I'm Clifford Stumme, and I use literary analysis and research to explain the deeper meanings of pop songs. Feel free to leave a comment or to email me at with questions or ideas!

What does "Lights Up" by Harry Styles mean?

What does "Lights Up" by Harry Styles mean?

“Lights Up” Lyrics Meaning

The message of “Lights Up” is that the way others perceive us should not define who we are, but if we don’t know who we are to begin with, the opinions of the crowd can feel true. It’s about the freedom that can be found in being open and vulnerable, as well as the fear and preparation that goes into stepping into the light when you may be carrying baggage or have something about yourself that others may dislike.

“Do you know who you are?” 

There has been heavy speculation as to whether or not “Lights Up” is Harry Styles’ way of coming out to the world as bisexual. The strongest points to support this theory are the music video’s sexual undertone, which portrays Styles dancing in a crowd of both women and men suggestively, as well as its release on National Coming Out Day. However, it is important to point out a couple of things. The first being that Harry Styles himself has not made a statement as to what the song is about. The second is that while a lot of his songs may be autobiographical, there is never a certainty of it until he confirms the meaning. So even if the lyrics are meant to represent coming out, it may not have been written about himself, but instead written for people who could relate.

This analysis will refer to the “narrator”, who could be Harry Styles or another person. This does not mean that the song is or is not written about his life or from his perspective. We know that the song is about searching for freedom and finding change regardless of the opinions of others. Whether that specifically relates to bisexuality or if it’s written from his perspective, isn’t yet clear at the time of this blog’s release.

Verse 1

What do you mean?
I'm sorry by the way
Never coming back down
Can't you see?
I could, but wouldn't stay
Wouldn't put it like that
What do you mean?
I'm sorry by the way
Never coming around
It'd be so sweet if things just stayed the same

The song begins with the narrator addressing another person or a group of people, or maybe even the part of himself that’s afraid to change. He says that while he’s sorry (likely for the way his choices put distance between them), he won’t go back to the way things were before. He tries to make them see that while he “could” have remained the way he was before, he “wouldn’t stay.” Not wanting them to think badly of him, he says he wouldn’t put it the way they are, meaning talk about his choices in a negative light. While “it’d be sweet if things just stayed the same,” he believes it’s time for him to change as a person, likely in a fundamental way.


All the lights couldn't put out the dark
Runnin' through my heart
Lights up and they know who you are
Know who you are
Do you know who you are? 

He feels that the contents of his heart are “dark” in a way that will never change.When the “lights” go up on the stage, the world will see who he is, or at least who they think he is. He encourages anyone in the same position, as well as himself, that they should know who they are before other people try to tell them what they think. They will judge him by the “darkness” they see, but that isn’t what defines him as a person.


Shine, step into the light
Shine, so bright sometimes
Shine, I'm not ever going back

While he wants to step into the light, and he plans on never “going back” to the darkness, he admits that sometimes the brightness of that light can be overwhelming or even painful. This “light” that he’s stepping into could be an internal journey, but it’s more likely that it has to do with being open about himself to a crowd, given the context of the chorus.

Deeper Meaning of “Lights Up” by Harry Styles

The chorus of “Lights Up” reminds us that as we go through life, people will judge us. It’s important that we don’t find our worth in their opinions. Their hate or their praise is irrelevant to who we truly are. 

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