Gender and sexuality is a performance, but there's no script.
Harry Styles has kept fans waiting for new music for quite a while, but he certainly did not disappoint with his first single since 2017's "Sign of the Times."
"Lights Up" is a frothy, effortless indie pop number that places Styles' flawless vocals above a funky bassline and dreamy guitar flourishes. It feels infused with the kind of energy that citrus skincare advertisements promise you, but its substance and nuance extend much further than skin-deep.
The song builds up to clusters of harmonies and gospel choirs, wound together with delicate piano. At three minutes, it's a short, concise, and crisp collage of modern and vintage sounds that show off Styles' versatility as well as his expert pop sensibility.
Lyrically, it's all over the place, and since the moment it was released, fans have been reading into its possible implications. Some proposed that the lyrics "I'm not ever going back" are referring to Styles' decision to never return to his One Direction boy band days.
Others think that this is Styles' official declaration of his bisexuality (it is National Coming Out Day, after all). Styles has never explicitly confirmed his sexual orientation, and in 2017, he told The Sun that he doesn't use labels. "No, I've never felt the need to really. No…I don't feel like it's something I've ever felt like I have to explain about myself," he said.
His lyrics have insinuated bisexual themes before. In the song Medicine, he sang, "Tingle running through my bones / The boys and the girls are in / I mess around with him / And I'm okay with it."
Perhaps Styles is smart to avoid labeling his sexuality. Recently, there has been extensive debate about the difference between bisexuality and pansexuality, a difference that largely boils down to semantics and individual interpretation. Labels are perpetually changing and shifting, but of course, these monikers and intricacies obscure what is arguably the point of the entire LGBTQ+ identity: We should all be able to be who we are, and to love who we wish to love.
Of course, it sometimes seems like our world does everything to make this impossible. A deeper dig into the "Lights Up" lyrics reflects this, revealing that not everything is love and light in Harry Styles' glamorous world. Styles did tell Rolling Stone that his new album is going to be all about "having s*x and feeling sad," and in "Lights Up," he's keeping that promise.
The lyrics, "All the lights couldn't put out the dark / Running through my heart / Lights up and they know who you are / Do you know who you are?" seems to hint at a kind of existential questioning that belies the discomfort that often accompanies trying to figure out who you are, corroborated by the pressures of being caught in the insatiable limelight.
We may never know who Harry Styles really is, beyond the glittering figure he presents himself to be. Then again, we're all constantly performing various identities, many of us never knowing just how much we've been influenced and shaped by the outside world and its conventions. As we try to come to terms with who we really are, the best we can hope is that we have a few nights spent on the backs of motorcycles like Styles in "Lights Up," throwing our hands up to the sky and dancing to the beat.
Harry Styles - Lights Up (Official Video) www.youtube.com
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The actor's leadership is inspiring.
In a viral clip posted to Twitter by NBC News reporter Gadi Schwartz, actress Keke Palmer is seen pleading with members of the National Guard to "join the revolution" during a Los Angeles protest that took place Tuesday in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd.
"You have a president that's talking about the second amendment as a use for people to use firearms against the people that are protesting," she says passionately. She continued, "You have to pay attention to what is going on. We have a president that's trying to incite a race war."