It’s something of a cliché to describe a band as Marmite but if you held The 1975 up at a breakfast buffet, you would certainly invite looks of both adoration and disgust. Labelled as nepotism babies, pretentious ego-centrists AND the greatest band of their generation, perceptions of them entirely depend on who you ask.
For what it is worth, I myself took a while to ‘get’ this band. Naively writing them off as yet another post-indie landfill group, things started to click for me properly on ‘I Like It When You Sleep..’, and by the time they dropped ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’, I was convinced that they were the best British band of the decade, talking about issues in a way that reflected the choppy, ever-evolving discourse of social media. The earnestness and grand ambition that had once seemed offputting suddenly made sense; this was a band that did genuinely want to make a creative and cultural difference, and have some fun while they did it.
At the helm of it all, of course, is Matty Healy, a man who, via his own admission, has something of a difficulty keeping his mouth shut. He doesn’t always get it right (“I’m sorry about my twenties, I was learnin’ the ropes/I had a tendency of thinking ’bout it after I spoke”) but, he frequently captures the zeitgeist in shrewd, emotive and relatably-messy ways, openly admitting that straightforward sincerity can be scary. On their latest record, ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’, Healy has shown that he is more than capable of harnessing both vulnerable sentiments and outright dick jokes, no longer feeling the need to cloud them in a satirical wink.
Now 33, the growth, versatility and — gasp — maturity that he has shown as an artist is quite something to behold. And yet on social media, he is still having a lovely shitposting time. Back after a long spell offline thanks to a BLM-era ‘cancellation’ (more on that later), he has been on frequent form across both Instagram and Twitter, cracking chaotic witticisms that have resulted in both cry-laugh emojis and weary groans. In the last month alone, he has apparently spilled the news that Phoebe Bridgers and Paul Mescal are engaged, told Brazilian fans to “shut the fuck up for once”, and landed up in the Daily Mail after he was called out for being “rude” to an Irish fan, Dervla, at a signing, telling her that her name sounded like something you would “move gravel with”. A video clip of the incident has gone viral, even reaching a segment on Radio 1 where Greg James describes it as “classic Matty Healy”.
Chatting to the now internet legend herself, Dervla tells The Forty-Five that she was perfectly happy with how the interaction went down. “I’ve been a fan since 2013 and saw them for the first time in 2014. The signing was great and not rushed at all, so there was plenty of time to speak with each member,” she says.
“I think his humour is just very tongue-in-cheek. I like that he’s not afraid to have that sort of banter with his fanbase. The video I posted is classic Matty Healy; I didn’t think it would blow up like it did, but some of the memes to come out of it have been hilarious.”
At a time in fan culture where audiences crave personalised interaction, the attention that Healy gives to his audience is clearly quite welcome. Whether he is joking that Muslim 1975 fans should be nicknamed ‘Haram-baes” or retweeting their piss-taking roasts of his lyrics, the humour goes both ways, part of a symbiotic relationship. In meeting fans at their level, he has admitted that he sees no point in sugarcoating, particularly in a world that often has a fucked-up relationship with celebrity and perfection. In a recent interview with Zane Lowe, he explained that in being brought up around the industry via his parents, he realised that if he was going to be famous himself, the only way to do so was with transparency. That transparency, it seems, looks a lot like saying exactly what is in his head at any given time, a kind of throwaway return to the way that millennials used Twitter in its early days.
“I think his sense of humour is a mix of observational and sarcastic,” says Sarah, a fan in her early thirties. “I think a lot of people can relate to his humour because we grew up in the 2000s, experienced the same world events and societal changes, and now as adults we all kind of collectively feel fed up with society or politics and all we have left is to laugh about it.
Part of what I think makes Matty particularly funny is that he is distinctly aware of what his public image is, and how ridiculous it is to be a famous person with an “image.” I think he is able to poke fun not only at himself but also at the way he is viewed. We all buy into social media, we all are aware of how we view each other or how we want to be viewed by others. It’s refreshing to see a celebrity point out the ridiculousness of the whole charade.”
Clapping back against the naysayers, many 1975 fans feel as if the mainstream media simply doesn’t get what Matty Healy is about. Many of the tweets, after all, are genuinely funny; a little weird or over-sharing perhaps, but mostly harmless and self-deprecating. Like Liam Gallagher before him, Healy has found a way to use social media as a genuine extension of himself, rather than the vague PR updates and watered-down platitudes that most artists adopt in a desire to avoid internet outrage. Rightly or wrongly, this kind of ‘what will he say next’ behaviour makes for a genuinely captivating popstar, the kind that media and fans both love.
However, unlike Gallagher, it does bear acknowledging that Healy is often communicating directly with an audience of teenagers and young millennials, the kind who are also perpetually online. The benefit to this is that they do seem to ‘get it’, whatever ‘it’ is. As he puts it himself on ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’, these are tough times to come of age; “I’m sorry if you’re living and you’re 17.” And yet, knowing that Healy loves to repost and share things that people are saying about him or sending to him, he does risk feeding the more problematic side of stan culture, directly rewarding the most deranged takes. Takes on race, especially, or sexuality, are always going to be risky, not knowing that they will be received equally.
Recently, Matty tweeted himself about shutting off Twitter at 96 thousand followers, but quickly backtracked, feeling that it was more entertaining to watch outsiders misinterpret the collective sense of humour. Fans obviously loved this; who doesn’t like the idea of being in an exclusive circle, where you’re the chosen ones who are consistently in on the joke? But when the joke does go too far, it can be difficult to call it out without feeling as if you’re somehow betraying the club. Some of the 9/11 quips for example, that Healy has been known to post on Instagram stories, are the kind of edgelord nonsense that you’d expect to see from a teenager with their first Reddit account, not the kind of thing you’d expect from someone who is actually old enough to have lived through the seismic historical event. They might be seen as harmless, but in sharing them so widely, they also speak of our generation’s tendency to go for the shock factor at any cost, normalising a crude form of insensitivity.
In fandoms especially, ‘the girls who get it, get it’ culture often encourages us to brush everything off as high concept, believing that the beloved artist is always doing something artistic. As we have seen so tangibly with Ye, the pipeline from ‘it’s provocative’ to out-and-out bigot is a slippery one, and something that should have been addressed much earlier. Healy is obviously nowhere near Ye levels, but when you shitpost so regularly, there is a fine line between questionable taste and stuff that you simply know better than to say.
So where exactly is that line? Humour is subjective, and the fans who are into The 1975’s style of densely satirical-yet-lighthearted lyricism do seem to appreciate that his online persona matches up with the music. Matty Healy does genuinely seem to mean well on the stuff that really matters; to my mixed-race perspective, the thing that got him ‘soft-cancelled’ from Twitter in the first place — posting his music video ‘Love It If We Made’ it in response to 2020’s Black Lives Movement — was hugely blown out of proportion, a genuine attempt on his part to show thoughtful solidarity rather than a supposed self-promo. Similarly, the gentle ribbing of fans as “idiots” at Leeds fest was quite endearing, a sign of his loving awe at their singalong enthusiasm.
When the music is as good as 1975 make, one doesn’t need to indulge in bad taste for clicks. This is likely the opposite of Healy’s intention; he does seem to just be having fun on his own terms, rather than mapping out any kind of contrived game plan. But until a time where everyone is a committed 1975 fan working within the same context of his personality, he is always going to run the risk of seeming like a bit of an ass to the wider world. Luckily, there are at least 96 thousand fans who are quite happy to keep the memes and trollposts coming, to revel in his constantly evolving take on the world. After all, isn’t this the closeness and conversation that most fan audiences claim to crave?