Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar —” raspy and low can be sugar high too
Sometimes, having a great chord progression or production can enslave a songwriter.
So, although songwriting combos are a cliché for a reason (like pop music+high notes, straight up recipe for catchiness,) it’s also worth praising when someone goes a slightly different way, creating amazing pieces such as Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar.”
Even though “Watermelon Sugar” has almost all the standard components of a successful pop song — instrumentals made to dance to, catchy chord progression, and lots of repetition, — its melody and vocals are actually quite different from what you’d expect from a Motown-esque song like this.
I don’t know how this song was created, but, reverse-engineering it for the sake of songwriting analysis’, if I was to assume melody and lyrics came last, I’d be the most impressed by the songwriters’ (among whomst Styles is included) decision to keep the melody quite simple, even a bit serious.
The safe route to write a topline for a funky production such as “Watermelon sugar” would be to have a swagged out melody, with just the same groove as the instrumentals, and with lots of high notes.
But instead, the melody here is constructed mostly in a way that sounds more like jazz than any other post-form of black music.
The focus of “Watermelon Sugar” is on Styles’ raspy voice — his D3 note in the line “And it sounds just like a song” is really beautiful — and the feelings of surrendering to a sticky & sweet type of love.
Such feelings are transmitted through the use of longer notes, a strong feature of the melody, as in the last words pronounced in the lines “Breathe me in / Breathe me out,” “I don’t know if I could ever go without.”
Interestingly, the extended notes in these lines are not the highest ones, unlike in most pop songs.
There are few exceptions to this melodic approach in “Watermelon Sugar,” like the post-chorus (“I just wanna taste it, I just wanna taste it, watermelon sugar high)” and the background vocals in the last chorus, which contains a brief showcase of Styles’ high register.
These moments make for a balance with the rest of the composition, but they’re not the reason why “Watermelon Sugar” will get you hooked — the husky “aw” in “Tastes like strawberry”, and the way Styles sings “in,” “out” and “high,” are most likely to stick to your brain after the song ends.
Funny enough, the song speaks of a love that is “sugar high,” yet Styles’ vocals are kind of the opposite of it. And it’s the contrast of his raspy voice with the high-pitched instrumentals that makes “Watermelon Sugar” so interesting.
The song never really delivers what it supposedly should — Styles even resists the temptation to use songwriting techniques such as having an 8-bar first post-chorus (he only does that in the end of the song,) which would prolong its catchiness, and to build climax with a high note in the bridge.
And maybe that’s where the magic lies: Styles’ calm emission of notes, never stretching away from his voice’s comfort zone, insinuates a confident surrendering, an unapologetic embrace of his desire, as if he’s not willing to spend any energy to fight the feeling.
Additionally, the way he strategically holds some notes, creating a slipping effect, is suggestive of how he’s letting himself get dragged by this love he sings about.
And, sometimes, just sticking to this feeling is enough to make a song worth listening to many times.