Harry Styles’ Watermelon Sugar: Affirming or Resisting Heteronormative Genders and Sexualities?

by Hannah Weise
2754 words



Intertextuality’s Role in Forming Subject Positions

Doing Gender

           The Protagonists’ Image
           Mulvey’s Gaze Theory

From the Ritualization of Subordination to the Hot Lesbian: Gender Advertising Codes

Doing Sexuality

           The Women
           Harry Styles

Watermelon Sugar: Reifying and Resisting Heteronormativity


            Long before the music video to Harry Styles’ song Watermelon Sugar was released, fans speculated about the song’s meaning. Upon the video’s release of the video, most comments pointed out its sexual intent. Indeed, the video primarily features Styles on a beach amidst scantily clad women, eating watermelons and sensually touching each other (Styles, 2020). Online comments and reactions ranged from criticism of the video for being overly sexual and objectifying women, to praise for representing female sexuality without judgment. In view of the considerable reach Styles has, it is of interest to understand how his music video elicited such contradictory reactions, and how it may draw on and contribute to discourse.

            Discourse has been described as the “circulating of meanings in society” (Krijnen & Van Bauwel, 2015, p. 41). It is a framework used to make sense of the world, is shared by individuals within a society, and is thus socio-historically specific. Through a dialogic mechanism, every event is interpreted by drawing on discourse, before influencing discourse itself. Thus, discourse simultaneously is and produces knowledge, or "a cultural agreement of what is true" (Riley & Evans, 2017). However, some individuals and events have more influence than others in the process of defining knowledge – an imbalance related to power according to Foucault (Krijnen & Van Bauwel, 2015). Media texts especially hold a lot of power in this process, thus making it important to deconstruct and understand them.

            To do so, a main analytical concept that which the following analysis relies on is the “doing” of gender or sexuality. Whereas essentialism assumes a clear link between sex and gender, doing diversity refers to the notion that such a sex/gender binary is less fixed by nature, and more influenced by individuals themselves and the discourses they circulate. By doing gender, individuals create the socially constructed differences between genders and sexualities (West & Zimmerman, 1987).

            Throughout this paper, a queer reading of the video is intended by breaking away from a traditional binary and studying how the message might be read as counter-hegemonic. Whether or not the media text was intended as queer1 does not matter – so long as it can be read that way, it will impact gender politics (Krijnen & Van Bauwel, 2015). This begs the question: How does Harry Styles’ music video Watermelon Sugar play with intertextuality in referencing hegemonic and counter-hegemonic diversity discourses of diversity in terms of gender and sexuality?

Throughout this paper, the term queer is used broadly to refer to LGBT+ sexualities and identities. Using terms such as “gay” as opposed to “straight” would once again introduce a binary, which is precisely what this analysis aims to distance itself from. Instead, it refers to Wander’s (2018) conception of queer, defined as follows: “In place of falsely stable and often exclusionary unities such as gay and straight people or gay and straight culture, ‘queer’ names those bodies and practices that stand askew of what ‘normal’ folks look like and do” (p. 63)