I Was So Wrong About The 1975
Darkness reigned in pop music in 2013. Yeezus divided hip-hop, Beyoncé‘s surprise album tapped into trap and flirted with more abrasive sonics than she’d used before, Eminem resurrected Slim Shady, Lady Gaga snarled through “Swine,” Vampire Weekend contemplated mortality and The Knife abandoned alien synth-pop for clattering cyber-punk experimentation. Yet while these dark lords ruled over the kingdom, a faction of featherweights fluttered out of the shadows.
Sporting focus-grouped markers of rebelliousness (leather jackets! half-shaved heads!), POP ETC runoff like The 1975, The Neighbourhood, Sir Sly and Until The Ribbon Breaks seemingly materialized out of The CW’s primetime lineup ready to serenade your younger sister while she browsed the H&M racks. Paying lip service to the stylish sparseness of Lorde and The xx, these sensi-dudes delivered highly programmed crossover music at that hyper-marketable nexus of indie and pop and rock and bouncy and brooding and charming and edgy. In the face of all the risk-taking and murkiness infiltrating pop’s highest ranks, it all felt inconsequential and neutered.
It was all moderately successful, but I was happy to ignore the trend. When The 1975 momentarily hinted at a breakup, I didn’t even click through to read the story. As recently as September 2015, I even described a new act as “like The 1975 but good,” never expecting their stuff to register beyond “background music for teens kissing on TV.” But one month after my 1975 dig, the band released the stellar single “Love Me,” and I had to accept the fact that I was so, so wrong about The 1975.
With the subsequent releases of “UGH!” and “The Sound,” it was immediately apparent that this British foursome didn’t deserve to be lumped in with those other purveyors of optimized pap. The 1975 may have made their name on inoffensive slickness on their self-titled debut, but with sophomore effort I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it (out February 26), they ditched the drab aesthetic, the pouty earnestness, the refinement. And they’ve done it with such verve, such commitment to being eye-shadow-and-pink-pants Nu Romantics, that it almost suggests they resented their prior iteration. When frontman Matt Healy sings he’ll wind his way out of the city on “A Change Of Heart,” it seems like a subliminal shot at the band’s old hit “The City,” marking their departure from the bland and gray to the brash and neon.
But this isn’t just about switching from manicured indie to actual manicures, and it’s not just about masterful use of headless bass grooves and Miami Vice synth leads. Album two flaunts enough insouciant musical excess to support the INXS and Duran Duran posturing. There’s zero restraint on the double-LP, spanning lithe Scritti Politti synth-funk (“She’s American”), M83-style Serious Artist interludes (“Please Be Naked”), young American plastic soul (“If I Believe You”) and hushed acoustic near-demos (“She Lays Down”). And through it all, Healy is singing his ass off, unexpectedly giving a song like “The Ballad Of Me And My Brain” that Huey Lewisified version of rock grit. Not all the ideas stick, but as a whole, the album evokes those old drives home from grandma’s as Rick Dees recapped The Weekly Top 40 ahead of spinning the 10 most-requested songs.
So now when I revisit their first album’s suave softy anthems and self-conscious genre-blurring, I can appreciate how it all laid the groundwork for sleep’s scattered rush of on-demand millennial tastes and retro coke-pop panache. And like any epiphany that snaps you out of your own stupidity, when you realize you’ve badly misjudged a band or musician, it’s invigorating. You wonder how you could have been so off-base and launch into a complete mental recalibration. Maybe it entails revisiting their older stuff to see if the characteristics you love in the new material were present in the old cuts all along. Maybe the act just got better. Maybe you were biased or distracted or in a shitty mood the first time around.
Depending on your headspace as you contemplate this stuff, you might go even deeper, wondering how many other bands you wrote off before they had a chance to right the wrongs. And then you feel even more enlightened, reminded about how unreliable a person’s own opinions are. We all have trash opinions! The entirety of your ninth grade listening history was one extended trash opinion. I get paid to write about music and churn out what may very well end up being trash opinions on a daily basis, and you can use your trash opinion to explain why mine is trash. But we live in a special moment in time where we can very easily flip our own trash opinions — not only question but actively confront our own music filtration habits and taste metrics.
If you want to find something new to appreciate in a piece of music that you didn’t necessarily like or “get” initially, the barrier to entry is just a couple clicks or swipes; you don’t have to drive to the store and buy some album you already dismissed on the hopes that maybe this time it resonates. There are plenty of negatives for musicians in the disposable digital era, but one of the positives is that at least it’s much easier for listeners to reappraise a band. There’s now a staggering potential for personal 180s.
And maybe The 1975 tapped into that phenomenon. Talking with SPIN recently about I like it when you sleep, Healy said “I think that [the album will] change a lot of people’s minds about who we are as a band.” He’s exactly right, and a lot of listeners are about to come to terms with being wrong.