The Harry Styles' "Kiwi" Music Video Meaning Is Subtle, But Brilliant
On Wednesday morning, we all woke up to the cupcake hurling madness that was Harry Styles' "Kiwi" music video. There's... a lot to unpack here, but the meaning of the "Kiwi" music video might not be as bewildering as it seems at first. And, sure, it’s easy to succumb to the temptation to just be confused. Puppies, cupcakes, miniature Harry Styles doppelgängers — potentially none of this makes sense. Maybe it’s just one long massage for the eyeballs. But, if you take the visual apart piece by piece, there’s a relatively coherent storyline at play.
Of course, the video subject makes little sense in the context of the song lyrics, which are about a very adult-sounding woman ("Hard liquor mixed with a bit of intellect") and possibly groupie claiming to be pregnant with Styles' child. However, if you take the video as a romp into the realm of fantasy and hedonism, then it still manages to stay true to the themes of the lyrics while balancing out the darkness inherent in what sounds like a casual sex affair turning abruptly serious with a generous helping of silliness.
Let's start with the obvious: If you look to the less surreal aspects of the video, there’s some everyday elementary school stuff going on here.
You’ve got kids dressed up to the nines (some in wackier ways than others, admittedly), you’ve got children bringing in so many baked goods they can be stacked at the center of the gym, and you’ve got an ending scene that looks like a school photograph. Theoretically, you could read this video as being an exercise in wish fulfillment. The students at the school are doing all the sort of gently tedious things that count as fun at that stage of life: they're getting prettied up for a school picture, they're spending their after school hours in the kitchen making cakes for a charity bake sale.
All the cool, off-the-wall stuff that happens feels like what kids might wish would happen in school as opposed to what actually does happen. Instead of your mom dragging a comb through your hair and making you wear an ugly sweater so you look like Emperor of the nerds on picture day, you get to strut into school in the sort of Gucci patterned suit, ruffled shirt combo that rockstar hero Styles regularly sports. Instead of selling cupcakes to raise money for a worthy cause, you get to throw them at each other.
Best of all? Absolutely no adult supervision. Theoretically, it could turn into Lord of the Flies, William Golding's 1954 novel about a group of school boys who, on becoming stranded on an island, descend into violent anarchy. But instead (because it's probably a dream or a wish, you guys), things don't go too far. Nobody gets icing smooshed in their eyes and ends up crying. Nobody trips over and bruises their knee. It's chaos, but the carefully sanitized type you might recognize from daydreams.
How did I get cake on my shoulder? I haven't even had any cake.— Harry Styles. (@Harry_Styles) September 15, 2013
This theory feels all the more convincing when we consider all the "Kiwi" music video references to Styles' own life. As Bustle writer Caitlin Gallagher has already observed, the line "I work in a bakery" could be a reference to the pop star's The X Factor audition, in which he told judges where he worked. This might also explain the abundance of cupcakes in the video, which could also be a reference to the multiple times Styles has tweeted about cake.
So we worked in a bakery, but we can assume that he probably never got to pile the cakes on a gym floor, sparking a school-wide food fight. We can assume that he probably never got to bring puppies to school even though he loves them (as we know from The Daily Mail's essential read on the star befriending a puppy during London Fashion Week). He — again, we can assume — never got to dress like a rad rock star to go to school like the kids in the video. Which suggests the video is about taking things that genuinely existed in the pop star's own youth and idealizing them. He's taking things that might have been a touch boring, like an after-school job at a bakery, and making them not just fun, but better. And that suggests that this isn't any old wish fulfillment — it's wish fulfillment specific to Styles.
Still not convinced? Skip to two minutes in. If this isn't about making dreams come true, why does the "Sign of the Times" singer usher in multiple puppies, enough, theoretically, for a puppy per kid? Plus, the idea of a puppy as a food hoover feels charming and gently absurd — exactly the sort of idea a child might have or grow up to want.
Finally, there's the closing shot. The kids are mussed up and have cake smeared all over their faces but the school photo is going ahead anyway. Nobody's told anyone to wash their faces or to pick icing out of their scalp. The school photo is no longer a tedious false record of how things really were (because few kids boast hairdos as tidy as on picture day or look as awkward as they might in the shot). Instead, it's a tribute to fun and chaos and kid rule, with Styles there to shout on the cupcake war from the sidelines. Even better: it's an exercise in dreaming that seems personally relevant to the musician himself.