Harry Styles is known for his songs based on his personal life. Much like his ex-girlfriend Taylor Swift, he writes tracks that have a lot of meaning—many of them about his personal relationships. However, he doesn’t often share what his inspiration was in interviews or public posts. It has come down to fans to piece together the lyrics of his songs based on the minor details he has talked about.
The Song’s Background
As It Was was released in April 2022 as part of Styles’ third album. The track did extraordinarily well on the charts—in fact, it made history, sitting at number one on the Billboard Top 100 for 15 weeks. This was only beaten by three songs in history: Mariah Carey’s collaboration with Boyz II Men One Sweet Day, Luis Fonsi’s Despacito, and Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road.
The track’s music video also received two MTV music awards, Best Pop Song and Best Cinematography. It was praised for its high-energy synth-pop style, which was a departure from Styles’ previous music.
The song opens with a recording of a little girl saying, “Come on Harry, we wanna say goodnight to you.” Styles explained in an interview that it was taken from a voicemail from his goddaughter, Ruby Winston.
“It’s my goddaughter at the start of the song,” Styles said. “That streak of calling me every night before bed and I missed it once and she wanted to let me know that she was quite angry with me about it. And then I dug it up in the studio one day and added it to the start of the song, and it just kind of stuck. I loved it.”
While including the voicemail was a bit of a fluke initially, it ended up being a good fit. The rest of the track deals with several themes, including the struggle between self-isolation and people trying to reach out.
Isolation And The COVID-19 Pandemic
Styles wrote the song during the COVID-19 pandemic, when there were extensive, worldwide lockdowns. It was a time of loneliness and isolation for many people, including celebrities.
Saying that the world isn’t the same “as it was” before a global pandemic might be the understatement of the century. But the observation also tied into his reflections on his life as an actor and a singer and how much it has changed since before he was discovered. In one interview, he said that the pandemic slowed life down, forcing him to reflect on himself not just as a musician, but as a friend, partner, and family member.
Since the breakup of One Direction in 2015, Styles has pursued a solo career in music. He has also broken into acting, having taken roles in films such as Dunkirk, Eternals, and Don’t Worry Darling. But he has also spoken in interviews about how, while he feels like he understands the music industry, he still considers himself a fledgling actor who is learning the ropes.
Needless to say, there have been a lot of big changes in his life in the years leading up to As It Was, and feeling a bit lonely and intimidated at the pace of these changes is an ongoing theme in the song.
Answer the phone
“Harry, you’re no good alone
Why are you sitting at home on the floor?
What kind of pills are you on?”
These lines from the second verse describe the effects of isolation on his self-perception and how he felt that he wasn’t at his best when he was alone. Yet, like many of us, he also found himself avoiding people trying to reach out to him.
Fans of the song have pointed out its heavy feeling of nostalgia, despite its upbeat rhythm. One line in particular references a father who lives alone and is trying to get in contact with his child. Some people speculate that the line might be a nod to Styles’ parents, who divorced when he was seven years old.
Relationships With Taylor Swift And Olivia Wilde
In January 2021, Styles came public with a relationship with actress and director Olivia Wilde, whom he met on the set of Don’t Worry Darling. The relationship was subject to extensive scrutiny from the media, especially with rumors surrounding the timeline of her split with her fiancé, Jason Sudeikis.
By the time they announced their relationship, Styles and Wilde had already been dating for a few weeks. She separated from Sudeikis in late 2020 and started dating Styles roughly three months later.
One line in As It Was seems to reference Wilde specifically: “Leave America, two kids follow her.” She has two children from her relationship with Sudeikis, Otis and Daisy. The children reportedly have a good relationship with Styles.
Meanwhile, Styles and Wilde have reportedly moved in together in London, initially coming from Los Angeles. They have both made public comments in the past about the difficulty of having a relationship between two extremely busy, high-profile figures, whose schedules often conflict and take them to opposite sides of the globe. With all these factors in mind, it seems like As It Was certainly incorporates Styles’ experiences with being in a long-distance relationship.
While the song’s references to his relationship with Wilde seem fairly obvious, some fans also think that he may have included a tribute to his ex-girlfriend Swift.
Swift and Styles dated for just a few months between 2012 and 2013, almost a full decade before As It Was was recorded. He has also dated quite a few high-profile celebrities in the ten years since they split, including Nicole Scherzinger, Kendall Jenner, and Camille Row. So, why would he include a reference to a brief fling from years before?
As many fans have pointed out, both Styles and Swift have a preference for sourcing their song material from personal experiences. They have both written about their relationship in the past; she referenced him in tracks such as Style and All You Had To Do Was Stay. Meanwhile, his song Two Ghosts is said to be about her.
But even more than this is the fact that the track references two people breaking up and then seemingly falling back together again. It isn’t as overt as it was in their past songs, but sharp-eyed fans have pointed out that Styles’ relationship with Swift followed a similar, turbulent pattern.
The Real As It Was Song Meaning
Ultimately, there is only speculation about the meaning of As It Was. Styles has said that his inspiration for his music often comes from feelings and experiences and can’t be pinpointed to a single person or meaning. He has also said that he doesn’t like to explain the meaning of his songs, preferring to view them as poetry that is open to interpretation. While we can make educated guesses about the As It Was meaning (as it was meaning), we may never get a detailed answer.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
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