Most things in life are too good to be true, and that’s because life is a hellscape defined by continual disappointments and apparently, perpetual pandemics. The promise of Harry Styles reading a bedtime story in his hushed, crisp, deliciously raspy English voice for the Calm App is, however, an exception. The meditation application, to my knowledge, is best known for offering “Sleep Stories” from celebrities like Laura Dern, Kelly Rowland, and Matthew McConaughey, whose familiar accents guide the listener through deep breathing exercises and eventually, peaceful slumber totally divorced from earthly anxieties. If it works, I’m sure it’s worth the cost ($70 a year!) and the inclusion of Styles certainly makes that price feel justified. But there’s just one problem: His dictation of “Dream With Me,” a bedtime story by authors Steve Cleverly and Sanj Sen, is far too erotic to rock anyone to sleep. It did, however, slow my breathing, the same way cinematic sex scene sin romantic movies seem to slow the space-time continuum. But that was less meditative and more like—butterfly-inducing?
Chalk it up to my decade-long obsession with the bubbly British boy, whose musical evolution deserves to become a field of study taught in the most prestigious institutions, but listening to Harry Styles whisper about “small pleasures” and “the tenderness we feel when we are close,” is horny ASMR at its most direct. The story is written in such a way that Styles walks the listener through a few relaxing vignettes, almost all of which take place in the countryside (he mentions “moonlight valleys blanketed with heather,” so I assume we’re traversing Scotland together). He routinely mentions himself as “me” and the listener as “you,” which I would refer to as emotional torture if it weren’t so damn pleasurable. I am only slightly embarrassed to admit that I pressed pause when a new story began with the line “we are snuggling on a raft,” as I realized that these images were real fantasies—the kind of dates The Bachelor franchise could only dream of creating on-screen: With Styles, you wander in a bright forest, you sit by a fire in a cabin, you watch the ocean at sunset, and you frolic through a field of flowers. It immediately reminded me of the visual assault that is One Direction’s “Night Changes” music video, in which each member of the boy band, including Zayn, takes the camera (“you”) on a date whilst staring directly into “your” eyes. Of course, those romantic outings end in disaster—it wouldn’t be playful pop material if they ended in, say, a successful proposal—which differs from Styles’s sleep stories. Those arrive at a satiating conclusion: rest.
At some point near the end of Styles’ 35-minute bedtime story, I felt myself begin to grow sleepy, focusing on the tonality of his voice and the calming music soundtracking it, rather than the scenes he was painting. I was starting to fall asleep, and then he uttered the pornographic phrase, “the tenderness we feel when we are close, two minds as one, surrounds us and connects us, for we have only just begun.” Begun “what,” sir? So much of “Dream With Me” is Harry Styles fan fiction and very much worth some sort of visual component, though I recognize the goal is not to get hot and bothered for sweet Styles, but to have his silky speaking voice lull you to dreamland. In a perfect world, it does both. And if it doesn’t, the seduction is a fine ride, too.