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Hooks, ’80s Influences & More: The Sonic Characteristics That Sparked the Hot 100 Reign of Harry Styles’ ‘As It Was’

Hit Songs Deconstructed analyzes the compositional traits that have led the smash to record-breaking heights.

As previously reported, Harry Styles‘ “As It Was” rewrites a pair of records atop the Billboard Hot 100 dated Oct. 1. With a 15th week at No. 1, the track solely claims the longest reign for a song by an act with no accompanying artists, as well as the longest domination for a song by a British artist in the chart’s history.

As the song has ruled the Hot 100, as well as the Streaming Songs, Radio Songs and Digital Song Sales charts, what is it about its sonic characteristics that has propelled it to such prominence?

Here’s a look at key stylistic traits behind the uncommon chart success of “As It Was.”

Hook ‘Em In & Leave Them Wanting More

While the entirety of “As It Was” is strong, its bookending sections are a cut above.

On the front end, the child’s spoken vocal grabs the listener’s attention while acting as a unique identifier for the song – a technique from the playbook of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop,” featuring Wanz, a decade earlier.

That’s followed by locking the listener into the song’s infectious, retro-tinged synth hook and high-energy groove, both commonalties shared with the recent, and historic, “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd.

On the back end, the listener rides out on an excited high with a grand finale hook-fest outro, which reprises all the song’s main hooks along with a climactic bell arrangement.


Styles’ Stylistic Evolution

While “As It Was” features mainstays from the most popular of Styles’ body of work, it also features some notable departures.

All three of Styles’ previous top 10s – “Sign of the Times,” “Adore You” and “Watermelon Sugar” (of seven total to date) – feature a mix of pop, rock and retro influences. However, “As It Was” brings Styles out of the 1970s and into the early ’80s, as it’s laced with unique synth-pop and new wave qualities that provide a twist to the familiar pop and rock sounds of his earlier output.

This natural retro progression, which also worked well for fellow retro/mainstream cohort Bruno Mars, has enabled Styles to continue delivering what his fanbase expects while simultaneously pushing the boundaries to keep things interesting.

Right Place at the Right Time

Styles’ foray into the ’80s is perfectly timed to trends in the marketplace.

During the recent period preceding the song’s release, retro/’80s surged to its highest level of prominence in almost a decade thanks to a, well, new wave of ’80s-inspired songs, including “Blinding Lights,” Ed Sheeran’s “Bad Habits” and The Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber’s “Stay.”

This timing helped “As It Was” capitalize on the ’80s resurgence, while Styles’ unique take has further enabled it to stand out especially strongly.

Short & Sweet

Meanwhile, in line with the mainstream’s gravitation toward declining song lengths, “As It Was” clocks in at a short and sweet 2:40. Omitting popular pop song sections like the pre-chorus and, even more notably, a third chorus (most pop hits contain three, not two), this trimmed-down song spends the majority of its time – nine out of its 10 sections – reinforcing hooks with the listener in both obvious and under-the-radar manners without ever wearing out its welcome.

David and Yael Penn are the co-founders of Hit Songs Deconstructed. In April, Hit Songs Deconstructed and fellow song analysis platform MyPart partnered to launch ChartCipher, a new platform analyzing hit songs, as defined by Billboard‘s charts.