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Why Harry Styles’ ‘Matilda’ Is His Heartbreaking Masterpiece

Why Harry Styles’ ‘Matilda’ Is His Heartbreaking Masterpiece

Harry Styles knows how to make you feel at home. Harry’s househis third and best album, gives a welcoming pop vibe. Harry’s house is a place where he invites you in, sits you in the kitchen, cooks you pancakes and hash browns, opens a bottle of wine, serves gum and food, then takes you out into the garden to listen to all the story of your life.

It is an idyllic place to spend an hour. But the centerpiece of the album is “Matilda,” a true heartbreaker, an acoustic guitar ballad about someone learning to build a new life after a traumatic past. It’s a new high for Harry, one of the most emotionally powerful songs he’s ever made. He wrote “Matilda” with Amy Allen (who also co-wrote “Adore You”) along with his loyal collaborators Tyler Johnson and Kid Harpoon. It comes halfway through the album, surrounded by a glam-pop sheen – a deep breath of a song. He listens to Mathilde tell this painful story, answering: “You don’t have to be sorry for leaving and growing up.

Last fall, at his Harry Ween costume, he told the crowd, “I feel fabulous—do you feel fabulous? Good! Now we are going to sing a sad song. This could be a mission statement for HH. He spends the album mixing big dance-pop wet dreams with quiet ballads like “Little Freak” and “Boyfriends,” dancing in the areas between having sex and feeling sad. But like all his records, he repays careful listening over time. “Matilda” goes deeper as you live with her for a while. I’ve been a fan of Styles for a minute or two, but this is a song beyond expectation.

Harry’s house explores the idea of ​​home and how home is something you invent as you go, building it from your emotions and memories. It’s a theme on which he has always sung, from “Sweet Creature” (“you bring me home”) to “Canyon Moon” (“I’m coming home”) via “As It Was”. But after a pandemic where Thin line Becoming a soundtrack as much as a therapeutic refuge, it’s about finding and creating new types of homes wherever you are, taking your loved ones with you every time you go.

In luxury HH boxed edition, it even has an epigraph by the great Transcendentalist poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. It’s from his 1836 essay “Nature”: “Every mind builds itself a house; and beyond his house, a world; and beyond his world a sky. Know then that the world exists for you… So build your own world.

“Matilda” is the story of someone trying to build their own world. It begins with a childhood flashback of a kid riding a bike, trying to pretend his pain isn’t “not serious.” But as it develops, Matilda tells her story of family trauma, perhaps abuse or abandonment. It’s a song about listening to someone else’s pain, respecting it, crying that you can’t protect yourself from it. The “house” here is a trap full of nightmares, but the singer is confident that Matilda will move on and create her own home. As he says, “You can drop it / You can throw a party with everyone you know / And not invite your family.”

In his Interview with Zane Lowe this week, Harry quietly discussed who inspired the song. “They revealed things to me that were a lot like, ‘Oh, that’s not normal,'” he said. “It’s easy to confuse it, in this case, with ‘regular behavior’.” This person was just beginning to recognize their trauma. Harry told Lowe what he was trying to say: “I want to support you somehow. But it’s not necessarily for me to talk about myself, because it’s not my experience. Sometimes it’s just about listening. I hope he did. I hope he just says, “I was listening to you.”

The line that never fails to destroy me is when Harry sings, “You’re just in time / Make your tea and your toast.” On some level, it looks like she’s bursting into his kitchen for a visit. But given that she’s just come to terms with her past, instead of mourning that it took so long or mourning the years she lost, “you’re just in time” is such a moving affirmation. It’s never too late for her to find her home. She’s right on time. It’s tricky because Harry is just trying to be a respectful witness to Matilda’s pain, not letting his own shocked or sad reactions get in the way. He does not want to impose himself on his story. He just wants to listen. It’s a delicate balance between respect and empathy, which is why songs like this are so hard to pull off.

When you return to the rest of HH after “Matilda”, everything is deeper, even the dance-pop celebrations of love, sex, wine and food. This album should set some sort of record for breakfast content. (Any artist can plant Easter eggs on their album, but Harry gives away real eggs.) If Thin line was “soup, sex and sun salutations”, Harry’s house is sushi, sideboob and spilled beer.

He’s always been fascinated by gaps in the way we communicate – he’s a guy who started his solo career singing ‘We don’t talk enough / We should open up’. It’s there in “Satellite,” in the Bowie-style distance between lover and beloved: “I can see you’re alone out there / Don’t you know I’m right here? Or the misleadingly titled ballad “Little Freak,” where he purrs, “You never saw my birthmark.” “Little Freak” is such a change that it sends you into “Matilda” unattended, which is the only way to experience this song. (Don’t think for a moment that this guy isn’t obsessed with the geeky details of his album pacing.)

The title of the album could evoke Joni Mitchell, but as he told Lowe, he’s inspired by 1970s Japanese psychedelic rocker Haruomi Hosono, prog legends Yellow Magic Orchestra. His solo debut in 1973 Hosono House, a favorite of Styles, was recorded in his bedroom. But the music flies away on the rock flourishes that he adores. There’s a song with guest guitar from an actual Grateful Dead bandmate: “Cinema” has John Mayer, whose day job is to play 10-minute Jerry Garcia solos with Dead and Co. The Spirit Paul McCartney is everywhere, from Wings at the speed of sound march from “Grape Juice” to the way “Keep Driving” evokes Paul and Linda’s road trip in “Two of Us.”

But everyone on this album is looking for a home. The shine of Harry’s house that’s what he has to say about your emotional residences, not his. As Ralph Waldo Emerson would say, it’s about “self-reliance,” but it’s also a challenge to define yourself by what you love, unplugging yourself from social media and other distractions. (Preach, Ralph Waldo: “It doesn’t matter what bats and oxen think.”) That’s why Matilda ends up being the star of the album. She builds her own world, even if she does it alone. This is Harry Styles in his deepest, most moving, most artistically ambitious form. And that’s what makes “Matilda” a triumph.


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