Friday 21 December 2018

belief, and saying something: sincerity, social media and celebration with the 1975

let's start with the facts. 

the 1975's third album, a brief inquiry into online relationships, was released on the 30th november 2018 and nearly a month later i still hadn't written my review. 

make no mistake, i've been hastily scribbling notes down in the middle of the night ever since the first time i pressed play, but somewhere along the line i got lost in a sea of work, shorthand and a total inability to keep up with what can only be described as a relentless press cycle the band has undertaken to promote the album.

eventually i had to tune everything out and focus on my own feelings about the eagerly anticipated release, and now that i've finally finished for christmas, it seems like the right time to get them out in the open. 

as always, to understand this album, we have to go right back to when i first got into the band back in 2016. 

some more facts: the 1975's second album, i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, was released on the 26th february 2016. 

for some reason, i went Old School and listened to it via the CD my friend had bought and subsequently loaned me; this was my first real introduction to the 1975 and i had no idea what to expect. 

let me be clear that this was not an easy transition, but the band slowly became one of my favourites as a result of this album, conveniently filling the void one direction left when they began their hiatus. 

i've lost count of how many times i've written about the 1975 now, but in order to understand why i fell so hard for them, we need to go even further back to when i was a teenager, something i've written about in this post. 

there are two things to note: firstly, i was obsessed with music. ever since i was 13 and went to my first ever concert, i always had a band i followed closely and the sense of community i felt from following like-minded fans on tumblr* undoubtedly shaped my understanding of not only myself but the world around me. (*more on that later.)

secondly, from the age of 15 i had stupidly high expectations for myself and though i've had to become more realistic, i still want exactly the same things i did back then. 

enter matty healy, who i'm fairly convinced is the male version of me. we both grew up in manchester, had incredibly close, intense friendships through our teenage years and are passionate about 80s pop music. 

as i said earlier, it wasn't until the second album that i really got into his band, but i found myself regressing right back to my teenage years, obsessing over every song and seeing them live three times in nine months. 

remember my stupidly high standards? they're the reason why i felt a sense of apprehension as the release date for a brief inquiry loomed ever closer. i feared it would never come close to my love of songs like somebody else, loving someone and the sound, to name but a few, and now i've had time to process the third album, i can confirm that it's not my personal favourite.

however, taking out the sentimental reasons behind my love of i like it when you sleep... has highlighted that a brief inquiry is by far their most socially relevant album, and no other band has managed to combine Big Pop Songs with a cultural commentary about the time we're currently living in. 

it doesn't start and end with pop though; the album sees them take a tentative step towards jazz with the surprisingly tender sincerity is scary - a candidate for Most Wholesome Music Video of the year, if such a category did exist - and mine, where a delicate piano introduction gives way to lyrics about the societal pressure to get married by a certain age. 

they also explore garage music on fan favourite how to draw/petrichor, which is an ode to their upbringing in manchester where dance music reigned supreme at the hands of the hacienda throughout the 80s and 90s.

an unexpected highlight was i like america & america likes me, which as the name suggests, is matty's reaction to what's happening stateside and covers everything from gun control to racism. he described it as "an ode to soundcloud rap", the polar opposite of my passion for Big Pop Songs. 

heavily autotuned, the song reminded me of various collaborations between kanye west and bon iver, combining the somewhat cold, distorted vocals with gentle sounding synths, the latter of which have become a trademark of the 1975. 

it also reflects the gradual shift away from the conventional ways pop stars release music. reading this fascinating interview with mariah carey and seeing ariana grande's recent comments about how she wants to put out songs on her own terms - "i just want to fucking talk to my fans and sing and write music and drop it the way these boys do. why do they get to make records like that and i don’t?", the mixtape model typically seen amongst hip-hop artists has made its way into the mainstream over the last 20 years as musicians - particularly women - fight for increased creative control. 

the 1975 are currently working on notes on a conditional form, due for release in march next year, while charli xcx has managed to find the best of both worlds, creating smash hits for radio's biggest stars and supporting taylor swift on a stadium tour while playing underground shows that allow her to unleash the experimental stylings of number 1 angel and pop 2 on a legion of devoted fans

of course, pop lovers need not fret, for things don't get much bigger than love it if we made it and tootime, which perfectly encapsulate our collective anxiety around politics and online relationships, not just those of the romantic kind but the way in which social media has changed the way we interact with each other. this coup de main interview discusses this more in depth and also the meticulous attention to detail the band put into every aspect of the album and its artwork. 

finding the middle ground between Big Pop and Sad Bops is no easy feat, but the 1975 and pale waves are the creative connoisseurs bridging the gap. this excellent article reflects just how depressing mainstream music has become in recent years, but for me, pop music has always been a safe space to explore my emotions and provides a cathartic release from whatever stress is going on at the time, something i re-discovered when i attended the ultimate power club night last weekend. describing it as the equivalent to a religious experience may be extreme, but to be in a room with dozens of other people who share your love of Big Pop Songs is a feeling like no other. 

*one of the reasons i can identify so much with matty and heather is the way they respond emotionally to the world around them. from the age of 14 i always felt like i had too many emotions and nowhere to safely express them, hence why tumblr became such a significant part of my life, so when i heard they were removing adult content from the site and read a bevy of think pieces about its gradual decline, i couldn't help feel emotional (no surprise there). i deleted my own account a few months ago nearly seven (!) years after i created my blog, as none of the people i followed use the site anymore and the various fan bases i was a part of have somewhat disintegrated as the bands involved have gone on hiatus or split up.

at its peak though, the site gave me my first introduction to feminism, body positivity and LGBT issues; i even met my first ever girlfriend through it. all of this feeds into the 1975's exploration of online relationships, as i know for a fact i would never have found out about these topics in Real Life. when i felt like i had nobody to speak to, i could always rely on my ~internet friends~ and the community i had created to lift my spirits; i still follow most of them on twitter and instagram to this day. 

fast forward to 2018 and i see so much of myself in matty - in this radio 4 interview he talked about being "16 years old with headphones on", and it's this dedication to music that he carries through into his albums. social media means we are now closer than ever to our favourite artists, and the way the 1975, pale waves and king princess are bringing attention to Social Issues via these platforms can only be a positive thing, despite the negative impact all these apps can have on us. 

a brief inquiry is unique in that it doesn't offer any strong opinions on our use of social media and its effect on our relationships, as matty is constantly aware of the fact that he's just the same as the rest of us, endlessly scrolling and getting caught up in the odd twitter controversy

it also reflects the band's ethos from the very beginning: create as we consume. he discusses it in this interview, and once again it reflects my own approach to music. from the ages of 15-17 i was hesitant to discuss my love of pop music as i was trying so desperately to impress various people i had crushes on and prove that i was ~cool~ enough for them to pay attention to me; a fruitless exercise as they hardly even knew i existed. 

yet when i got older, it was the music of that particular time that stated with me; i might not have attracted the attention of my crushes, but i developed a love of pulp, joy division and new order that has stayed with me for nearly a decade (!). following the end of my first ever Serious Relationship just before i turned 18, and the moment when i felt people judging me as i belted out every word to party in the USA before a kate nash gig, i made the decision there and then that i was going to fully embrace my love of pop, and i've never looked back.

finding the 1975 was particularly emotional as it was the first time i'd seen someone consume music in the way i had, no genre off limits. in this interview (around 8:20), he speaks of a desire to combine the sound of girls just wanna have fun with the lyrics of leonard cohen's hallelujah, and the importance of covering every aspect of Human Emotion - "you can't leave out the dancing!" - which i totally understand as most people are surprised that my music taste ranges from one direction to whitesnake, but to me it was never an issue once i freed myself from the Pop Closet. 

the band's seemingly effortless transition from trap-inspired hip-hop to a full blown jazz standard and glorious synth-pop is unlike anything i've ever seen from a band with three number one albums under their belt. 

as our attention spans get shorter and curated playlists have taken over from the rigid release structure i mentioned earlier, it makes perfect sense for the album to sound like every millennial's spotify on shuffle, yet there's still something deeply personal about each track. 

i couldn't be more in love, a michael bolton ballad for the modern age - with key change and all! - features the most raw and emotional vocals i've ever heard from matty. lyrically it explore his fears of one day losing his fanbase, and my heart breaks every time i hear him sing "what about these feelings i've got?" because as i said before, i've always felt like i have Too Many Emotions. 

matty's anxious temperament is a mirror of my own, while his complete and utter dedication to the band he's been a part of since he was 14 closely resembles my own high expectations and ambitions for my own life. 

i always wanna die (sometimesis a stunning combination of euphoria and tragedy, and an ode to the manchester bands that came before; here he describes this as the band's "big song". with its dramatic string arrangement and lyrics that hit a little too close to home, this is another track guaranteed to make me tear up every time. he manages to discuss what has always been a sensitive topic in a way that's alarmingly relatable to me, and probably anyone else who's ever struggled with their Mental Health, but it serves as a reminder that all feelings are temporary and that nobody is happy all the time. in particular, the line "if you can't survive, just try" has stuck with me, and if i had to get anything tattooed on me right now, it would probably be that, considering the year i've had. 

speaking of Self Reflection, matty describes the musical ethos of the 1975's early days as "the apocalyptic sense of being a teenager, in a major key", and this sentiment is echoed across the new album. in give yourself a try, he speaks directly to his younger self and appears to make peace with the fact that nobody ever really fully has their life together and that when he reaches 40, he "will just be the same neurotic person who’s striving to be a grown-up."

it begs the question: from my teenage years to now, has anything really changed? 

this is something i've discussed many times on this blog in the last few months, as the reality of being An Adult has really hit me, and though i still want the same things i did at 14 - even feeling a weird sense of obligation not to disappoint my teenage self - i too am starting to accept that it's okay not to have achieved all your goals by age 25, and it's okay to question them too. 

the reality is, i'll always be anxious, intense and overly ambitious, but i'm realising there are ways to use that to my advantage and not let those feelings consume me; i believe that's what a therapist (if i had one) would call Growth. 

the first lines of i always wanna die(sometimes) - "i bet you thought your life would change / but you're sat on a train again" - were like a punch to the chest as it reminded me of every trip i made back and forth from uni, how my ideas of home have changed so drastically and the shame i feel still living with my parents when i'd always had it in my head that i would leave at 18 and never come back. 

matty has come to the realisation that it's okay to be honest about your feelings, and if anything this album has shown that whatever he might be going through, there's a strong possibility that the majority of other people have experienced it too. sincerity is scary in particular is a world away from the flippant, sarcastic remarks that punctuated i like it when you sleep... and the line "we're all just the same / what a shame" has taken on a greater meaning in 2018 as discussions around mental health have become part of the mainstream, though it's clear we're still figuring out exactly how to go about them. 

there's a real sense of liberation, that it's okay not to be okay, and sometimes it's enough just to exist. none of us really have the answers to The Big Questions often posed on this album, but maybe that's okay. 

so now i find myself back at the moment where i first pressed play on a brief inquiry, a few minutes after midnight on the 30th november. 

if please be naked blew my mind back in 2016, i certainly wasn't prepared for track nine, the man who married a robot, and it did take me a few listens to fully wrap my head around the genre-bending masterpiece. 

hopefully it represents a more tolerant, open and accepting future to come as we enter the new year, and i'll certainly be playing it on repeat well into 2019 as we await notes on a conditional form. 

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