Fans chew up the dueling image of the English rock band The 1975. Listen casually and you’ll hear bubble-gum pop. Take a closer listen and you’ll hear the band try to pop that bubble. That’s why The 1975’s music is idealized in the minds of teenagers.
It’s common for young adults to embrace lyrics in music or lines in film. They see themselves in the story; it helps them feel like they’re not too different.
The 1975 provides that outlet. To feel lost is part of growing up, and many teens crave guidance from The 1975’s songs. They could be "looking for salvation in the secular age," as the lyrics of "Girls" suggests. But then comes the caveat: "I’m not your savior."
What’s the band saying? We can’t save you, but we can sing about what you’re going through.
With the high level of attention splashed upon celebrity icons and media stars, many people assume what they have to say is worthwhile. And teens line up in front of everyone else to listen.
What they hear from The 1975, if they listen closely, is an ironic, sometimes satirical take on society. In the song "Love Me," for example, lead singer Matthew Healy sings, "You look famous, let’s be friends and portray we possess something important."
Their audience revels in The 1975’s romantic narratives. Young romantics can absorb themselves in conceptualized love stories, idealized fairy tales. Anything to mask the adverse, juvenile romances of their early adolescence.
Much of it is appealing to listeners. They wish they had the lives like the people in movies. They wish they were the kind of people written about in songs. But they’re not created about them, they’re created for them. So singing those songs and re-watching those films will have to suffice.
Try this for a pickup line: "You’ve got a pretty kind of dirty face." The type of woman idealized in the lyrics of the song, "Robbers," is the woman who’s not perfect. The dirty, unfinished, seductive cliché. Instead of objectifying her body or her personality, we objectify her flaws.
The appealing quality is this: It’s easier to not pretend to be perfect; a life where flaws are invited and misfits are understood.
You see it in every American high school-based movie. There are the popular kids and then there are the outcasts – the kids who think dark eye makeup suits them better. The kids who had a cigarette touch their lips more recently than a tube of lipstick. The kids who would trade in that cheerleader skirt and letterman jacket for ripped jeans and combat boots. Compare the characters in movies like "Heathers" and "The Breakfast Club," or any other movie centered around popular kids and outcasts.
The 1975 is an idolized band for misfits because they call out their haters in a manner that’s blunt, yet humorous. They take judgments and negative feedback and make a statement.
In a sense, The 1975 makes commentary on pop music by actively participating in it.
The band turns the tables on critics in the music video for "The Sound." "I’m such a cliché," Healy sings, in a nod to the band’s unabashedly ironic image.
The video opens with the band performing in a glass box, with their usual neon light-and-smoke entourage. They are surrounded by an audience of critics – their haters, essentially.
Our attention is drawn to onscreen jabs:
"Is this a joke?"
"Do people really still make music like this?"
"Unconvincing emo lyrics"
"This band thinks it has a charismatic singer ... they are mistaken"
"Terrible high pitched vocals over soulless robo beats"
"Totally lacking the wow factor"
"Pompous arena synth pop"
The band makes a bold statement calling out hate on themselves louder than any teen hater or music critic could.
Healy exhales on the glass and writes the words "HELP ME" in the fog.
The "genuinely laughable," "recycled," "bubble-gum" group of "knock-off" "wannabes" watch from outside of the glass box as their former critics are trapped inside.
Healy figures that fans get the irony. "The way I address them is by giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming that they’re in on the joke," he said in an interview with NME.
Flaws are accentuated and praised in The 1975’s songs. And this is exactly what they’re doing with their own flaws and judgments: playing them up, even turning them back on the audience.
That’s why the music of The 1975 is easy bait. Kids who think that they’re different are the ones who listen to it. It’s the misfits, the outcasts, the losers ... the non-mainstream.
Collectively, The 1975’s songbook is an anthem for the misunderstood.
But here’s the irony. When The 1975 plays live, thousands of heartbroken, flawed souls – their fans – gather to sing the same words that relate to thousands of misunderstood lives. They feel alone. Yet, they’re singing together.
They’re singing about something, too. In the complexity of the lyrics that most fans look past, the band makes remarks about the media and society.
Healy and his bandmates’ bold criticism of society mirrors their self-aware criticism of the band.
Don’t be deceived by the shallow, obnoxious, done-before notion of a boy band. Like most of their listeners, the music is misunderstood. Their self-worshipping is satirical. Their self-deprecation is ironic. What seems like a bubble-gum pop cliché is actually a paradox.
Julie Lillis is a junior at Mount St. Mary Academy.