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A Deep Dive Into “The 1975” *

*The song, that is, not the entire band

A few months back, I wrote a piece about My Chemical Romance, a band I was fanatically into at various points in my adolescence. I’m fairly sure I did call them the band of my teenage years when I look back. Well, I lied. I wish MCR were the band of my teenage years, because I actually think their music holds up. No, unfortunately, the band that soundtracked my adolescence through its entirety are an annoying little indie-pop band with bone-deep self-import and one of the most insufferable frontmen in music. I don’t think I’ve ever had as turbulent a relationship with a band in my life as I have with The 1975.

One thing that makes The 1975 so contentious is that the things people love about them are the exact same things others loathe. Their sound is either beautifully eclectic or an incoherent mess depending on who you ask (and for the record, I think their twinkly synthpop is delightful). Some see their lyrics on modernity and pop culture as insightful, while others think it makes their output age like milk. Some love frontman Matty Healy’s self-aware persona, while others think the arrogance he chooses to project is agonisingly cringe: reminiscent of only the most insufferable fake-woke indie boys trying to “I’ve got Loveless on vinyl, you know” their way into girls’ beds.

Their focus on psychoanalysing themselves is undeniable, even to fans. Therefore, the fact that all their albums start with a self-titled song can be seen as an obvious reflection of this conscious self-regard. The song “The 1975” has the same lyrics on most of its appearances, so you’d think there wouldn’t be much point in separating each iteration of it out—if you’ve heard one version, you’ve heard them all, right? Well, not quite. As a band, The 1975 are known for changing their sound frequently. Their listening habits are wide and they find ways to intertwine genres you’d never expect into their indie-adjacent melting pot. “The 1975” acts as a consistent introduction to each album, a tasting menu of the sounds and scenes they’re borrowing from on the record to come. It’s also something of a mission statement. Each alteration seems to announce to listeners new and old: “forget what you know; this is The 1975”. So, according to these songs, who are The 1975?

1. As featured on The 1975 (2013)

This version of “The 1975” is honestly just stunning. Its thrumming bass is its most sublime element, echoing a car engine whirring into life in the dead of night. It’s intriguing, and yet, it’s somehow peaceful. As the song progresses, the minimalistic electronic instrumentals build and build, layering synthesised sounds on top of each other until the tension just snaps. Atmospherically, it’s a phenomenal album opener. I liked this song so much as a 14-year-old just getting into this band that I didn’t clock that it was about oral sex for literal years. Oh, how the mighty fall.

Trying to make getting head in a car sound like an earth-shatteringly profound experience is so very The 1975. Everything’s gotta be a poem with this lot. I suppose there is some creativity in giving clichéd phrases like “jumping someone’s bones” a gothic tinge by associating them with the prior line “step into your skin”, but there’s also just a creepiness to it, a leering tension that echoes along with the synth reverberation.

2. As featured on I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It (2016)

This iteration of the track is the most similar to its original. The few minor changes include a longer pause during the instrumental buildup, probably to build in even more tension and grandiosity for the sophomore album, and a choir singing the main lyrics. Given what was going on with the band at the time, this arrangement choice is pretty easy to read into. In the interim between this album and their first, they’d properly blown up, leading to their second record doing far better on the international charts. However, this success didn’t come without criticism, as their pop-packaged pretence made them an easy critical target. It’s weird for me to think how much the NME used to hate this band given how much they fawned over the far less acclaimed release Notes On A Conditional Form.

Anyway, the band were firmly famous when they wrote this album, which often muses on the concept of celebrity. Our choir, in all its size and devotion, could easily represent The 1975’s growing fanbase at the time. The higher number of voices singing the overtly sexual lyrics of “The 1975” also makes for a voyeuristic tone. This mirrors the album’s title—wordy as hell, you can sum it up far more succinctly as an album about the impacts of being watched.

3. As featured on A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships (2018)

“The 1975” as it appears here is starkly different from previous iterations. An acoustic piano intro crafts a stripped-back sound, paired with Matty Healy’s keening vocals at their most piercing. It’s trying to be the picture of authenticity, and the band’s most ardent haters would probably agree with that statement too. It’s another display of persona-based ambiguity in the band—is this a bit, or is this what this dweeb’s voice has been like all along?

Then we hear the autotune. Oh, the autotune. Horrifically loud autotuned vocals come in, drowning out any real instruments with their murky miserable layering. In keeping with the album’s general thesis, it’s a comment on the overwhelming nature of technology in modern society, how it obscures the possibility for authentic human connection. Jesus, I felt pretentious typing that. A Brief Enquiry… aspires to be the 1975’s OK Computer, and I mean that in the most derogatory sense possible. Its half-hearted self-impressed OK Computer cosplay remains the only reason I can think of as to why critics salivated over this bloated disaster of an album. You’re not taking down some crisis of modernity, guys, you’re singing about apathetic sex in a dimly lit car park. Sort it out.

4. As featured on Notes On A Conditional Form (2020)

The 1975’s fourth album is where their eponymous track gets a real makeover. When you look at the lyrics that accompany the song on streaming sites like Tidal, they seem to be identical to previous versions, but that’s a trick. Instead, this album opens with a speech by climate activist Greta Thunberg. She talks about just how vital it is to reduce the fossil fuel emissions that are one of the key drivers of climate change, criticising government inaction on this issue in particular. It’s refreshingly blunt, as Thunberg’s known to be, in a world of bureaucracy and pretence when it comes to taking action for our planet. For The 1975’s relatively young audience in particular, who describe feeling the weight of the impending climate crisis more than the adults in their lives, there’s a real catharsis to this. Its inclusion on the album gives Thunberg’s essential words a platform, and I’ve got nothing bad to say on that.

By swapping out their sleazy intro for this piece, it’s as though the band have grown up. This is a common theme in the album, which tackles topics like Healy’s newfound sobriety from heroin amidst the ’80s-inflected indie-pop bangers this album shimmers with. Me approving of this track in particular doesn’t mean the whole album is wonderful, mind you. It’s probably their most critically panned release, with critics deeming it a sprawling mess that’s “far too ambitious for its own good”, in the words of Paste writer Lizzie Manno, and I would honestly agree with these sentiments. However, as unnecessary as half the songs on the record are, it gets off to a more insightful start than ever. On this track, the band actually start to seem as thoughtful as they’ve claimed to be.

5. As featured on Being Funny In A Foreign Language (2022)

After how messy their last album was, I didn’t expect to like Being Funny In A Foreign Language. I hated the title, first of all—just one short album title, guys, I’m begging you. It gave off pretentious vibes immediately, but as always, this lot have surprised me. I adore the instrumentals on this one; rapid jangling piano chords and screeching violin stings build up the anticipation of a movie soundtrack’s inciting incident. It’s lively, young, and hopeful. Sure, lines like “QAnon created a legitimate scene / but it was just some bloke in the Philippines” are pretty heavy handed and will probably seem incredibly dated in a few years, but The 1975 were never a particularly subtle band.

The repeated line “it’s about time / this is what it looks like” is what I’d take to be the album’s thesis statement. This is a record about the present moment, what it looks like to be young in the modern day. There’s a continued sense of maturity and introspection from the last album, and interestingly, there’s also apologies to be made. “Sorry about my twenties, I was learning the ropes” is presumably an apology to fans for the weird comments Healy’s made on everything from gender to religion. Sonic homages to their previous work, including samples of the car sounds used on their debut album, seem to affirm this. You know what? As a previous committed fan, you’re on thin ice… but I’ll take your apology for now. If this is what The 1975 is gonna be for a while, well, maybe I’ll have to actually buy one of their tickets.

Written by Teddy Webb

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