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It’s no secret that Harry Styles is a hungry, hungry boy. Whether he’s evoking “Watermelon Sugar” to sing about cunnilingus, ruminating on a past lover he’s seemingly nicknamed “Kiwi,” or wishing that his ex would call “From the Dining Table,” gestation of dietary and sexual sorts is top of mind for the British musician, who surprisingly (and maybe for his own good) has yet to sponsor his own fast food meal. (If his affinity for writing songs about fruit and his DeuxMoi-reported trips to Juice Press are any indication, that kind of business opp would certainly be at odds with his nutritional palette.)
Likewise, Styles’ recently released third album, Harry’s House, finds the 28-year-old ex-boybander ready to devour everything in front of him. On the majority of the glossy, indie pop-influenced songs, he declares his adoration and devotion ostensibly for his new beau Olivia Wilde, and, by extension, all of the listeners who have developed a parasocial love affair with him since his One Direction days (me included). To do so, Styles continues his tradition of utilizing food to bolster the album’s theme of cozy domesticity and to relay whatever flirty and raunchy thoughts occupy his horny male brain.
On Harry’s House, this motif feels borderline parodic. The LP boasts the sort of lyrical content one has come to expect from Styles, given the cultural ubiquity and Grammy-winning status of “Watermelon Sugar” from his 2019 sophomore album, Fine Line. That song wasn’t the extent of the album’s food-titled tracks or food references, of course, as Fine Line also featured a wistful, acoustic ballad called “Cherry.” You could maybe even count the Beatles-esque “Sunflower, Vol. 6,” if you wanted, although it was clearly a reference to the visual beauty of the plant as opposed to its edible properties; nonetheless, the song repeatedly invokes a kitchen setting in a romantic way.
Upon pressing play on Harry’s House, you’re greeted by “Music for a Sushi Restaurant” and its clunky but attention-grabbing opening line: “Green eyes/fried rice/I could fry an egg on you.” I found myself curious whether Styles would feel so inclined to kick off the album with that track if “Watermelon Sugar” hadn’t become such a big hit; the rest of it certainly sounds like a product of the hit song’s success, recreating a funky, brassy soundscape, with Styles even beginning to scat at one point. It’s easy to interpret “Music for a Sushi Restaurant” as a sequel or progression in a romance where Styles goes from craving mainly sex with a woman to wanting the entire package (“It’s ’cause I love you, babe/In every kind of way/Just a little taste/You know I love you, babe”).
Food metaphors in music are not anything unique, though Styles has proven to be particularly skilled at them. However, “Watermelon Sugar” sticks out in my mind not just as a successful song but a pivotal point in cementing Styles as a sort of non-threatening, woman-friendly sex symbol. Of course, the singer had been lusted after for years as the unofficial frontman of One Direction for his dimpled smile, curly mane, and even those ridiculous tattoos. But “Watermelon Sugar,” coupled with a music video that opens on Styles suggestively biting into a watermelon slice before frolicking on the beach with a bunch of female models, made fans’ fantasy of Styles as the perfect boyfriend a lot more specific and sexually explicit. It’s one thing to be a generous lover, but it’s another to be a proud oral sex addict who would experience withdrawal symptoms if he went too long without pleasuring a woman, as the lyrics boldly imply.
On the other hand, “Watermelon Sugar” may have also given certain fans who were uncomfortable with his not-so-subtle nods toward queerness—like in the Fine Line single “Lights Up” and its steamy visuals—some (unconfirmed) assurance that their imaginary boy toy was straight with a capital S.
In that sense, “Music for a Sushi Restaurant” feels like Styles giving his most fervid listeners—or maybe, more realistically, a domineering label executive—exactly what they want. The lyrics (“Coffee on the stove, yeah/You’re sweet ice cream/But you could use a flake or two”) are noticeably less inspired and sexy than the words to “Watermelon Sugar.” Saying you could fry an egg on someone is a cheeky way to call a person hot, but it renders a thoroughly ridiculous image, which could possibly be the point. Elsewhere on Harry’s House, “Grapejuice,” an uncannily similar ditty to Jackie DeShannon’s “Put A Little Love In Your Heart,” turns out not to allude to much. In fact, it’s not even a metaphor; just an obvious reference to wine that comes at the end of the song when Styles posits that he’d have the “grapejuice blues” if his relationship ever dissipated.
On “Keep Driving,” Styles documents a road trip by listing random items and events ostensibly to map out a timeline. “Maple syrup, coffee, pancakes for two,” Style croons. “Hash brown, egg yolk, I will always love you.” Quite funnily, the structure, meant to portray swift, intense, somewhat reckless romance, has an accidental Dr. Seuss vibe—that is, until Styles mentions something about “side boob” and “choking” a woman “with a sea view.”
The fact that Styles’ physical and emotional appetite has given fans something to pay attention to or expect from him as a lyricist, first and foremost, is a sign of good branding, particularly for an artist who doesn’t have to go the lengths of, let’s say, Saweetie to prove he’s a foodie. (Plus, if you were on Tumblr during his One Direction era, you already know the man loves to whip out a banana.) Whether or not the lyrics on Harry’s House are particularly innovative—he can only make so many filthy fruit analogies—they’re certainly effective in projecting a wholesome, non-threatening image of Styles as a domestic man, a future househusband, maybe even a potential father, as he’s invoked the image of children in his music.
Some critics have found this kind of myth-making to be an indication of what Styles lacks as an artist. They’ve described the musician as prioritizing style over substance, while others, including myself, have questioned more broadly whether he has any of the grit, edge, weirdness, or imperfection of the ’60s and ’70s rock icons he’s often compared to. (According to Mick Jagger, the answer is no).
It’s a query that might demand more time as Styles, despite his prominence, is still in a relatively early phase of his solo career. But for now, you can’t deny that his dedication to simping offers a nice balance in the universe of popular male songwriting. For every Drake wannabe (and even Drake himself) telling a woman how disposable she is on the radio, you need a chronic simp spending too much money on flowers and cheesily comparing you to every delicious item he can think of. Let Styles write his silly little egg songs.