NME staff writer El Hunt was a 1975 hater. Then it all clicked...
If you’ve ever a) been dumped b) seen 10 Things I Hate About You, you’ll know that, with all life’s vague overlaps and ever-changing boundaries, love is uncomfortably close to hate. Deep, huh? If, on the other hand, you’re reading this and asking, ‘What the fuck are you on about?’, then congratulations – you’ve obviously never experienced a messy break-up. Either that, or you’ve never seen the best rom-com of all time. In which case, sort that one out as soon as possible.
When The 1975 released their eponymous debut album five years ago, I regarded Matty Healy and co. with the vaguely disdainful air of Kat Stratford (from 10 Things I Hate About You, keep up). Put more simply, I didn’t really like the band – and while I didn’t quite have 10 reasons at the ready, I had a handful. It was never really about the music, actually – while I was never a huge lover of their early stuff, it was mostly the surrounding noise that pissed me off.
When frontman Matt Healy told NME that he makes music in order to turn himself on, I rolled my eyes. And most people – even long-time fans of the band – can agree that in the past Healy’s mouth has landed him in hot water. For instance: the time that he said, “I resent being ‘educated’ by a Harry Styles fan account” after a 19-year old fan rightly called him out over some iffy tweets. Another moment: when he told Q magazine that “it was never important for us to be a band that young girls like”. Coming from the frontman of an undeniably mainstream pop act – supported by a dedicated fanbase, many of them young women – it all seemed a bit rich.
Then, came The 1975’s video for ‘Girls’. Released that same year, it came across like yet another cliched pop-rock video. It featured the band swanning around while lingerie-wearing women pretended to play their instruments; if this was an attempt at poking fun at clichéd rockstar personas, it didn’t quite land. The creepy lyrics (“Oh give it a rest, I could persuade you”, followed a few lines later by, “Give me a night; I’ll make you”), weren’t quite tongue-in-cheek enough to sell it as a satirical effort, either. Couple that with another song, this one simply called ‘Sex’, and it all just seemed so predictable. At this point, I didn’t just dislike The 1975. I actively loathed them.
So when The 1975 titled their second album *deep breath* ‘i like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it’, my eyes rolled so far into the back of my head that I could practically see into my own seething cranium beginning to self-combust. With the same slightly unsettling aura of Sting husking along to ‘Every Breath You Take’, it’s a title that, on paper, manages to blend a distinctive type of amateur beat poetry with genuine terror. It’s an album name that says: ‘I’m going to watch you while you sleep and then write a horrible haiku about it for my @coffee_and_cigarettes instagram account’. To borrow a song title from the band: UGH! Another boring band of mediocre blokes with guitars, no doubt trying to be edgy.
At this point it all changes, because it turns out ‘i like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it’ really fucking slaps. I love The 1975, and I’m not the only one to do a total 180 on them by any stretch.
The 1975’s second album, in fact, is so impressive that it managed to reverse the entire tide of criticism around the band’s debut; including at this very publication. “Despite its gangster storyline this is like [Fall Out Boy] on a Thomas Cook package holiday,” we wrote, reviewing debut cut ‘Chocolate’. “Avoid”. Yet two years later, ‘i like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it’ was NME’s album of the year. After begrudgingly listening to their second record for the first time, I found myself listening again, and again, and again. And again.
That’s because ‘i like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it’ isn’t just an excellent album. It’s one of the most accomplished of the last decade. Though it appears to have more red flags than a slalom course at the winter Olympics (the went-to-see-a-Robert-Montgomery-installation-once artsy neon lights, a gobby and ambitious frontman, a will to conquer about 10 genres at once), it somehow ends up a bizarre, era-defining masterpiece. When The 1975 claimed that their material for the album sounded like a bit like Whitney Houston, I nearly spat out my coffee, but it turns out they were completely right.
Clashing funky Kashif-nodding production with fidgety oddness and edgy, restless innovation – and even slotting in a My Bloody Valentine-style moment ‘Lostmyhead’, just for the heck of it – it’s a ridiculous epic of a pop record, and a completely fearless one. And when the video for ‘The Sound’ listed vicious criticism around the band (“Terrible high-pitched vocals”; “Punch-your-TV obnoxious”; “Unconvincing emo lyrics”), it was a bold challenge with the ambition to prove the naysayers wrong . The 1975 proved everyone wrong.
Matty Healy is also the most interesting frontman in music right now. He might come out with endless clangers (he used the phrase “shag birds” in his 2016 NME cover story; who does he think he is, Phil Mitchell?), but like all of us, he’s just a human trying to express himself. In his case, any stumbles take place in the spotlight. The frontman we hear on their forthcoming follow-up ‘A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships’ is someone who is now wise to this; for every boasting, throwaway cliche line, there’s the smart messaging between the lines; the underscoring dryness that pokes fun at his own celebrity and fame.
“Every time I play a show, there’s a young girl who’s smarter and more well-informed than I am,” Healy told Billboard this summer; yet more evidence of a singer willing to reappraise old quotes he’s given, perhaps in haste. Consistently, the frontman doesn’t shy away from answering a question with “I don’t know”. He’s willing to be corrected, open to discussion. And actually, The 1975’s actions speak far louder than the sound-bites; this year, Healy donated a substantial sum to the London LGBTQ+ Community Centre’s fundraising efforts.
The magic duo of Healy and fellow 1975 songwriter George Daniel are skewering the thorny age we live in, making music that drips with irony and is filled with genuine heart at the same time. ‘Love It If We Made It’ is a hulking beast of a song. The opening two lines (“Fucking in a car, shooting heroin / saying controversial things just for the hell of it”) are perhaps the snappiest in recent memory. Elsewhere, “MODERNITY HAS FAILED US” sounds like an extended Jenny Holzer slogan. And as a whole, it’s another bonkers, loftily ambitious album that just shouldn’t work – and yet works perfectly. It’s entirely accurate to call The 1975 one of the most important bands in the world.
The 1975 have shown me that re-evaluating the things we hated with our gut, falling in love with precisely what we’ve sneered at in the past, is only a positive thing. Doing U-Turns can be exciting. Without a bit of healthy reappraisal, for instance, it’s fair to say many people may also have dismissed Let’s Eat Grandma’s folksy beginnings without giving due credit to their brilliant second record. Second listens are fun, and climbing eagerly aboard a bandwagon a few stops later in slight disbelief is what listening to music is all about. The 1975 are the best band we have right now. And if you’d told me five years ago I’d write that sentence, I would’ve laughed in your face.