Playlab, Inc., the multidisciplinary creative studio that designed the trippy set, shared that the visual treatment was inspired by Paul Shrader’s 1985 film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. “The film features surreal sets floating in black space, and it perfectly captures this idea of being cooped up both physically and mentally. The concept of being surrounded by infinite space allowed us to play with the idea of what hides within that space,” Playlab Inc. explained via email. “Roddy Rich has this iconic line on his verse: ‘Posted up with the demons,’ and we imagined the demons lurking in this space around the house. The modernist energy just felt right with the pace and tone of the track. It’s this sort of ’70s open floor plan energy, led by tones of reds, oranges, and yellows. It’s all meant to feel warm to further emphasize being cooped up, but alive.”
It reminds Dereaux of the ’70s “cocaine decor” aesthetic, a playful combination of absurdity and escapism. “I think the idea of cooped up and being in isolation is like you want an escape from that reality,” she says.
Then there’s the album cover for Harry’s House, which uses an upside down minimalist scene to symbolize transformation. In the music video for the lead single “As It Was,” Styles is spotted at the brutalist Barbican Estate in London—a site that has previously made cameos in videos for Dua Lipa, Niall Horan, and Skepta to name a few—before moving to Lindley Hall, and then a penguin enclosure at the London Zoo. “Him going through these spaces and sort of breaking free of this very rigid, regimented visual expression is super representative of the song—that acceptance of things will never be the same,” Dereaux adds.
Even though it all seems to be happening at once, this trend in referencing and using space and design to enhance music has been gaining momentum for a few years now. In FKA Twigs’s music video for “Don’t Judge Me,” the artist takes over Kara Walker’s Fons Americanus fountain in reference to racial injustices and power struggles. Last month, Twigs performed in the cavernous St. Matthias Church, located in London, for her NPR Tiny Desk Concert, reinvigorating her album Magdalene’s religious themes on the grounds of a site where ritualism protests took place in 1867.