Background and release
In the days preceding the song's release, billboards appeared in several cities around the world with the phrase "Do You Know Who You Are?", which was connected to Styles after each of the posters featured both the Columbia Records logo and the acronym "TPWK", standing for "Treat People with Kindness", which has appeared on Styles' tour merchandise. A website also named "Do You Know Who You Are?" that offered compliments to users who entered their name on it was also set up. Styles revealed the cover art and song title on his social media on 11 October 2019.
Music and composition
"Lights Up" is a pop, soul and pop rock song with 1970s, R&B and indie-pop influences and lasts for two minutes and fifty-two seconds. In terms of musical notation, the song composed in the key of B♭ minor, with a tempo of 100 beats per minute. The song is constructed in the verse-chorus form and follows a chord progression of D–E in the chorus and Em–D–Dsus–Am7 sequence everywhere else. Styles' vocals span from B♭4 to B♭5. The "modern-leaning" production consists of multilayered guitars, keyboards and programmed beats. The song derives its minimalist sound from several vintage and organic elements, including layered synths, drum machines, and heavy bass, among others. It also makes use of a supple bassline and pummeling percussions.
"Lights Up" eschews traditional song structures and is composed of several breakdown pre-choruses and post-choruses with a single chorus. The song opens with a 17-second instrumental intro that is followed by a beat leads to the track's opening verse. A pitch-drift is added after this, driven by electric guitars that complements Styles' tightly tuned vocals, resulting in a "hazy, tripped-out" production. The pre-chorus is psychedelic and stilted, throughout which Styles uses distorted vocals. The song further utilizes piano chords in this section, with vocoder-processed backing vocals from a gospel choir. The central chorus is uptempo and "high-energy" and uses a piano-driven chord modulation similar to Michael Jackson's "Rock with You". In its composition, the chorus has cadences in the chord of B♭ led by a backing-vocal refrain, "Shine". Styles' vocals reach a crescendo shortly before the track's outro. Most of the song uses layered vocal texture consisting of a vocal line doubled at the upper and lower octaves along-with tight and electronic double-line. Critics have compared the song's musical style to Tame Impala. Mike Nied of Idolator interpreted the song's lyrics as "being more about self-actualization than a relationship" while Madeline Roth of MTV wrote that the track is about "all about lucidity and self-discovery."
Jon Caramanica of The New York Times wrote that the song is a "soft-touch re-entry into the pop slipstream. Somewhere between '70s soft rock, lite disco and indie pop, it doesn't ask much more of Styles's voice than a gentle coo, and surrounds it with a plangent sparkle." Nicholas Hautman of Us Weekly described the song as a "groovy, melodic track". Roisin O'Connor of The Independent gave the song 4 out of 5 stars, calling "Lights Up" "Styles's most assured song to date. And described the song as “a piano and guitar-based track drenched in California Dreamin' vibes and loaded with psychedelic grooves”. His vocals are surprisingly airy compared to the sharper delivery of earlier cuts; you could easily interpret lyrics as a comment on fame, or else perhaps his embracing of his own identity."
Laura Snapes of The Guardian rated the song 4 out of 5 stars, and praised its production and musical styles, calling the track a "soulful, enigmatic return" that "is laced with surprises" and "sounds nothing like his blandly secular British male peers, or the narcotised synth-pop that's dominated this year". Craig Jenkins of Vulture praised the song, calling it "a breezy tune for the start of hoodie weather and an encouraging sentiment for a day about celebrating what makes all of us unique". Variety staff wrote that "[it] is a bit of a departure from Styles' debut" and described it as "a shimmering pop ballad" that "vaguely recalls songs from Justin Timberlake's early solo albums."
Anna Gaca of Pitchfork's review was positive as well, saying that Styles "[he]'s nothing if not a talented showman" and felt that the song "seems designed to wriggle through the strictures of pop songwriting. It's less than three minutes but its strangeness makes it feel longer". Matt Bellassai called the song a "bisexual bop". Capital radio station and Gay Times called the song a "bisexual anthem" based on its music video.
|Released||October 11, 2019|
|Producer||Cine buro and Kanan films|