Harry Styles’ hit As It Was has become the longest-running number one on the US singles chart by a British artist. As at 27th September, the song had topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 15 weeks, breaking the record previously held jointly by Mark Ronson and Sir Elton John.
Here’s a reminder of how it sounds:
So what is it that makes this seemingly simple song so widely popular? Obviously, Harry Styles himself has a large following and a good pop voice, the lyrics are cryptic but interesting and, as you would expect, the arrangement and production are first-class.
So what about the music? When I first thought about the chord structure and melody, I could find little to explain why this song would stand out and be so successful. After all the song simply repeats the chords D major, B minor, E major and A major and, other than for the odd flourish, the melody centres on the same B, C# and D notes in a single register.
But when you dig a little deeper, there are some interesting aspects to this composition. First of all, you never really feel comfortable about what key the song is in. You’d have to say A major, because that’s how the four-chord sequence ends, but somehow it never feels that simple. Those sites which analyse keys using software all say that the key is F# minor, yet the chord of F# minor never appears in the song – the algorithm simply gets it wrong.
What is probably confusing the software is that the tune of the verse centres initially on B and C# while the D chord is playing underneath. The dissonance between the C# melody and the root note D provides a nice effect (like a D major seventh chord).
Another interesting aspect of the song is its tempo which, at 174 bpm, fairly belts along. This creates a sense of urgency which is unusual for a song which is sung quite so delicately.
Only subtle points, perhaps, but enough to explain why a song so superficially simple has grabbed the attention of millions.