The 1975: A generational anomaly that continues to defy genre labels
Ahead of their new album 'Notes on a Conditional Form', let's explore the band's unwavering ability to remain focused 'copyists'
In a list of musical styles that is ever-expanding and evolving, one almost needs to do thorough research to get a clearer idea of the meanings of certain genres. There is always a prod of unfairness to most artists and bands once they are hit with the descriptions: pop, rock, country, blues, and other broad terms, especially when they remain focused on standing out as unique.
As changing and fluctuating emotions can be, so too is art, but it's become a necessary evil to categorize the sounds of music these days. Genre-labelling points listeners to a certain set of associated feelings and imagery that indeed make it easier to find what you are looking for, but don't highlight the artist's focal message.
The 1975, often grouped into 'pop-rock', appear to be mustering different energies. At the opening of their hit 'Girls', frontman Matty Healy says, "We're not a pop band," adding that it's "not what we're about." With that statement comes a follow-up question: What are The 1975 about? To answer that, we need to dive deeper into their legacy as well as the affect this seminal band has had on others.
Formed in 2002 in Wilmslow, Cheshire, the now Manchester-based band got their name from "mental scribblings," dated with "June 1, The 1975" and found on the back page of the book 'On The Road' by Jack Kerouac, according to The Guardian. Following a series of EPs, The 1975 made their debut with their self-titled album in 2013 which earned No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart. The album's lead single 'Sex' also premiered on Zane Lowe's BBC Radio 1 show.
The 1975 would continue to release albums including 2016's 'I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It' (which topped the UK Albums Chart and the US Billboard 200) and 'A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, which' received a weighted score of 83 based on 29 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim." They have had their fair share of mixed reviews since the debut LP which alludes to the fact that their style can appear flummoxing at times: this may be an ingredient to their success.
In 2014, at the NME Awards, The 1975 were deemed the worst band in the world (with its official award), but were later praised by the same publisher for the 2016 album. Rolling Stone have described their tracks 'Lostmyhead' and 'Please Be Naked' as "boringly melty," but said, with songs like 'Somebody Else', and 'Loving Someone', the band are "an enjoyable balance of desire and distraction."
Healy has even occasionally channeled his response to negative criticism such as in the song 'The Ballad of Me and My Brain'. Quoting a character in the song, he sings, "would you sign an autograph for my daughter, Laura? Cause she adores ya, but I think you're shit." (The balance between young and old is key here).
So how does The 1975 reach widespread critical acclaim and perform at sold-out shows since their debut? We think it has something to do with the fact that wounds eventually give you thicker skin: The 1975 have swallowed up any negativity that came their way and turned their energies toward music. Like true artists, their media attention is always attentive to their music, their sound, while in most cases, their image just enhances it, not distracts from it.
You will see Healy's love for the theatrical and appealing visually to audiences, such as in the video for 'A Change of Heart' where the band leader plays a clown at a carnival or in the colorful video for 'The Sound', yet talks surrounding the band remain music-centric. Most fans will know that a large part of the band's listeners are youth, which is probably a strong emphasis is given to their songs visuals as well, but older audiences hold the band higher than let's say your typical emo or teenage angsty bands, for example, that they find their teenage kids listening to.
The 1975 are in their (very) early thirties, piquing interest in younger crowds, yet the band's moniker imposes the idea that their music inherits sounds over decades ago, piquing interest in older generations. We associate music with times and the mid-70's name covers a host of different musical eras and genre-birthings. The group has tethered certain styles, often colonizing their music with '80s pop-rock tones or drawing inspiration from a wide range of artists from Michael Jackson to The Streets to Otis Redding.
Healy has called the band copyists yet the band's wavering curiosity of different artists has kept them weirdly focused on their own direction. One thing you will notice is the band's colorfully youthful energy while giving older listeners brushes of retro tones: a parlor trick on a grand scale, and like a magician, an air of subtle humor or playfulness seems to scent their entertainment.
In an interview with Teen Vogue, Healy said that the band's "own lives are our main inspiration." He noted, "We've been making music together for a very long time, for ourselves, at our own pace—the only thing that had been missing was a direct emotional response from other people. So understandably we had no idea how our music would connect with people and make them feel."
He added, "When our first single came out, that was a massive deal for me. So many people told me of how it was 'their song' and how they found so much of themselves in the lyrics. What I have realized is that human connection—that's the most important thing. That's the most inspiring thing from here on out. You can spend months working on the sound of a record, but if it doesn't have that immediacy of emotion if it doesn't take you somewhere personally, what's the point?"
The 1975's new album 'Notes on a Conditional Form' is due out on May 22, but before that, check out our Pandemic Playlist dedicated to The 1975 here.