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Harry Styles’ new single, “As It Was,” gives us a mas­ter­class in masking mediocre music with inter­esting visuals. 

At first glance, the lyrics do not reveal any­thing insightful. They talk vaguely of the world “as it was” without offering any par­ticular message or new per­spective. Like many pop songs, the lyrics are fuzzy enough to allow the average fan to interpret it as a love song about a breakup or a valuable lesson about a post-COVID world. 

The melody, har­monies, and liberal use of autotune fail to dis­tin­guish his song from the hun­dreds of pop songs floating around cur­rently. The visuals, however, are what set the piece apart — and not nec­es­sarily for the better. 

Styles, as has become his habit, donned some unusual outfits for the music video, including a long red overcoat, a scarf, and later a red-sequin jumpsuit. 

Many fans and mag­a­zines have probably already developed a number of the­ories for the wardrobe choices, but I suspect the primary motive was to try to incor­porate some­thing special in a piece oth­erwise entirely unordinary. 

Later, Styles stripped down to a pair of red boxer briefs. Other per­formers in the video also stripped down to their underwear and circled Styles as he lay down on a tiled mosaic floor. 

The nature of those outfits and style choices offer all kinds of spec­u­lation into the meaning of the song. But I suspect the underwear sequence was little more than eye-candy to sell another generic music video. 

It’s also worth con­sid­ering the chore­og­raphy of the music video. Styles spends much of the video on a slowly rotating circle alongside a female per­former, and they spin around, at times embracing each other and at other times seeming distant and unable to catch up. 

That, at least, pro­vided some orig­i­nality to the song, but didn’t add to the meaning of the song. Having that dra­matic piece of the set could have been a ripe oppor­tunity for incor­po­rating metaphors for time or rela­tion­ships as cir­cular or unpre­dictable, but the lyrics barely acknowledge the events in the video. 

And then the finale. Styles, after returning to his jumpsuit, ends the song with a sequence of him ecsta­t­i­cally throwing his hands, running around, kicking off the floor, and oth­erwise embodying the energy of a 1st-grader dancing his heart out. There’s no par­ticular rhyme or reason to it, or tie-in to the song. It’s just Harry Styles being Harry Styles. 

I’m sure in future inter­views, Styles will call this a “lib­er­ating” song, a buzzword in pop culture used when celebrities want to talk about how they sep­arate them­selves from hor­rific “tra­di­tional” stan­dards. The reality is, the lyrics and melody are any­thing but lib­er­ating in how they doggedly follow the same tropes and clichés of every other pop music video.

The only area of this song that stands out is the fan service of Styles lan­guishing in his underwear or frol­icking about in his jumpsuit. Without that, you’d be for­given for mis­taking this song and video for any of the other hun­dreds pumped out by pop music com­posers every year.