous Candance Owens’ Twitter debacle, Harry has received backlash over the years for the ways he pushes gender norms. Could the red and blue represent gender and identity?
Or, reverting back to the idea that his album cover hints at knowledge (with only Harry and a chandelier on the same ground), could this reference the Matrix’s blue and red pills? The Blue Pill symbolizes “living life without knowing its meaning or running away from the truth,” whereas the Red Pill offers “the real truth in life.” In the video, Harry is in red and filled with facial expressions throughout. While the woman in blue seems emotionless, her expression blank. There is also the line: “Harry, you’re no good alone/Why are you sitting at home on the floor?/What kinda pills are you on?” which initially seemed to depict mental health struggles, but perhaps it is more than this.
If it is the truth that Harry has learned through the red pill, what is the truth? Could it be the price of fame? Could it be a statement on life’s purpose? Or something else entirely? In the end, we just see Harry beginning to strip from his red clothes, showing off his famous tattoos. And then, he is alone and dancing like a child, reverting back to the opening where we hear children’s voices. He knows something we don’t, it seems.
And then, there are all the architectural references in the music video to unpack! When Harry and the woman in blue are lying on a piece of colorful and vibrant artwork while covered in metal rods, this is referencing American designers Charles and Ray Eames. They were known for “their groundbreaking contributions to architecture, furniture design, industrial design and manufacturing, and the photographic arts.” The video also references artist and pioneer in the Modernist Movement, Berthold Lubetkin’s Penguin Pool design in the London Zoo. The spiral staircase we see with Harry and others walking on replicates this particular architectural moment in history.
But it is not just architecture that As It Was seems to appreciate. It is also art. Choreographer Yoann Bourgeois, well-known for “The Mechanics of History,” contributes his vision from the music video Inner Light by Elderbrook with Bob Moses to As It Was. Just like in that video, Harry and a woman rotate on a block of wood, clinging to one another, running at the bridge, and spinning round. The idea echoes that the two of them are trying to catch up to one another to no avail.
In the video, Harry himself references Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam and the Fallen Angel by Alexandre Cabanel through his physicality and hand gestures. These works hold profound religious connotations, with The Creation of Adam referencing the beginning of men and how God created men in His image. In the video, Harry’s finger is in the same position as God’s in the painting, and he is also depicted as the Fallen Angel who is just expelled from Heaven in the art piece. Could Harry be comparing himself to both God and the Devil? Or, more presumably, the idea of goodness versus evil, altruism versus greed, or light versus dark.
The beginning dawns on a covered-up Harry behind a glass door, while the end of the video shows him running around in all of the sites that seemed to previously confine or hold him back. Now he is dancing in the streets and looking back at the camera with a smile.
Still in red, but much less covered up, there is a noticeable change in his attitude. What we are witnessing in the video’s time-lapse itself is a metamorphosis. Even from the beginning to the end, it is not the same as it was. Harry is telling everyone once and for all that he is long past his One Direction days or even his Fine Line era. Instead, Harry is home, and we are invited over.
Meghan Nelligan is a freelance writer and creative storyteller based in New Jersey. She is incredibly passionate about mental health awareness, creative writing, and social media. She also manages an Instagram account and portfolio site for her own personal writings.