By: Y28|@ItsAsoloShe & Altersaside
(Disclaimer: this article includes fan observations and interpretations that are not confirmed by the artists.)
One of the beautiful aspects of art is the different meanings people attach to it. People have different interpretations to associate with one piece, and while everyone has their own meaning to attach to a song, every project must have an inspiration or a spark to initiate the creative process for the artist.
The true meaning behind a song might not always be easy to declare, especially in a controlling industry where artists are not always allowed to be honest about the meaning of a song. Over the years, artists have found ways to convey messages to their intended audience; this is typically done by hinting at messages through lyrics, using metaphors, dropping clues in interviews, or using backmasking.
Backmasking is a recording technique that adds a hidden message to the track. The message can only be understood when the song is played backward. This is a process done intentionally in the recording studio by the artist.
The first person known to play a record backward, out of curiosity, was Thomas Edison* who is said to have created the phonograph in 1877. The first musicians to record a message on a record- intending for people to play the album in reverse- didn’t happen until the late 1950s. The first hit record known to have used backmasking goes all the way back to 1959 with “Car Trouble” by The Eligibles. One of the phrases heard when you played their album backward was, “Now, lookit here, cats, stop running these records backward!”
The Beatles popularized backmasking when they added a message to the song “Rain” in 1965. In 1966 fans found the phrase “Turn me on, dead man,” on the song “Revolver 9.” This became another aspect of the conspiracy theory that Paul McCartney had passed away and was replaced with a body double. A theory many fans are aware of and Paul himself has laughed off in several interviews.
Once The Beatles showed their willingness and ability to use backmasking several more bands rushed to put messages on the reversed version of their songs, while an even greater number of bands were accused of using the technique. The Beatles went on to use backmasking on several tracks and eventually included a message from John Lennon in the studio version of “Free as a Bird,” which was released after his passing. When you play the song backward you can hear John say, “turned out nice again.”
Backmasking can be found on several songs including:
Elvis’ “Now or Never”
Weird Al Yankovich’s “Nature Trail to Hell”
Pink Floyd’s “Empty Spaces”
The practice of backmasking fell off in popularity during the ’80s when a group of people known for sucking the fun out of every aspect of life got involved. These people, known as Christians, even though they don’t follow the teachings of Christ, discovered the concept of backmasking and worked themselves into a frenzy over hidden messages. They misunderstood the concept, overreacted based on fear, and set fire to a bunch of records while throwing a public tantrum.
They then went to the courts and insisted all backmasking be made illegal, which failed. Then they tried for legislation to force artists to place a backmasking warning label on any records including the technique, which also failed. Eventually, CDs took over the music industry and backmasking wasn’t talked about for a few years because backmasking could not be done on CDs. The technique fell by the way-side until recently.
The comeback for backmasking has been mostly online. Tools on the internet make it easier to play a song backward and share it with others to find out if they are hearing the same thing. Some of the messages left with backmasking are harder to hear correctly than if the song is played forward. The internet gives easy access for curious fans to slow a song down and even isolate the lyrics.
Reversing songs, and trying to catch hidden messages, is nothing new to the One Direction fandom. Perhaps the most reversed One Direction song to attract attention was “They don’t know about us,” which was never officially released. The reversed version is posted multiple times on YouTube.
As a solo artist Harry Styles, of One Direction, is most known for using backmasking in the fandom. Fans have been speculating about it since the Fine Line album released in 2019. Though some people believe the idea of hidden messages in Harry’s work is “crazy,” or simply a “conspiracy,” it wouldn’t be outside of Harry’s realm. Styles himself has admitted, in multiple interviews, to including easter eggs in his music. He also used reverse, or backward, spelling to market a hit single, “Adore You,” from his second album with the island Eroda.
“Sunflower, vol. 6” had a very similar situation with the intro. The song begins with a muffled incoherent word, when reversed the word is clearly “Sunflower” in Harry’s voice, so we can see a pattern here.
In fact, almost all Fine Line songs have been reversed by fans and many believe that the album has tons of hidden messages. We’re only going to cover the most talked about songs, but you can find all reversed songs on YouTube.
One of the most famous songs reversed is “Fine Line” reversed, starting from minute 1:43, many people agree on hearing the sentence, “Now you’re free, blue” and it goes on many times throughout the song. The sentence, “Now show me yourself, blue” can also be heard at 5:33.
Now buckle up because this one is going to be a wild ride.
We mentioned “Sunflower” using backmasking in the intro, yet some fans could detect more hidden lyrics within the rest of the track. TikTok user @obviously_28 pointed out the minute 1:04 in the reversed version, apparently the words, “They don’t understand compassion” can be heard. A personal favorite that is also pointed out by the same person, is minute 3:12, you can hear the words “you saved me” whispered.
They also mention the moment 0:40 where they claim to hear the words “help us”, many fans also hear the words “five of us.” This part is repeated multiple times throughout the song.
Now to my all time favorite, “She.” This song is stunning in its original and reversed version. It has so many hidden clues that I got slightly dizzy trying to squeeze them all in here. Let’s start with the famous part: if you go to minute 2:16, you can clearly hear him say, “Yes, I want Louis.”
And of course, we can’t forget about the heartbreaking iconic moment at 2:37 where he whispers “I’m so lonely, so lonely, Lou.”
Another heartbreaking moment is 0:56 when the words, “I want more” can be heard.
Luckily we have the Acapella version reversed on YouTube where you can find many more moments, such as, “I’m singing that song,” “and it’s such a memo,” “you’ll remember hopefully,” and more.
“Lights up,” “Falling,” “To Be So Lonely,” and “Adore You” also have their fair share of hidden clues, and every song of the album has been reversed and analyzed by fans.
Of course, all of this meant that as soon as the “As It Was” single dropped, it was immediately reversed by fans, the clearest words that most people agree on hearing are, “so what does that mean?”, “What do you see? Their hopes in me” and “I still want it.”
Harry’s House is not the first album in which Harry uses backmasking, but it is the first time it gets addressed directly by Harry or his team. This started from the day we had our first glimpse of the album. On March 23rd, Harry dropped the official trailer of Harry’s House, it was also the first confirmation we had of the album’s name and release date.
What got everyone talking, though, was how the clip used in the trailer appeared to be reversed. People were quick to try reversing the track and see if it would make more sense, and the effort was worth it. The reversed version would later be revealed as “Love of My Life,” the final track of Harry’s House.
This wouldn’t be the only incident where reversed tracks are talked about in the Harry’s House era. On April 17th, the “You Are Home” Twitter account dropped a tweet alluding to backmasking: “a familiar soundtrack, played in reverse.”
The tweet encouraged more people to take the matter seriously, more Twitter threads and YouTube videos were posted, and old TikToks and posts talking about backmasking in Fine Line resurfaced. Some people, who doubted the credibility of messages hidden in reversed tracks, reconsidered their quick judgment. Especially since the tweet clearly mentioned a “familiar track.” Many thought it was a direct reference to one of his older songs.
It’s worth noting that the tweet was posted the day after Harry performed “Boyfriends” for the first time at Coachella. The studio version of the track would later come to have the most obvious backmasking on the album. The song starts with a cryptic intro, when reversed, the lyrics: “You, you’re back at it again,” which are used in the original song before reverse, eliminating any doubt that this might have been unintentional.
This of course urged fans to reverse the whole song and try catching any hidden message, some agreed that the words “begging you” and “Louis” could be heard.
Finally, Harry isn’t the only one who used backmasking. Louis Tomlinson has some songs that, when reversed, can give tiny hidden messages, with “Kill my Mind” being the clearest example.
Many fans noticed that, when reversed, minute 2:38 of the track sounds like “I love him”. Some also claimed to hear “Harry Styles” thrown in different parts of the song, particularly minutes 0:52 and 3:12. Louis’ skill with coding is more prevalent in other areas, including clothing, music videos, online messages, and more. We will be covering this in the new mini-column “Queer Coding 101.”
While backmasking in the industry has been around for a while and fans have always suspected it, it’s only recently that we got direct acknowledgment from Harry that he’s not a stranger to using the technique, which tells us that, contrary to the public belief, “fans’ theories” aren’t always a long shot from the truth.
*Thomas Edison- (extra information about TE to keep in mind whenever you see their name) https://medium.com/lessons-from-history/thomas-edison-the-first-tech-jerk-d1b869f833dc