The 1975 – A Brief Enquiry into Online Relationships – The Zeitgeist of Our Cultural Modernity

By Freddie Cocker

The 1975 have always been a band that, for some reason, divide music fans. Whether it be the hoards of teenage fangirls at their gigs, the way their popularity has exploded so quickly with each album or just a general dislike of them, people have unfairly chucked just as much criticism their way as they have effused about their brilliance.

Hipsters loved them, then hated them the minute they achieved popular success. I still remember the first time I listened to them. I was crate-digging through YouTube on a bored afternoon in the early months of my first year of University and stumbled upon their debut single ‘Sex’.

Sometimes you know when you hear a band for the first time that they’re going to be MASSIVE. The catchy, if slightly cheesy hook “SHE’S GOT A BOYFRIEND ANYWAY”, the accomplished musicality and sound they had already established led me to believe this. Lead singer Matty Healy also screamed ‘teen heartthrob in waiting’. Everything seemed set for them to go on an accelerated trajectory towards pop stardom.

I first saw them perform at Bestival 2013 to a packed tent of similar aged youths. We all clearly knew how big they were going to be too and wanted to grab their chance of seeing them live before they played massive stadium tours.

The debut, self-titled album was a brilliant mixture of pop-bangers like ‘Girls’, ‘This City’, ‘She Way Out’ and ‘Chocolate’ and psychedelic and introspective tracks that projected Matty Healy’s conflicted yet hedonistic, rock-n-roll lifestyle. This was exemplified by tracks like ‘Menswear’ and ‘M.O.N.E.Y’.

Menswear had lyrics like: “Well I only brought 3, what you lookin’ at me for?” / She’s dressed in white and putting off crying” and “I never really got on with your bird the first time I met her out, dressed in nowt, telling everybody you were shagging about, wow!”.

It depicted a blunt and conversational allegory about a drunk conversation between two mates, alluding to broken relationships, drug-taking and chaotic nights out ensconced within a beat that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Kanye West’s ‘808s and Heartbreaks’ album.

M.O.N.E.Y reflected similar themes, with lyrics like “Drink slow to feed the nose, you know he likes to get blown” and “Tabs with unlimited O’s / New clothes / Bloody nose / Powders and walking back home”.

Perhaps the honesty of the lifestyle they took part in was another reason for critics to circle them as a band. People will never like lyrics about excessive drug-taking even if it’s used as a self-deprecating coping mechanism.

Their second album ‘I Like it When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful, Yet So Unaware of It’ was a continuation of this. The balancing act they struck between crafting radio-ready and brilliant pop records with the spaced-out tracks that had come to represent their sound and define them as a band was perfectly weighted.

They also implemented smart ways to reflect the progression of their lyricism. Whereas on M.O.N.E.Y they sung about being lost in the moment of temporary highs and the perils that excess brings, ‘Somebody Else’ explored what can happen when that behaviour is left unchecked.

Matty introspectively laments a failed relationship and the need to forget it but counteracts it with the jealousy that comes with seeing that person move onto pastures new; “I don’t want your body but I hate to think about you with somebody else / Our love has gone cold, you’re intertwining your soul with somebody else”.

Indeed, he even subtly alludes to the lyricism that pervaded ‘M.O.N.E.Y’ in the previous album with the lines; “Get someone you love? Get someone you need? / Fuck that, get money, I can’t give you my soul ’cause we’re never alone”.

The sound created off these two albums has spawned several other bands who have taken inspiration from them and made their own unique identities, creating a new sub-genre in the process.

Joan, The Aces and Pale Waves are just a few who have been affectionately dubbed by Matty Healy, with tongue placed firmly in cheek as ‘Matty Wave’.

However, it is their third and most recently released album ‘A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships’ (ABEIOR) which has truly blown me away.

Firstly, it showcases the band’s evolution and highlights Matty’s willingness to put his own mental health issues out on show for the world to see.

Secondly, as a body of work, it encapsulates, projects and challenges all of the problems, issues and quandaries both young people and adults face in this fractious modern world.

As we become connected through social media, we become more disconnected from the meaningful relationships we hold dear, with some (including myself) finding commonality and relatability with strangers online more than their circle of friends.

We have American Presidents calling Mexicans “rapists”, African countries “shitholes” and boasting about sexually assaulting women. Brexit has divided the country across social, racial and economic lines with family members and friends pitted against each other. We are living through a nationwide mental health crisis with thousands of people struggling to come to terms with the issues they live with and receive support.

Men are feeling more vulnerable and conflicted than ever before. We are constantly being told conflicting messages about how we should behave, what emotions we’re allowed to project openly and how our bodies should look. The 1975 capture all of this and more within this album whilst experimenting and sometimes even departing from the sound that got them to this point.

The over-arching theme of the album is mental health. This is something I’m hugely pleased to see tackled for obvious reasons. After the opening instrumental track, ‘Give Yourself a Try’ balances a fast-paced, bubble-gum pop record whilst examining Matty’s own mental health state and the dark lyrical strands that can bring about.

The title of the track is a plea to the listener to believe in themselves and not be drawn into the negative self-esteem spirals that issues like anxiety and depression can create. Defeatist attitudes in mental health are prevalent, common and something I have suffered with myself throughout my life. To hear an artist address this mental tick is so refreshing.

This social commentary is juxtaposed with stories of others’ mental fragility. Two lines capture these two ideas perfectly; “Jane took her own life at 16, she was a kid who had the box tattooed on her arm / And I was 25 and afraid to go outside, a millenial that baby-boomers like”.

It’s not easy to accurately open up about your agoraphobia whilst giving equal attention to society’s own mental illness. Somehow, The 1975 manage to do this without the lyrics seeming forced or out-of-kilt with the mood of the track.

‘Love It If We Made It’ is another musical aptronym. The lyrics jump from one societal fissure to another, chronologically explaining every ill the world is currently plagued with as a musical vehicle to build the song to an epic climax. It references, amongst many other things, global warming (“Fossil fuelling”), the Syrian refugee crisis (“A beach of drowning three-year-olds”), post-fact politics (“truth is just hearsay”) and Donald Trump (“I moved on her like a bitch”). With all of this going on, the song implies that merely surviving it together is an achievement in itself.

The guitar riff that kicks in halfway through the track is beautifully delivered and one of the best transitions I’ve heard this year or in the last few years for that matter. It is magical.

However, my favourite track off the album is ‘Sincerity Is Scary’. In the first instance, it illustrates The 1975’s willingness to evolve their sound whilst staying true to the overarching theme of the album. The second the brass and jazz piano section kicks in, I’m transported to Chance the Rapper’s masterpiece album ‘Colouring Book’. Its evocation is so similar I’m half-expecting Chance’s raspy voice to come in with a few “and we back!”, a couple of “AH! AH! ad-libs and spit an 8-bar verse.

The gospel section that accompanies the chorus makes this comparison even more prescient. It’s one I certainly think The 1975 were aware of and the gospel/jazz aesthetic accompanies the vocals perfectly, adding extra substance and emotional complexity to Matty’s lyrics like; “irony is okay, I suppose, culture is to blame / You try and mask your pain in the most postmodern way”.

It asks why we as humans (this is an especially British trait) choose to add ironic sub-text and self-deprecation to statements about ourselves rather than show our true authentic emotion. This is certainly a mental tick I do myself. I always preface whatever I say to most people by saying “70% of what I say is a joke”. This is partly a mental scar and symptom of my PTSD. By self-deprecating first in any conversation, I can mentally protect myself from any potential criticism that comes my way as I got there first. Showing sincerity to people is genuinely scary because we are putting everything we have on full display. There isn’t anywhere to hide and we can’t deflect any potential reaction from what we emote.    

The most powerful lyric in this track and one which spoke to my own anxieties and mental health too is; “why would you believe you could control how you’re perceived / when at your best you’re intermediately versed in your own feelings?”

Anxiety over how others have perceived me is something I had constant mental strife over when I was younger. Being highly extroverted, you naturally want to befriend everyone and be viewed positively by others. You help people, be kind or supportive as a way of satisfying your own anxiety and self-esteem.

Being bullied makes you self-consciously aware people are talking about you behind your back and makes you double your own efforts to be liked. This is despite that affection being created in the most fabricated way, with its foundations easy to peel away.

Thankfully, those scars and the residual paranoia have now largely gone but this song spoke to me more than any song in the last few years about my own anxieties and to some extent, soothed them.

The most unique but welcome track of note on this masterpiece of an album is ‘The Man who Married A Robot / Love Theme’.

Delivered in a ‘Microsoft Sam’ style narration, the interlude is the tale of a man and his best friend, ‘The Internet’. The song anthropomorphises the Internet into a coercive and manipulative person, befriending a lonely man, exploiting his insecurities and then leaving him to die on his own, moving onto another vulnerable soul to take advantage of.

In many ways, it represents all of our addictions to social media and the emotional connections we try to create and derive our existence from. The lonely man was too busy living his life through the internet and using it as his friend rather than having any true human friends to support him. It moved me to tears, along with the track ‘Mine’.

The final track on the album ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’ is one of the most poignant and spell-binding songs I have heard in a very long time. It oozes nihilistic emotion and speaks directly to the tens of millions of people who share this precise feeling in our every-day lives. There could be no better track to sonically represent how our mental health can affect us.

I could go on and on about this album but I don’t want this to become a University dissertation. Whether you live with mental health issues or not, this isn’t just a must-listen, it’s a necessity.

With ABEIOR, The 1975 have topped both of their previous albums without losing the qualities that gave them the success they have. Everyone should take the time out of their week to listen to it at the very least. Whenever I am in a high or low state about my mental health, it will be my reference point, my comfort blanket and my counsellor.

A Brief Enquiry into Online Relationships isn’t just an album, it’s the zeitgeist of the cultural modernity we live in today.


Freddie Cocker is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Vent.

You can follow him on Twitter here.

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