Harry’s House Explores the Limits of Specificity in Songwriting
By Sheila Uria | 15 July, 2022
Home is where Harry Styles is. Harry's House, that is. And through it flows a summer breeze exploring the pleasure in domesticity and mundanity. Styles' lyricism on this record encompasses the imagery of food, sex, drugs, loneliness, and love. From the funky horn-infused and bass-leading "Music for a Sushi Restaurant" to the watery synths on "Keep Driving,” the boundless sonic landscape in Harry’s House is lush and atmospheric.
Some music journalists seem to disagree. Clearly, Styles' third record, or any piece of art for that matter, will not appease every listener; however, several influential music publications have been quite scathing in their album reviews. Their critique is based on the premise that, though sonically eclectic and riveting, Harry's House lacks lyrical substance.
Though I don’t share their sentiment, I see the point that they are trying to make to a certain extent. In Harry's House, Styles' lyrics are more guarded yet, ironically, more specific than they have been in the past. Songs like “As It Was” follow a monosyllabic percussive melody while painting a scenery: “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.” The body of work poses a more vivid experience compared to his previous albums. However, these songs do not provide much detail in terms of subject. And that's okay.
Artists do not owe us specificity. They do not have to bare open the deepest and most intimate crevices of their psyche. We are not entitled to authenticity either. Someone who has been consistently exposed and discussed in the media since he was sixteen as Styles has the right to retreat inward even in his songwriting.
"It's your right to protect the space around you and be protective of yourself and look after yourself," Styles said to NPR about “Matilda.” While the sentiment is in response to the content and subject of the ballad, it resonates with the mysterious nature of this album's lyricism.
Harry's House’s critics argue that Styles' lyrics are lackluster and mild at best. They cite “Little Freak” as an example, pointing out that in the song, Styles ponders about what an ex might be doing but does not care who they go home with at the end of the day. This narrative, to them, lacks commitment to his feelings. However, not every emotion is passionate and overwhelming—some are mellow and passive. Thinking about someone who used to be in your life but not wanting to rekindle that relationship or even feel any indication of jealousy is part of the human condition. “Little Freak” explores that dichotomy in a simple but refined manner.
The lyrics in “Satellite” — "Spinnin' out waiting for ya to pull me in / I can see you're lonely down there / Don't you know that I am right here?" — appear to speak from the point of view of someone in the periphery of another person's life. The song alludes to the feeling of displacement and the desire for belonging—someone waiting to be let in, who may even feel like the second option and wants to be loved and cherished. The possibilities are endless.
The meaning of a song changes with the listener. A song does not have to be overly specific or "deep" to have significance. A lyric can hold endless meaning for someone while appearing trivial to another. We do not chastise Bon Iver for ambiguity and opaqueness in his songwriting. Why Styles, then? This double standard is pretentious and gatekeeping.
Most of the music reviews for Harry's House do recognize the album's sonic style as diverse and fun (some claim Styles has created a pastiche of genres and is "unadventurous," but that's a rant for another day). Still, they interpret this record's lyrics as weak. Some incorporate double entendres and condescending jokes that pose Harry's House as lacking furniture or Styles himself as moving light-footed throughout his house. Well, I say it's his house, and he can tip-toe if he wants to.
It has become evident since his first solo single release, "Sign of the Times," that Styles is a wordsmith. This saccharine line in “Daylight” alone proves it: "If I was a bluebird / I would fly to you / You'd be the spoon / Dip you in honey so I could be sticking to you."
Every song on Harry's House holds a universe of its own. They are all hits in their own right while still forming a cohesive body of work. There's a favorite for everyone on the record—a relic of memory in the lyricism that makes you feel right at home.