Harry admitted in 2017 that “From The Dining Table” was his favorite, but also his most honest and vulnerable song on the album
It earned its enigmatic title through a process few are aware of, as Harry only ever mentioned it once at a private show in Mexico City in 2017. The gist of the story is that in Jamaica where he recorded the album with his team, they would sit around the dining table after meals and create/brainstorm music. We saw that in his Behind The Album documentary.
Later when the team migrated to the studio to record those songs, they typically would change drastically from the condition they were in when they were created at the dining table. Specifically, the names of the songs would change. However, since FTDT was Harry’s most honest and unedited offering, it managed to maintain it’s original condition from the dining table. And because no other names suited it, he named the song precisely what it was: “From The Dining Table” Watch below!
Harry’s voice in this song kills me. It just ends me. It’s calm, feathery, emotional, and boasts a childlike tenderness, sort of like a kid trying to win back their parent’s favor after they’ve been scolded and sent to their room. Above all, Harry just sounds small in this song, like he is crammed in a tight, dark place and dreadfully alone. His vocals quaver their way through this 3 minute plea, only becoming slightly more intense when his desperation crescendos midway with the music (“maybe one day you’ll call me, and tell me that you’re sorry too…”) only to fall flat on it’s face with the darkness of his new reality reasserting itself (“…but you, you never do…”) It’s the same voice he uses in Fine Line (The Song)
It works. All of it. In the first few seconds of the song, not only is the listener longing to hold this man and rock him until his disposition improves, but the listener comes to realize this is a different side of Harry, one we haven’t been introduced to before, (because it’s a side of him that’s normally reserved for one person’s eyes only.) But desperate times call for desperate measures. Harry was out of touch with (or estranged from) the person he was seeking to convey these things to, so he had no choice but to offer them in song.
I imagine the lyrics for this song were spoken shakily into voice-notes in the dead of night when he was weepy and drunk, and that he later compiled them to make this haunting track. So when it came time to record the song, he couldn’t sing it in the tone of voice we’re used to hearing, like the way he sang “Sweet Creature” for instance. He had to employ a special tone of voice; the only tone that could properly convey the things he needed (one that would lend the sentiments behind the lyrics justice.)
FTDT is almost a spoken word track, barely showcasing any singing. It’s more of a sing-songy whine, which again puts me in the mind of a small child. I don’t think this was by accident. I believe this was a tactic employed to get a desired result (i.e. compelling the person who left him to come back.) I think it was almost manipulative in a way, sort of like the cover art for the album.
Sure, one could argue since he is wearing a lotus necklace, sitting in a pool of pink water, and curled in on himself that he is emulating a lotus preparing for rebirth; waiting to open up and bloom at dawn. I 100% agree with that interpretation and I believe this was directly inspired by Zayn adopting the lotus symbolism in 2015; first tweeting a picture of a pink lotus and later getting it tattooed.
While I do think the main point of the album cover was to convey that he was experiencing rebirth in his solo career like Zayn had, and that Zayn was a major influence behind the themes in the album, I also think Harry used this pose to help lure Zayn in. What do we know of Zayn and the way he behaved with Harry in the past? He was extremely protective of him in every regard, both his physical well-being and his emotional health. So Harold, being aware of that fact, chose to make himself look small and vulnerable, almost like an injured bird on the cover. This was to help reel Zayn back in if Harry hadn’t achieved that end already through other means. He wanted Zayn back in his life in 2017, and I think he would’ve done anything to make that happen. (Side note: I do believe they got back in touch long before the album dropped in May 2017.)
Moving on to the lyrics:
Um, I don’t think we give Harry nearly enough credit for how calculating and ingenious he is. We tend to think of Harry as this little adorable marshmallow because of the dimpled cheeks and the “Treat People With Kindness” slogan and the fact that he was a literal cherub as a child.
But Harry can be pretty raw when he wants. He can also be petty and jealous and self-serving and all the bad things lovers can be. This lyric has always stuck out to me as much for it’s unabashed honesty as for it’s alarming imagery. (He can be super raw when he wants to get straight to the point and evoke a reaction out of you: “Spreading you open is the only way of knowing you…”)
But the point is, the opening lyric to FTDT is almost a call-to-action of sorts for Zayn. He knows the imagery of him playing with himself while he’s sad, drunk, and lonely will receive mixed reactions from him his listeners, but for the person who loves him and of whom he is demanding “…where were you?” he knows they will be gutted by this visual. He also knows the idea of him playing with himself will be irresistible for them. For me this lyric isn’t just sexual, it’s poignant. It’s Harry letting us into the mind-space he was suffering during his grief in the aftermath of losing Zayn, but he is also letting us into an intimate space where normally only one person’s eyes are allowed to roam (over his body as well as his heart.)
And as Harry’s former lover, I can’t imagine what this imagery must’ve evoked for Zayn (just like the haunting imagery in the “Falling” video.) However, I know for a fact that the “Where were you?” must’ve hit him like a ton of bricks. It’s subtle, yet demanding. It’s innocuous, yet accusatory. It’s saying “you should have been here.” It’s saying “I can’t believe you weren’t here. you told me you would always be here.” And as someone emotionally invested in Harry and who was responsible for his heart, I know this line must’ve cut Zayn like a knife, in addition to the vulnerable cover art, and his quiet delivery of this song.
Zayn was SO moved by the imagery of Harry playing with himself upon first waking up, that he wrote about it in two songs: “Dusk Till Dawn” and “Tonight.”
“Baby I’m right here. You’ll never be alone. I want to see the sunrise on your sins. Go, give love to your body…”
“No matter where you are or where you’ll be…when you’re feeling yourself, I know you’re thinking of me.”
Harry’s lover not speaking is a recurring theme found throughout all his music. Harry makes strong references to their refusal to speak their true feelings starting in “Olivia” in MITAM and carries it into multiple songs on his solo debut. Therefore, the comfortable silence is serving as a double entendre here.
He is being tongue-and-cheek and saying that while what most people desire in a relationship is the ability to have comfortable silence, he is over it because his lover NEVER speaks, and so in that way the silence has become detrimental. But he is also using it in the sense that Zayn’s continued silence after their breakup is killing him. This is no longer the comfortable silence shared by two people who enjoy spending time together. This is the deadly silence that develops between two people who no longer want anything to do with one another, and who don’t want to speak to each other in any capacity after a breakup.
That is what Harry has come to dread, because he knows Zayn can take that to an extreme, because he is silent when they are together, so of course the trouble is that he can be 100x as silent after they are broken up (and in that case the issues would never get resolved.) Even Zayn acknowledges this when he responded to FTDT in DTD: “We were shut like a jacket…”
We see here a another running theme that can be found throughout Zarry’s music. Poor communication and mutual destruction. Meaning, they both are crap at communicating, and this becomes the ultimate downfall of their relationship. We see neither of them are willing to pick up the phone and reach out to each other afterwards. And finally we see Harry expounds on that sentiment when he says:
So it seems like the fallout they had, which Harry gives glimpses of in “Olivia” and which would later be confirmed by Joe Cummings, was steeped in their issue with faulty communication, and mainly Zayn not speaking about his feelings and running.
I can almost envision how difficult things must’ve been in those final days, with Harry pleading to Zayn not to leave him, and Zayn simply stonewalling him because he felt he needed to go. So they were both being self-serving, but with good reason. Harry knew that if he lost Zayn, he would probably never see him or hear from him again, and so he was obviously reluctant to let him go. He was his whole world. He felt as though he was missing half of himself when Zayn was gone. He was all he had ever known. They grew up together, they fell in love with music together, he had become Zayn’s caretaker when he was ill and Zayn had become his protector. It is not a separation Harry was prepared for, but it was one that needed to happen to preserve Zayn’s mental health.
Harry’s infamous possessiveness also rears it’s ugly head in FTDT, because he makes mention that he is aware Zayn is seeing someone else now.
Someone commented on another post saying they think he is referring to Gigi, who Zayn worked with on the Pillowtalk music video and then ended up dating her, and I think that is a valid theory. Either that or Harry is referring to someone else he heard Zayn was sleeping with during their break-up, and he is expressing his disdain over Zayn giving anyone any part of what used to belong to him (whether that be material possessions like a t-shirt or Zayn’s body.)
Why is this “cool” lyrical connection important?
- It’s a direct lyrical reference or response between the two songs, using identical language. A lot of what Zayn wrote in DTD was meticulously written to refute the things Harry was saying in FTDT and to alleviate his despair by reassuring him of certain promises. So the first thing Harry mentions when Zayn has left him is that he no longer feels “cool,” so Zayn makes mention of “not trying to be cool,” meaning that is the least of his concerns in any regard, and so Harry does not have to feel bad about feeling “uncool.”
- Why on earth does Harry relate being cool or uncool to his relationship with Zayn? Why does being cool seem to be of such importance to Harry that he not only wrote about how uncool he felt when Zayn left him, but also talked about how he only “cries in a cool way” on his 2017 Carpool Karaoke episode with James Corden? Why does he feel that it’s important for him to be “cool?”
As with all things Zarry, it all adds up. There is no wonder why Harry seems so unduly concerned with being “cool” even when he’s feeling overwhelmed with emotions like in FTDT or after he listens to “Sign Of The Times.” He feels he always has to be (or wants to be) cool because Zayn uses the word cool A LOT to describe things that he LIKES.
Here is how a journalist took account of Zayn’s compulsive use of the word “cool,” to the point where he even named his horse Cool.
It seems to me that Harry (subconsciously) wants to be as desirable as possible before Zayn’s eyes, so he wants to be always seen as “cool.” He’s not aware of how odd he sounds when he talks about feeling “uncool” when he is emotional, which is why James teased him. And remember, being away from this person triggered him to have emotional and uncool behavior in FTDT. Zayn is a chill person who everyone describes as laidback, quiet, and relaxed, so Harry has probably learned to not be overly emotional in his presence. So he therefore equates crying and being emotional to uncool behavior. (But that’s just my theory surrounding that lyrical connection in both songs.)
All-in-all I think this is a powerfully raw song that served it’s purpose, because Zayn seemed to respond to it right away, almost line-for-line with Dusk Till Dawn.