Sorry, but I think Harry Styles’ new music video sends the wrong message

Words by Tori Mathison

With great power comes great responsibility. 

In an era where an artist’s music videos can add such value to a song they become a cinematic masterpiece in their own right, Harry Styles has today released his music video for ‘Watermelon Sugar’.

We expect great things from Harry as a general rule and so far, the Internet is loving it. Within 15 hours of its premiere, at the time of writing, it already has 1.3 million likes on YouTube and countless articles touting its delight. 

It’s also well-timed, opening with the message, This video is dedicated to touching” and showcasing a colourful montage of swimwear-clad hotties. It happens just as the Northern Hemisphere rolls into summer and we roll out of it, and does a decent job of reminding us of all the joyous summer moments and fruit-related erotica we’re missing out on. But it’s also left me feeling a bit uneasy.

On a surface level, the clip just feels like every other music video with a white man at its centre being swooned over by a harem of beautiful women. 

For a ‘woke’ and progressive artist like Harry Styles, who often positions themselves as gender-ambiguous and publicly presents as an ally to underrepresented identities, it’s disappointing to see such two-dimensional material. 

I am usually totally on board for a hyper-sexual music video that pretty much celebrates oral sex, especially when gorgeous people ravish watermelons designed to emulate vaginas. The video also has a few playful nods to Harry’s roots in One Direction that fans are sure to joyously pick up. And I can also appreciate the fact that Harry is rocking some seriously good garments from Gucci’s 2020 collection, as Vogue has pointed out

But the video is essentially a montage of Harry, some relatively diverse women and a few men, suggestively eating watermelon and rolling around on a beach.

And maybe the isolated scene of a nail-polished hand grazing a bikini-clad breast is ambiguous enough for some, but overall the video seemed to feel quite heteronormative and, well, basic. 

That isn’t to say that music videos need to be political or boundary-pushing. However, it feels a tad lacklustre from an artist that often makes a point of defying societal expectations. Having made headlines for wearing conventionally femme clothing, releasing progressive music videos like ‘Lights Up’, acting as an outspoken LGBTQI+ rights advocate, and appearing in concert with rainbow and transgender pride flags draped over their shoulders, Harry’s music video just comes as a surprise. 

Arguably, the video could be interpreted as a promotion of polyamorous dynamics, if you were really looking for a constructive angle. And, I suppose, it doesn’t actually have to mean anything at all. Really, Harry doesn’t owe it to anyone to make a statement with every little public action that he takes. But with such a large and impassioned following of young people and a growing audience of LGBQTI-identifying individuals, I personally feel there are extra considerations that need to be taken. 

I don’t believe that Harry Styles is queer-baiting, as it’s been speculated in the past.

But if you’re going to commit to such a strong and progressive public persona that connects with a specific and potentially vulnerable audience, it’s important to honour that responsibility and consider the kind of messages you’re putting into the universe. 

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