By Cody Kenner
Pop music has seen its fair share of musicians who undergo a maturation in style, from the acoustic, folky Lizzy Grant transforming into the tragically seductive Lana Del Ray, to Beyoncé’s experimental and political eponymous 2013 album release, to Miley Cyrus running the gauntlet from teeny pop idol to psychedelic performance artist. Some of these transformations are successful (Beyoncé’s), and others not as much (Miley’s). Reinvention can be a bold and often career-sinking move for a musician to make. Recently, however, another pop band has joined the ranks of sound-bending stars and made a promising progression from catchy teen heartthrob jingles into a more full-bodied and referential style: The 1975.
To be fair, The 1975 has never been a traditional pop band. They straddle the line between stylish indie rockers and crooning boy band. Reverb-y, vintage-sounding vocals? Check. Massive fangirl following? Check. Nonetheless, The 1975 has, up until now, undeniably adhered to the essential conventions of pop: catchy, bass-heavy beats, simplistic and sexy lyrics, and uncomplicated song structure.
Now, with the recent release of their newest single “Love Me,” from their upcoming album I Like It When You Sleep for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, The 1975 teases at a new direction in their musical style. The single, premiered on October 8, sonically harkens to the hits of unconventional ‘80s musicians like Peter Gabriel and David Bowie. Lyrically, the song is dense and clever, with snarky phrases like “Let’s be friends / And portray we possess something important” and usage of the multi-referential description “Karcrashian panache.” In terms of subject matter, “Love Me” addresses the rejection of fame’s superficiality and embraces the will of the fans.
This rhetoric, already an unusual topic for a pop song, fits in nicely with the increasingly revolutionary notions of lead singer Matthew Healy. “There’s a lot lacking in pop music nowadays,” Healy said in an interview with BBC Radio 1. “We want to be ambassadors of this generation…[and we have] a responsibility to our fans to provide something to our fans with a lot of substance.” Clearly, The 1975 is intent on raising the bar for quality standards in pop music. This is no surprise, as Healy is a man of eclectic and knowledgeable musical taste—citing the disparate sounds of Motown records and My Bloody Valentine both as influences—and displays considerable passion for progress. As a recent op-ed by Michael Hann of The Guardian stated that Healy is “a patron of the British Humanist Association,” and frequently tweets “about the perils of organized religion [and about] freedom of speech.”
A series of cryptic images released by the band attests to their revolutionary instincts. These images, a pair of letters, were released June 1 (a date bearing significance related to the band’s name) and August 8 (coinciding with the band’s premiere of “Love Me”), respectively, on the band’s official website. Their format is rather slapdash and homemade and their subject matter particularly political, paying homage to the art of the Situationalists, a group of social activists/avant-garde artists. The latest letter, a manifesto of sorts, conveys an unpretentious passion for honest, quality music, a valuation of fan communities, and a call to “dismantle traditional values, norms and modes of expression so as to deconstruct contemporary culture.” The 1975 is working within the conventions of pop music, but seem intent on reinventing it from within.
The 1975 follows in the footsteps of many previous pop musicians who have taken a political bent and recreated their identity. From The Beatles to Beyoncé, they are yet another cultural icon using their popular status to critique the music industry and popular cultural as a whole. At first glance, The 1975 might seem to be just another boy band churning out lovey-dovey hits for hysterical teenage girls. This new revision in their identity proves otherwise. They consciously take cues from the pop revolutionaries of the past, they experiment stylistically, and they have an agenda. Whether or not the general public will fully welcome their change in style remains to be seen; fan responses have been fairly divided. However, one can hope with a fair amount of confidence that their reinvention will be in due time deemed a smashing success.