It’s 2013 and a young man in a biker jacket looks to the floor with a posed sense of disgust. His hair is shaved on both sides, his black skinny jeans clinging around the frame of his delicate figure and whilst his face is barely visible he is clearly handsome. This man is Matthew Healy. Behind him three other males awkwardly stand together in the shadow of their clear leader, recreating a direct copy of an early Joy Division press shot. They are The 1975 and they are about to become the most important band of this decade. Annoying, narcissistic, devoid of originality, seemingly lacking real vocal talent and more focussed on image than their music; these are just a few of the phrases that are going to be flung around about the band for the next few years.
Now, it’s 2018 and I’m holding back tears as I listen to a song called ‘I Always Want To Die (Sometimes)’. On my desk lies a printed copy of a magazine with the headline, “The band of the decade gets the bends,” and some critics have called The 1975’s new album “our generation’s answer to OK Computer”. I see five stars across the board, I’m hounded by friends about how the band have changed their life and my older mates are talking over a pint about how they never thought they’d say it, but, they actually like The 1975. They’ve released a record featuring a poem about the internet read by Siri and their status as musical icons has been firmly achieved. So, what happened?
In simple terms, a large amount of the band’s early success could be boiled down to vanity. I loved them because I wanted to be them. They had the coolest haircuts, they wore the nicest clothes, they sang about beautiful women, they were vocal about taking drugs I’d never even been close to and they embodied a life of hedonism, attitude and personality. Their radio friendly pop songs were simple and captured the attention of a younger market; ‘Chocolate’ was dance-y and fun with an undertone of coolness that boybands weren’t supplying to the now mid-teen pop fans, whilst ‘Girls’ offered a quirky and brightly coloured rehash of the quintessential indie bop. On the surface you can see why the kids loved it, they lusted after Healy and found an accessible level of musical proficiency to their records. However, dig a little deeper and you see something darker and more interesting happening; early EP tracks like ‘Antichrist’ touched on depression over George Daniel’s inventive production and deeper cuts on the album like ‘Menswear’ offered the social commentary that would eventually make the band iconic.
Every time a publication slammed the band they only got bigger, their fans rallied around them like an army and the group found themselves headlining Brixton Academy not long after they had released their debut album. For most teens the indie bands of the moment were inaccessible or perhaps even too cool, whilst the radio artists weren’t offering the edge and angst that every pre-adolescent craves. At their core they profited on rehashing the concept and attitude of emo whilst bringing back sounds more akin to Peter Gabriel’s So and you can see why this irritated the more mature market. When they eventually released their self-titled debut it shot to Number One. It was met with the worst reviews you could possibly imagine and it couldn’t have been more perfect. The 1975 were now sticking it to the man; they didn’t care that The Times hated them, they couldn’t give a shit that NME nominated them for worst band of the year and why would you be bothered about the music snobs dissing you when you have created a fanbase more like a cult army than a group casual listeners?
For the next three years everything was to be black and white. Eighties revival was the only genre on any new band’s mind and hairdressers shaved more undercuts than history had ever seen before. The 1975 had sparked a musical movement. Then they disappeared.
When they return they are all in pink. They recreate a late 60s Beatles press shot to launch their new movement and drop the INXS referencing, 80s Bowie-esque ‘Love Me’. It’s huge step up both lyrically and musically. No longer is Healy warbling about the shallow angst of a teenage hometown, but instead has traded emo clichés for questioning his own self-identity in the face of new found fame. It’s clever, it’s explicit and it’s down right bonkers. There’s a Diane Martel video featuring the band snogging Harry Styles, licking each others feet and impersonating Mick Jagger.
After years of monochrome nonchalance within the music industry, suddenly the our laptops are filled with vibrance and colour. They announce their sophomore release titled I Like it When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It and those who had written the band off as pretentious and egotistical are only proved correct. The group have responded to other people’s ideas of who they are with the biggest middle finger a human can give… to be exactly that. Suddenly there is a level of meta-commentary within their releases and a self aware nod and wink to both their flaws and successes exists. It’s no surprise that suddenly the critics are now on board. The 1975 have become the most forward thinking outfit in alternative music this side of the Atlantic in recent times, and whilst a large majority of the public are still not convinced, it has become clear that these three years have seen the band grow up hugely. The deeper cuts from the first record seem to be standard on ILIWYS with the band choosing not to shy away from their more creative side. There’s gospel, there’s Lennon-esque acoustic moments and there’s even a deep house title track.
Embarking on a huge tour featuring more Brixton Academy shows than I can count on one hand and eventually a staggering two night engagement at The O2 arena, The 1975 seem to have very quickly become the biggest band in Britain. Healy has dropped the guitar, leather jackets and scene kid hair cut in trade for designer garms, Morrissey-like dance moves and a head of curls that looks like it was attacked by a homeless person with shears. The rest of the band have more confidence than ever, seemingly starting to become poster boys in their own right. George Daniel has received huge acclaim as a producer and their label Dirty Hit now acts more as a brand than just a way to release music. They fly around in private jets, traveling the world to adoring fans and new found musical acclaim. If anyone thinks the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle is over, a quick look into the bands behaviour in this period would be a stark reminder that it most certainly is not - I was just waiting to see them throw a TV out of the window.
The new album addresses fame, cocaine addiction, depression, love, sex, jealousy, parental troubles and even hints at the singers growing obsession with heroin. At no point does it romanticise anything and the sense of lyrical irony is verging on genius, Healy has found his voice and he is using it. They seem happy, the band are bigger than ever and they head off to LA to start work on their third album.
But I was wrong; they were not happy, at least, Matty Healy wasn’t. Battling a now crippling addiction to opioids and struggling more than ever in the face of fame and adoration the band go quiet again. As with their first record, it seems the band have had a bigger influence on popular culture than expected. Every band is pink and blue, art-pop is the new norm and Tumblr has basically become a shrine to The 1975.
Then, in mid 2018, they return. They look soft and sombre, more serious than ever before and for the first time it seems like the irony and glittery nature that drove the first two records has disappeared. Left in its place is a true sense of sincerity, maturity and musical proficiency.
A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is quite clearly the most generation defining album I’ve heard in my short time on the planet. It had to be made now, I mean right now. It’s sprawling, confused, devoid of any real musical discipline and heartbreakingly sad - just like we all feel in this day and age. It captures everything we believe and everything we fear in a 58 minute journey of auto-tune, neoclassicism, soft jazz and harmonic guitar distortion. It’s near impossible to hate and even those who have the most negative relationships with The 1975 are finding a genuine respect for this record.
But is it really that far from their self titled debut? Sure, there’s a maturity that only their own creative journey could have created and they’ve lost the attitude of that brash band from Manchester. Yet somewhere inside The 1975 have always been about doing exactly what they wanted to do. They’ve never signed a major record deal in the purest sense and every album they’ve released has pushed up to 15 tracks. They’ve captured the internal monologue of modern existence, packaged it and sold it straight back to us. They are genuine creatives, producing their own records, writing their own music videos and even helping other artists develop and grow. But how can a band so rooted in pop culture with such a sonic reference to popular music manage to be so inventive, forward thinking and downright impressive in everything they’ve ever done? Well, to answer that I’d have to be in The 1975.