While the music video for “Watermelon Sugar” begins with Harry Styles sitting solo at a table on the beach, rolling a thick slice of watermelon around on a plate with his bare fingers, he isn’t alone for long: As he pushes the watermelon into his mouth to take a bite, clips of women in various states of euphoria begin to flash onscreen. The video then pivots to Styles on a beach, surrounded by women, and then split-screens to present close-ups of each of the women in various states of blissful, sexual euphoria.
“Watermelon Sugar,” a track from Styles’s 2019 album Fine Line, is undeniably about sex, so it makes sense that the video is also sexual in nature. “Tastes like strawberries on a summer evenin’/ And it sounds just like a song,” Styles sings. “I want more berries and that summer feelin’/ It’s so wonderful and warm.” The music video, which has racked up more than 17 million views on YouTube in three days, begins with a title card that reads “THIS VIDEO IS DEDICATED TO TOUCHING.” Styles is certainly enjoying himself in the video. He smiles, wide-mouthed, at the sky as women lean against his shoulders. He laughs as women shove watermelon in his mouth as well as their own while singing, repeatedly, “watermelon sugar high.” The video has led some fans, including some older women, to declare that Styles is crooning about oral sex; though their commentary has a “bless your heart” tone, Styles is going deeper than that. “Watermelon Sugar” isn’t just about another man hyping himself up because he eats girls out.
Styles is seemingly in on a joke with himself. While some fans attribute it to the highly sexual nature of the lyrics themselves (“I want your belly and that summer feelin’” is a lyric that’s been shared across Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram), “Watermelon Sugar” is noteworthy because it so intentionally intertwines sex with joy. “Watermelon Sugar” isn’t the typical music video in which a male popstar pursues a woman or one where two women stand on either side of the singer, shaking their asses or physically flirting with the camera while their faces remain blank and disinterested. Instead, this video is imbued with an overwhelming amount of joy, with Styles and the video’s cast of women giggling, laughing, and playing around with one another and themselves. There’s something intriguing about Styles singing about sex while wearing a crochet tank top and pink-painted nails and something encouraging about Styles, given his influence, presenting the idea that women’s pleasure isn’t secondary during sex. Instead, women’s bliss is the entire event.
Of course, the soft-boy aesthetic Styles has adopted can be easily weaponized to create an impenetrable mask of innocence, though, according to BuzzFeed, the video’s models said they had a positive experience with Styles on the set, as model Ephrata called Styles a “consent king” because he asked if he could touch her (specifically her hair, as he was encouraged to do so by those on set). Another model, Aalany McMahan, agreed that “he was huge on the consent.” These dynamics present a new approach to male pop singers focusing so heavily on sex: What if joy and sex went hand-and-hand more regularly? What if this was the norm instead of the heterosexist, male-focused version of sex we typically see in music videos?
In a 2013 piece for the Guardian, Charlotte Richardson Andrews wrote about music videos, including Dizzee Rascal’s “Something Really Bad” (2013) and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” (2013) still not understanding what women actually desire. Both videos were considered controversial because of the way they depicted women as having “untapped reserves of desire smothered behind her mask of primness” that can only be liberated by a man’s “intuition and physical prowess.” “The kernel of truth in these songs is this: women live in a world that objectifies and oversexualises our bodies, then shames us when we dare to take back control and sexual agency,” Andrews wrote. This thinking is supported by “Sexual Objectification in Music Videos: A Content Analysis Comparing Gender and Genre,” a 2011 study published in the Journal of Mass Communication and Society, which found that, “Compared to male artists, female artists were more sexually objectified, held to stricter appearance standards, and more likely to demonstrate sexually alluring behavior.” We know that women are objectified and hypersexualized in music videos across genres, which is the reason it’s so crucial that Styles has managed to—if not completely decenter his own pleasure—find a way to home in on the pleasure of the women in his videos.
These women are in the throes of euphoria—and it shows on their faces. One woman in the “Watermelon Sugar” video arches her back in a collared polo, her oversized star earrings pushing into her shoulders as she leans back with her mouth open to the sky. She licks at the watermelon, but it’s not an especially performative gesture; she’s not flirting with or even acknowledging the camera, but instead seems to be giggling at her own pleasure. Another woman wearing a floral-printed bucket hat and sparkly eyeshadow keeps her eyes closed, almost as if she’s having a not-quite-orgasm. He’s not the focal point, with the women performing for his pleasure; they’re performing for themselves and one another. In this way, the video has the energy of a sexed-up summer camp, almost as if Styles and these models are trusted friends and lovers who have come together to, simply, feel good.
Styles has been building toward this end point since 2017, when he released “Kiwi,” one of his first singles as a solo artist. “She’s driving me crazy, but I’m into it, but I’m into it/ I’m kind of into it/ It’s getting crazy, I think I’m losing it, I think I’m losing it,” Styles sings on “Kiwi,” which echoes some of “Watermelon Sugar’s” same sentiments. There’s such a close connection, in fact, that Styles tweeted, “Kiwi walked so Watermelon Sugar could run.” While both songs are extremely sexual, “Watermelon Sugar’s” sexual energy aligns more with “Lights Up,” a slower and dreamier 2019 song. While “Lights Up” isn’t perceived as sexual because of its lyrics (“All the lights couldn’t put out the dark/ Runnin’ through my heart/ Lights up and they know who you are”), the video also features Styles in the dark in a sea of glistening people of all genders reaching out for him. Much like “Watermelon Sugar,” the models and Styles himself are seemingly in a state of euphoria, with their eyes closed, breaths heavy, and large smiles and laughs crossing their faces. They’ve been lured into the calming lull of a constant, steady state of near-orgasm.
Styles is crafting music that listeners are meant to have sex to, whether with a partner or solo, and he’s crafting videos that deepen each song’s joy. These aren’t sad sex songs or even particularly meaningful sex songs; they’re happy songs, which is far more significant than it might seem in a world that’s still learning that joy and sex should be intertwined.
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