As their new single 'People' takes a sharp punk swerve, columnist Mark Beaumont asks if Healy and friends are about to kick off a generational shift
No. No, they’re not. In the classic tradition of question headlines that can always be answered in the negative, I am not going to argue here that The 1975 are in any way this generation’s The Beatles. DON’T WORRY. They’re not even this generation’s Ringo. Neither are they this generation’s Radiohead or, as they claimed in this week’s Big Read interview “one of the only punk bands in the world”, a quote which might have come as a surprise to Black Flag. To suggest as much would be as delusional as Taylor Swift reading back through the lyrics to “London Boy” and failing to realise why this guy she’s seeing is free enough from traditional employment to drive around London on a scooter visiting Hackney, Shoreditch and Soho in the afternoon, Brixton in the evening and ending up back at his flat in Highgate until dawn. Has she never wondered why all his rugby mates call him Ketamine Kev?
The 1975 are, however, possibly doing a Beatles. You see, traditionally us indie/alternative types have been a sucker for the breakthrough struggle. We’ve adored and championed those leftfield acts that honed their sound to just the right frequency of edge, credibility and accessibility to break the chart glass ceiling – The Sex Pistols, New Order, Nirvana, Blur, Oasis, The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, The Automatic. We’ve long considered it the ‘right’ way to achieve success, challenging, enlightening and winning over the masses with sheer quality. It’s become known in artistic circles as The Fleabag Method.
It’s a great way to spark moments and movements, to own the cultural conversation for a few years until the next bunch of smackheads with a decent tune come along. But it’s rare that it changes the course of music at a fundamental level. For that, we need to look back to the origins of modern rock – to, yes, The Beatles. In the early ‘60s the methodology of success was entirely opposite – the early, boyband-era Beatles went for the commercial jugular from the off, captured an adoring global audience of pliable teens and then gradually guided them on a journey that would shape a generation and form the foundation of the future of music. By starting off as the world’s biggest pop act they were a band their fans belonged to rather than a trend they dipped into, like polyamory or nu rave.
Enter ‘People’ by The 1975. After luring in a vast teen audience with albums full of ultra-commercial pop songs that sound like an interactive Thompson Twins app, creating a generation of young fans who believe in them enough to be open to their own unpredictable journey, they bang out a single resembling DFA 1979 felching Slaves, so tectonic that Donald Trump is probably trying to buy it. Brilliant! Why try to convince the new generation that it likes punk rock when you can simply tell it that it has all along? If you were a 1975 fan you’ve already bought into whatever shocks and surprises they might spring on you, like a million or so S&M pop gimps. If they come through on the single’s promise and 2020’s ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ turns out to be a mash-up of Kasabian, Royal Blood, Enter Shikari, ‘Song 2’, Los Campesinos!, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Nine Inch Nails and the vocals of a land-mine victim, they might instantly sweep the entire cultural sphere way out left and, best of all, leave the boyband rock divots of Bastillification spinning in their dust like the coat-tail riding chumps that they are.
Because, yes, like The Beatles in ’62-5, The 1975 are a band that both hold their generation’s up-for-anything tastes in their hands and have the inclination to do something interesting with it. So maybe they’re a bit like this generation’s Beatles. Don’t @ me.