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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Watermelon Sugar" has been the world's summery anthem for... how long now?

At least now we know what it's about.

The Cal Band was the only positive about today's game. What's new?

In the spirit of celebrating the Band, I once again dedicate a game day post to a song they played in their halftime show. Today's theme evidently was cooking and baking, with the show comprised of songs with foods in their titles. The show had a pretty good variety of material from which I could chose, but I ended up settling on the show opener, Harry Styles' "Watermelon Sugar."

Holy cow, this song has been everywhere during the planet's last trip-and-a-third or so around the sun. It's rare for a week to go by without me hearing it somewhere... and it isn't rare at all for someone to ask what the heck the song means. Well, Harry answered that question last night, and the answer... actually surprises me because of how frank he was; props to him for that.

I have to admit, I do like the song, as well as a fair amount of Harry Styles' solo work. It took me a bit to come around to Styles as a solo artist, mainly because I wasn't fond of his previous musical endeavors. Then I remembered the manufactured nature of most boy bands, and how, despite being credited as a writer on a fair amount of One Direction songs, his creativity was undoubtedly hampered. When I gave his work a chance, I was honestly kind of blown away. "Sign of the Times" was a world away from what I expected from him, but it fit him really well. So did the punch-packing "Kiwi," also from his self-titled solo debut, and the somewhat psychedelic "Golden" and the pop goodness of "Adore You" from Fine Line in addition to "Watermelon Sugar."

I think a lot of why I like "Watermelon Sugar" comes down to how it ultimately has such a 70s sound. That isn't apparent right away, but it's nonetheless set up by the first verse. The laidback rhythm guitar, present at the song's beginning, fits the summery lyrical mood Styles sets; from the second verse it provides a less noticeable, but important role in filling out the backing behind the instruments that enter then. Those instruments — the horns, the lead guitar, and the new drums — are the ones that throw the sound back a half-century. It takes a while for Ivan Jackson's horns to really steal the show (head to the final chorus for that), but their chord hits remind me of some of the tight entries the Phenix Horns (most known for working with Earth, Wind & Fire) had across their catalog. Kid Harpoon's lead guitar sound in the verse is chunky and very full; if the sound were a shape it'd be a big cube. Mitch Rowland's drums, meanwhile, remind me of funk and R&B patterns that have since been innumerably sampled in various hip-hop circles.

The track also has plenty of ear candy, sounds that may not appear for long or in the front of the arrangement but nonetheless can grab your attention on a second or third listen. The piano in the second pre-chorus is textbook example of ear candy. (pauses for readers to go back and try to hear it — go to 1:20 in the video) I only heard the piano sometime this year, despite having heard the song everywhere since last May. It's there for a brief, delicate moment in a high register, and it's gone just as quickly, leaving no trace of its presence in its wake.

There's also the sliding guitar line that helps fill out the chorus. While that guitar becomes more prominent in the post-chorus, I for sure didn't hear it right away in the regular chorus, because I pay attention to a more big-picture sound when I hear a new song. Now, though, it's hard for me to not focus on it. Finally (at least for this article's relative brevity), there's the flanger effect applied to Styles' post-chorus vocals. Flanging is when a signal is played back on a very slight and gradually changing delay. It gives lines to which it's applied — in this case, the "I just wanna taste it..." section — a sort of otherworldly quality. You've probably heard it on tracks before, but maybe hadn't known it by name until now.

As much as I enjoy a lot of things about "Watermelon Sugar," I'm most fond of its final chorus. It's a "kitchen sink"-like moment where everything comes together and then some — hello, new horn line! — but it's also not overpowering or too loud in in any respects, and every element is still clearly audible. That's a testament to the mixing job done by Spike Stent, who's also worked with the likes of Beyoncé, U2, and Ed Sheeran. Working with production to create such a successful mix requires a big-picture view, knowing how everything needs to be set up in order for the ultimate payoff at the end to achieve the desired effect, and Stent did so immaculately here.

I'm rarely continually impressed by pop songs like I am with "Watermelon Sugar." From its longevity as a summer anthem as we now enter the second autumn since its release, to all the things I still uncover about the track despite having heard it a triple-digit amount of times, it's one of the most impressive feats in recent popular music, and it's from a singer who's already had plenty of those and will definitely have more as his solo career continues to grow. Bravo, Harry.


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