Hot 100 Review: Watermelon Sugar by Harry Styles

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I don’t remember Harry Styles being the standout of One Direction. Given I don’t remember much of what One Direction fandom is, and didn’t then. But it just seems interesting that many of them tried the push into being solo artists and at least this year Harry Styles won.

I reviewed his previous hit “Adore You“ on this series. I can’t remember a lot other than it being good enough, and having a strange video. Watermelon Sugar on the other hand is desisivley a classic summer jam.

Everything about the song. From the title, to the lyrics, video (which I will get to), to the production all sound like a nice beach day. The production has a distinct flare to it. The use of light horns and trumpets really makes it stand out while not making it too funky or jazzy (neither of which are bad, but are not nearly as summer sounding). In fact, the way the horns move and sway with the vocals almost acts as backing vocals to help support his voice. It’s really neat.

Lyrically it is bare. Usually I go off on songs for having almost no substantial lyrics to speak of, and I can here. But the songs I rail against for being lyrically shallow also take themselves so seriously. “Stuck with U,” for its many problems is like that. It’s bare lyrically and also wants to be taken seriously. Doesn’t mean that can’t work, but it’s harder to do when you want to be a serious song.

“Watermelon Sugar” by contrast does not want to be a serious song at all. It wants to be a fun song to crank up when you’re at the beach. In fact it fits all the criteria I could go through the song just like that.

It starts with a open, but strong toner setter with the lines “Taste like strawberries on a summer evening…” with the verse continuing on. It’s a uniquely evocative image that reminds me of “Cool for the Summer” or “Cake by the Ocean.”

From that the prechorus, arguably the weakest part of the song, continues the tone by focusing on tying that summer evening with a certain person. That person being the watermelon sugar.

Watermelon Sugar is an interesting combination of words. For one watermelons are mostly sugar and water and adding sugar to watermelons sounds overly indulgent: too sweet basically (god I never felt older than saying something is good sweet). Based on interview material it is the name of a book called “In Watermelon Sugar” about (and this is what Wikipedia and Good Reads tells me it is) a post-apocalypse where watermelon sugar is used to create different materials and is centered around a strange commune, and the sun changes colors making the watermelon sugar do different things. Sounds really weird. I’d want to see just how connected this song is to the book, but I’d have to guess very little.

Though, one word I miss constantly in the song is the word “high” at the end of “watermelon sugar high.” Feels important because that changes the context to be far more drug like in tone and context. Harry wants that high, needs that high, craves that high so much that it reminds him of summer.

After that setup the song mostly repeats itself. It has some marginally changed lines, but they all focus on the same idea that whatever the watermelon sugar high is (some readings, obvious ones at that, make it a sex metaphor cause it’s easy and possibly true, but less fun to think about) it is a strong driving force. He wants to think of that summer time with loved ones. He wants to be high on all the sugar in watermelon. He wants to be able to hang out with friends (following that line is the obligatory connection to the Coronavirus Pandemic, oscillating lockdown status, and social distancing leading to nostalgia of what was) and make it feel like summer.

The video is a very direct adaption of the songs themes. It is dedicated to touching and therefore, by extension, about seeing. It’s also seen as a sex metaphor in many, many explicit ways. The first bite of a watermelon cuts to a woman looking very… well aroused. From that the music video becomes a beach party where sometimes the watermelon is used to convey a sense of comrodary and other times a very strangely shaped aphrodisiac. Again, it’s a straightforward showing of its themes and of the song with no audio or video flourishes to mess with the song.

I compared this song to “Cake by the Ocean” and “Cool for the Summer.” That is a compliment of the highest order because those are also some of my favorite summer jams, and best songs of their years. Unfortunately it is hard not to see these songs as all the same song with cosmetic differences. They are all about the summer, all radio friendly sex allegories, all strongly produced and high energy pop songs that use their medium to make it feel like summer in cramped spaces. Nothing has to be original if what it is good at what it’s copying. I mean, why do you think so many artist have to trace the masters of old before they can draw their own pictures?

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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