The Somber Meaning Behind “Sign of the Times” By Harry Styles

Harry Styles is now three albums into his solo career. Each new release earns the former boy-bander a new legion of fans and a slew of accolades.

Videos by American Songwriter

He started it all though with the classic rock-steeped single “Sign of the Times.” Though Styles has had greater success since, his debut single helped to set him apart from his One Direction peers and usher him into superstardom twice over.

[RELATED: Who Are the Songwriters Behind Harry Styles’ “As It Was”]

We’re revisiting the somber meaning behind the single, below.

Behind the Meaning

“Sign of the Times” is a slow burn. The melody calls upon ’70s rock icons like David Bowie and the Stones while the lyrics seem to curb emotion in the wake of hard times.

Soon after releasing the song, Styles revealed that it was inspired by a mother who is told she only has a few minutes to live after giving birth. The song is the last bit of advice she gives to her newborn child.

Speaking to Rolling Stone, Styles said his entire debut album was inspired by the “fundamental” rights of other human beings.

“Most of the stuff that hurts me about what’s going on at the moment is not politics, it’s fundamentals,” he said. “Equal rights. For everyone, all races, sexes, everything…”

“‘Sign of the Times’ came from ‘This isn’t the first time we’ve been in a hard time, and it’s not going to be the last time,'” he continued in the same interview. “The song is written from a point of view as if a mother was giving birth to a child and there’s a complication. The mother is told, ‘The child is fine, but you’re not going to make it.’ The mother has five minutes to tell the child, ‘Go forth and conquer.'”

[RELATED: Top 10 Harry Styles Songs That Deserve a Revisit]

Upon releasing the song, it debuted at No. 1 on the UK charts and No. 4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The milestone meant dethroning his friend Ed Sheeran, who has spent thirteen previous weeks at that No. 1 slot.

Fun fact: the song shares its title with Prince’s ninth studio album, Sign O’ the Times. Coincidently or not, the song was released 30 years from the day that the album was released. Sheena Easton, a collaborator of Prince’s, once stated she thought the rock icon would approve of Styles’ single.

Just stop your crying, it’s a sign of the times
Welcome to the final show
Hope you’re wearing your best clothes
You can’t bribe the door on your way to the sky
You look pretty good down here
But you ain’t really good

We never learn, we been here before
Why are we always stuck and running from
The bullets? The bullets
We never learn, we been here before
Why are we always stuck and running from
The bullets? The bullets

Music Video

The accompanying music video saw Styles flying around above the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

The video’s accolades include Best British Video of the Year at the 2018 Brit Awards, Best Music Video at the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Awards and two nominations at the 2017 VMAs. As of August 2022, the video received more than 1 billion views on Youtube.

Photo by JC Olivera/WireImage

Leave a Reply

Tory Lanez

Tory Lanez Appeals Decision in Megan Thee Stallion Case