When Arctic Monkeys fans received official word of their seventh record, ‘The Car’, last August, they collectively lost their shit. “I’m collapsing right now, my favourite band is back,” wrote one Twitter user. “Screaming, passing out, hitting my head against the wall, going into cardiac arrest,” responded another, exaggerating their reaction to the extreme. With an ever-burgeoning global fanbase – including over 44 million Spotify monthly listeners – to their name, this overzealous reaction has become typical for new Arctic Monkeys announcements, igniting anticipation and anxiety.
This time around, however, the response felt elevated by a wider cultural moment. The reaction to ‘The Car’ was something of a communal release, one that came after months of frenzied speculation across social media fan communities, as followers scrutinised everything from the minor change of a website URL to leaked studio photos. The following week, the Sheffield band headlined Reading & Leeds for the third time, performing to one of the festival’s largest crowds in recent memory, and proving that their reputation as an act that spans musical eras had only gotten bigger. Later that year, two songs (‘Do I Wanna Know?, ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’) from 2013’s blockbuster ‘AM’ would go on to surpass 1 billion Spotify streams each, following a major resurgence on TikTok. 20 years into their career, Arctic Monkeys’ star has never burned brighter.
It’s a statement that will become indisputable as the summer rolls on. On Monday (May 29), following recent tours of Europe, Australia, Asia and South America, the four-piece will head to Bristol to kick off their first-ever stadium tour across the UK and Ireland, playing to over 500,000 fans across 15 dates before wrapping up with their third Glastonbury headline slot in June. The latter feels like an understated triumph; when Arctic Monkeys first took to the Pyramid Stage in 2007, they struggled under the weight of expectation, as visible nerves and muddy sound issues plagued their set.
They returned to Worthy Farm six years later to formally kick off the ‘AM’ era, glowing with confidence and a new, noticeable maturity – a meeting of stardom and showmanship on a higher plane. As round three is bound to attest, the band’s journey with Glastonbury is a marker of their transition from young, wild-eyed, introverted teenagers to generational artists.
Statistics aside, with ‘The Car’ in tow, it can be argued that Arctic Monkeys have entered a new golden age, taking their most intricate – and certainly least commercially viable – material to their biggest-ever shows, with a sound that decidedly feels lightyears away from their jagged rock beginnings. Though as he told NME in the band’s Big Read interview last year, the album had even got frontman Alex Turner thinking that, for the first time, his songs could at least “hang out” in a stadium. “It wouldn’t have made sense for us to play stadiums before this album, and I don’t think we were mentally ready for it up until now,” he added.
Yet beneath its simmering baroque-pop arrangements, ‘The Car’ is freighted with personal meaning, evoking themes of growth and acceptance. “Keep reminding me that it ain’t a race / When my invincible streak turns onto the final straight,” Turner sings on closer ‘Perfect Sense’, a startling encapsulation of the band’s current stature, from which they must have wondered how to stay grounded as their popularity continues to skyrocket.
Speaking to NME in December, drummer Matt Helders explained how high the stakes are for these upcoming dates. “I don’t think that playing stadiums was the goal, necessarily, because we just didn’t expect it to ever happen,” he said. “It’s nuts to imagine what it’s going to be like.” He’s right: it’s an idea that would have seemed nigh on impossible a decade ago. Now, finally, the tour feels right on time.
The way that Arctic Monkeys have handled their success has only continued to stoke the collective imagination. They have never deviated from staying off-grid, rarely giving interviews together as a band and remaining far removed from social media. Even fans’ attempts to demystify their process, such as running tour update accounts, has only contributed to their myth; at a recent tour date in Sydney, Australia, they soundchecked fan favourite ‘Mardy Bum’ – but didn’t go on to play the track. There is a cloud of setlist chatter that constantly surrounds the band’s live activity, allowing for theories to percolate into near-certainties on sites like Twitter and Reddit.
Even if the band continue to be absent from these conversations, in openly discussing some of these rumours, they have teased a much deeper connection to their fanbase than what appears on the surface. “There’s quite a lot of room now for us to unlock songs from the past,” Turner previously told NME. “I have almost, like, a PDF in my mind of what we could work on.” This past month alone, the band have repurposed and performed a number songs for the first time in nearly a decade; the title track of 2011’s ‘Suck It And See’ now has an acapella intro, while 2007 hit ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ has once again become a regular fixture in their sets, nine years on from its last live outing.
A fan’s devotion can be rewarded when a band is willing to entertain an element of surprise. Standing in Stockholm’s 16,000-capacity Avicii Arena last month, I was able to exalt in a mutual understanding of the significance of hearing ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ live in 2023, through tears, screamed choruses and gasps of disbelief. It was a show that was light on its feet, performed underneath a supersized disco ball with plenty of joking around between band members. Here they were, after all this time, still finding new ways to uplift and enthral an audience.
In over a decade of following Arctic Monkeys, I have watched them blaze a trail from teen angst to self-acceptance, honouring their friendship through sharing bigger, bolder musical ideas with each other and challenging themselves as musicians. When they hit the stage on Monday night, it’s not hard to imagine that thousands of other fans will be hit by a similar sense of heart-swelling pride.