Music Editor Niall O’Shaughnessy hops into a groupchat to discuss The 1975 and their controversial frontman Matty Healy.
Niall: This week’s topic reads like a Leaving Cert Exam question ‘Matty Healy of The 1975 is a divisive figure, with some labelling him ‘a once in a generation genius’, and the rest resigning him to a ‘delusional egomaniac’. With reference to a text(s) you have studied, outline the relevant issues and describe your own views. [20 marks]’. Even though The 1975 have made a lot of songs I really like, I’m going to play devil’s advocate here and argue the negative. Where do the rest of you fall on this?
Brian: He’s really not my style. I find him disingenuous and fake, he’s trying way too hard. I listened to their debut album, but I haven’t really looked at much more.
Muireann: I will defend Matty Healy at all costs and I think people that think Healy is fake have missed the point entirely. Healy is not a delusional egomaniac; he’s a fledgeling rock star coming to grips with fame while the spotlight still shines on him, he’s a pretentious and flamboyant artist and, perhaps most affectingly, he’s a recovering heroin addict.
Niall: One thing I really struggle with is determining how self-aware Healy is; there’s no possible grey-area, he’s either meticulous with every detail of his PR or he’s drowning in blissful ignorance. If the former is true, his performance of relentless artistry is not just permissible, it’s exhilarating. But, if he isn’t as self-aware as some fans might want to believe, then his antics are worthy of the eye-rolls I’ve been throwing his way.
Brian: His image is so pretentious: he swigs red wine from the bottle during sets, his dog is named Ginsberg after the beatnik poet and the small number of personal belongings that he brings on tour with him includes a vintage typewriter that he uses to write his lyrics.
Niall: Let’s examine the evidence for his pretentious image you’ve given. If we accept that he is fact devoid of any self-awareness, burdening your tour manager with hauling around a typewriter for the sake of feeding a narrative about your uniqueness is out of order. There seems to be a huge discrepancy between how he wants to be viewed and the reality of his image.
Muireann: He’s definitely self-aware because he knows that people think he’s vapid and ingenuine and he is constantly self-referencing. Like the plot twist of their Somebody Else music video is that he’s actually in love with himself.
Brian: Being self-referential doesn’t excuse a lack of substance, Matty Healy only appeals to the emo romanticism of teenage girls who think they’re being deep, but they’re not at all.
Muireann: I hate everything about that sentence. Not only is it factually incorrect that The 1975’s fanbase is mainly hysterical teenage girls, but I also detest that sexist and condescending idea that is so prevalent in pop culture, that whatever is loved by teenage girls is embarrassing to be liked by the general public. Yes, stereotypical obsessive teenage girls exist but to not to listen to an artist because of the perception of their fans is idiotic, if you had this view fifty years ago, you’d never have listened to The Beatles!
Niall: Not finding an artist accessible due to their intimidatingly devout fans is understandable (looking at you Mac Demarco), but discounting them due to their identity is quite petty. However, it does appear as if Healy has consciously sought hysteria; in an interview with the Guardian a couple of years ago he talked about turning down bigger stages at festivals, meaning only a limited audience could see them in a tent so that he could cultivate some exclusivity for the band.
Muireann: That’s true, but seeking that exclusivity seems less like the act of an egomaniac and more like a good marketing tactic. Besides, I think the image that Healy presents has evolved a lot since this egomaniac label was given to him. His wine-drunk asshole attitude of the self-titled era was partially ironic and I don’t think Healy expected their success or the onslaught of criticism of his ‘personality’ that followed. Their second album was clearly a response to this; the judgements that people pass on celebrities. The lead single of their sophomore album was aptly named ‘Love Me’, with a pretty explicit musical nod to Bowie’s Fame. The music video for ‘The Sound’ is pretty explicit in the band’s awareness of their critics.
Niall: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here, the questions over Healy’s self-awareness are answered in some of the titles, themes and lyrical content of the 1975’s recent works. Calling your album ‘I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it’ is the band embracing their perceived pretentiousness. On that record, they not only defied the critics by making great pop music but Healy tackles personal and professional issues with real emotional dexterity.
Muireann: Exactly and I think that Healy is only going to become more emotionally genuine on their upcoming third album. Healy has never been private or subtle about his drug use (just listen to Chocolate or UGH!), but he is speaking more seriously about it following a stint in rehab last year to treat his heroin addiction. Since then, Healy seems to have rediscovered his love for his band and writing music. All the singles released from their upcoming third album are surprisingly optimistic and positive, with titles like ‘Give Yourself A Try’, ‘Love It If We Made It’ and ‘Sincerity Is Scary’. He’s telling everyone who will listen that he’s finished with being ironic, the best thing for him from now on is to be as sincere as possible; he loves his fans, he loves his fans and despite the dire socio-political climate, he has optimism for the future.
Niall: It really seems that the new singles are an indication the Healy is ready to move on from examining his own image and turn the spotlight outwards. I love how he warns us about our obsessions with celebrities on ‘Love It If We Made It’ by incorporating the “Thank you Kanye, very cool!” Trump tweet into the lyrics. Each record from the band signals a new intention; on the first, the goal was to be pop stars, the second album made them critically acclaimed popstars and, on the new record, they have the confidence and platform to examine wider society. Healy’s antics then are perhaps symptoms of a greater master plan, as opposed to contributing factors for their success.
By Niall O’Shaughnessy – Music Editor