The 1975 are doing everything right. The band’s burgeoning popularity in the build up to the release of their first full-length album on September 2nd is the product of a meticulous approach to crafting their music and image, rendering them simultaneously intimate and mysterious, personable and elusive, in the way only the most beloved and iconic rock stars can be. Their rapid two-year transition from a relatively unknown indie band playing local venues in Manchester to an international hype machine with tours booked across the US, Europe, and Australia through February has been a master class in honing a coherent and compelling artistic personality–one that is mirrored in everything they do and that keeps their fans constantly craving more. So taken in and impressed by their efforts, I was inspired to analyze the band’s approach to songwriting, marketing, and interacting with their growing fan base to try and identify what exactly makes The 1975 such an appealing and confounding musical force.
Despite the fact that they are only just releasing their first full-length, The 1975 already have an extensive body of work which is both stylistically varied and thematically consistent. The band members frequently mention their diverse sources of inspiration in interviews, each of which can be aurally identified somewhere in their back catalogue, often in exciting and unexpected combinations. For many bands, genre-hopping might convey a lack of genuine musical identity, but with The 1975, the variations are pronounced while never betraying a core essence that ties them all together (the band say they owe this to a decade of experience writing music as a group). One can absorb the aching guitar lines of “Undo”, the electronic echoes of “HNSCC”, the shamelessly upbeat sentiments of “Chocolate”, or the anthemic soaring finale to “You” without once losing a sense of the creators behind it all, their collective personality shining through the musical diversity.
This effect is furthered by the band’s release schedule of the past two years, which has consisted of four EPs, each centered on one of the upcoming album’s singles (“Chocolate”, “Sex”, and two versions of “The City”) and fleshed out with thematically related pieces that enhance their messages and, in aggregate, form stunning compact narratives. The singles tend toward straightforward pop, while their EP counterparts showcase the band’s more ambient capabilities. The most effective of these might be Music for Cars, which chronicles a night of drug enhanced revelry and young love (“Anobrain” and “Chocolate”) that turns wistful (“HSNCC”), then suspicious and bitter (“Head.Cars.Bending”) before closing on an unstable, darkly reflective note (“Me”). Many of the songs on these EPs are accompanied by mesmerizing black and white videos, which leads me to the next topic.
Somewhere along the line, The 1975 made the decision to unify their creative output with a consistent visual aesthetic that would both match their musical styling and incorporate some of their non-musical loves into the band’s image (director John Hughes being a frequently cited influence). The impact of that decision is felt across the board, whether it be in the band’s promotional photos, on their social media profiles, or in the aforementioned music videos, which all convey the enigmatic entity that is The 1975. Take “Antichrist”, for example, which juxtaposes haunting profile shots of the band members with awe-inducing images from the natural world. A subtle message is forever just outside the viewer’s grasp, the band obstinately refusing to reveal their intentions beyond a complex melding of the melancholic with the inspirational.
This is also true of the band’s self-proclaimed “less is more approach” to social media, where they write in run-on capital letters and bracket every post with pairs of slashes. The regularity of the aesthetic is reassuring, but there’s always a nagging desire to see more of what’s behind the curtain, to get at that mysterious core that the band keeps so well under wraps. They feed fans black and white images that look like screenshots of music videos they never shot, seemingly detached from the content of the linked post (a link to pre-orders of the new album, an interview, or a live performance video) but forever expanding and solidifying the image that fans associate with them.
Now, whether or not you were aware of the band’s existence prior to reading this, you might think that all of these elements sound like they would add up to a pretentious, unbearable whole, a band so obsessed with its own concepts as to think arrogantly that their listeners will succumb to their overwhelming artistic dynamism, however they choose to package and distribute it. In reality, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In the interviews they have given over the past few months (which have been numerous and given to many sources and in many settings), the band members consistently come across as genuinely passionate about their creative goals and humbled by their growing success. They’re intelligent and articulate, yet modest and ever willing to shift the conversation toward discussion of artists and topics they love. The band notably turned down tours with Rihanna, Fall Out Boy, 30 Seconds to Mars, Arctic Monkeys, and Paramore in order to focus on their own headlining tour and other personal initiatives, decisions which for most bands would appear egotistical and smug.
When asked about them, Healy gave a goofy grin and acknowledged, “That’s crazy” before earnestly insisting, “That’s cool, and we’d love to,” but “if we went on tour with [those artists], it would be indulgent”–a disservice to their fans and to themselves as they follow their self-prescribed, unflinching trajectory toward an international popularity of their own molding.
Healy came dangerously close to providing a clear insight into the band’s creative ambitions in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, remarking that The 1975 hopes to make “music that makes you want to live and makes you want to think. Music can command me how to feel without my conscious mind being within a mile of registering it. It tells me what to do”. As their audience absorbs the carefully curated output of the band, poised on the brink of major international success, one can see the guiding technique of that perspective: a union of sound, image, and message conveying faint, profound truths that influence the world view of those that encounter them. No doubt the band members would shy away from such a lofty assertion, but the musical and visual works they create overcome their reserved, unassuming collective persona. This fall’s full-length will add one more intricate and nuanced piece to that puzzle, providing yet another tantalizing and exhilarating glimpse into the motivations and methods of The 1975.
You can pre-order The 1975’s self titled debut album here. It’s out September 2nd.—
Thanks to John Boles for being the first contributor to Sirens of Decay! Hope you enjoyed his piece. You can find his info below.