Review by Matthew Reynolds
It was no surprise when Rolling Stone recently called The 1975 “inarguably the most culturally relevant band of the 2010s”. Since their explosion onto the British indie-pop scene in 2013, the Cheshire-formed quartet have made consistent cultural statements with each ‘era’ of their music. The band’s latest album ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’ excels in continuing this trend.
Credit to Joseph Okpako
The 1975 stand out as refreshing in an industry stagnated by money-motivated, quasi-political popstars. Such artists claim to represent an entire generation, whilst only ever regurgitating well-established opinions about mainstream issues- playing it safe, without risk to their own popularity.
The 1975 face firmly in the opposite direction, as surely the most divisive band of the century. The iconic aura of lead singer Matty Healy is almost too good to be true- the son of Loose Woman Denise Welch and sitcom favourite Tim Healy, the Mancunian is loquaciously outspoken and boisterous, with a stage presence that bows to no one. Rather than making safe, performative political statements, Healy partakes in genuine action for what he believes in- for example as an official patron of Humanists UK, a nonreligious charity. He also raised controversy for kissing a male fan on stage in Dubai (where homosexuality is illegal), as well as speaking up against the abortion ban while performing in Alabama. In 2020, the band received sexist backlash for refusing to play gigs that aren’t ‘gender inclusive’, once again proving their shared commitment to practical action over popularity. The 1975 are a band more than happy to stand up for the beliefs of their generation, even at the cost of commercial success.
The group’s music has always been culturally aligned to the zeitgeist of its time. Their self-titled debut album embraced the Tumblr-inspired aesthetic of the early 2010’s- skinny ripped jeans, cigarettes and late night drives. 2016 brought on “I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It”. This upbeat sophomore album captured the excess and romanticism of mid-2010’s filter-heavy Instagram culture with its sugary-pop tunes about beauty, ego and ugly breakups
But it wasn’t until 2018 that The 1975’s cultural relevance skyrocketed with ‘A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships’. Once again a heavily topical album, Healy’s lyrics tackle (with brutal honesty) themes such as social media, online dating and drug addiction. 2020’s ‘Notes on A Conditional Form’ touched upon the climate crisis, with the band inviting Greta Thunberg to give a speech as their opening track. Although written before the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the songs also made uncanny coincidental references to life under lockdown. Most notably this is heard in ‘People’ (“I don’t like going outside, so bring me everything here”) and ‘Frail State of Mind’ (“Go outside? Seems unlikely”), but let’s not forget the relevance of ‘If You’re Too Shy Let Me Know’, a catchy banger about FaceTime sex (“I’ve been wearing nothing every time I call you.”).
With their latest release, ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’, the band embrace a more grounded sense of mature optimism. In the UK at least, the pandemic feels like something people couldn’t wait to forget, with so much less direct impact than we might have expected. Young people, after living indoors for the best part of two years, are now spending the aftermath making up for lost time. As justified as the lockdown measures were, it is undoubtable that people in their twenties have suffered a massive blow to their identity after living in a time where it was illegal to socialise. As a result, The 1975’s new album embraces this desire to be honest and hopeful.
Musically, it is clear that the band needed to adopt a cleaner, more consistent sound to fit these new themes. The decision to work with an outside producer for the first time, none other than six-time Grammy winner Jack Antonoff, has given The 1975 their much needed ‘no man’. While all previous albums were produced within the echo chamber of their own bandmates, Antonoff’s critical presence has challenged the band to refine their work and address their audience more directly than ever.
“The last album was like seeing ‘Transformers’ in IMAX, this one is like going to see a play” – Matty Healy
The band use opening track ‘The 1975’ to set the scene, scanning through the cultural landscape of 2022. “I’m sorry if you’re living and you’re seventeen” is the ongoing mantra. With young people so often dismissed as ‘sensitive snowflakes’ by older generations who claim to have had it worse, The 1975 have always made us feel validated with their lyrics, acknowledging that just because we are young doesn’t mean we have it easy. This opening track takes away the filter and looks at 2022 with grounded realism- something many of us are doing post-pandemic.
Lead single ‘Part of the Band’ was our first taste of BFIAFL, teasing the album’s charred, autumnal aesthetic. Thoughtful and inspiring lyrics idolise Healy’s childhood, “living (his) best life”, but go on to describe how things become systematically tougher during your teens, twenties and thirties. Healy’s often satirical lyrics in this song lean towards romanticising one’s imaginary life, a refusal to deal with reality.
Comparing a “lame” romance to ‘Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine’ (two French poets who pursued a turbulent, romanticised relationship) and even conceiving entire situations in his head (“I always used to bust into her hand in my imagination”), the song represents a generation of young people bored of dull, everyday life, striving for something more.
One of the most culturally relevant songs on the album is ‘Looking For Somebody (To Love)’. This addictive track marries playful pop with a sickening tale about an incel turning to violence as revenge for romantic rejection. Filled to the brim with satirical lines lines like “go and kill it like a man should”, it is all too easy to overlook the idea that maybe dangerous expectations on men are what allow these misogynistic subcultures to flourish. With an increase in alt-right toxic masculinity in the media, and Andrew Tate and Ben Shapiro becoming idolised figureheads, young boys are often pressured into viewing sex as an achievement. Healy’s lyrics satirise this sexual motive, using the excuse that “(he) was looking for somebody to love” as though it is an understandable excuse for committing a tragedy. This narrative shines light on a worrying number of men who have clearly never been told no, and so when inevitably rejected, throw their toys out the pram, committing the worst acts imaginable.
‘Human Too’, an autobiographical song, deals earnestly with ‘cancel culture’, something Healy has had his fair share of experience with. The lyrics “so tell me you’re human too” suggest that, as many mistakes as he has publicly made, we the listener have surely made just as many. Celebrities are no different to us when it comes to small mistakes.
There are genuine monsters in the entertainment industry who have committed publicly known crimes and yet have not been fully ‘cancelled’, while others who have simply tweeted something insensitive in the heat of the moment are faced with full-scale boycotts. ‘Human Too’ suggests that small mistakes should be forgiven, but those in need deserve justice.
As much as The 1975 love to write social commentary, their songs have always been anchored to the theme of love. ‘Happiness’ is no exception. A refreshingly mature love song, it celebrates falling head over heels for someone, but on realistic grounds. The lyrics reflect the anxiety and almost hilarious overthinking of many young people in a romantic situation-
“I’m never gonna love again”.
A well-known rumour amongst the fanbase is that Healy now refuses to perform ‘This Must Be My Dream’, a glittery 2016 ballad, out of regret for his lyrics presenting an unrealistic over-sensationalised account of love. However, with this album’s ‘I’m In Love With You’, the band seem to have made peace with the idea that fairy tale true love can exist- acknowledging that while relationships are far from perfect, it's those special moments of genuine romance that are to really be celebrated. A song about the relationship between Healy and his now ex-girlfriend, FKA Twigs, it harvests a heart-breaking bittersweet taste. Most are rarely so kind about their ex, but Healy encourages us to look back on our own romances with optimism. ‘I’m In Love With You’ may appear naïve at first, but it nods to the imperfections of modern romance.
‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’ is in so many ways the definitive album of 2022. With Facebook losing $232 billion at the start of this year, and mass redundancies made to the workforces of other apps such as Snapchat, we may finally be seeing the end of the desire to present dishonest versions of ourselves. Alternative apps like BeReal have skyrocketed in popularity as a result of the exploitation and pressures that excessive social media use exhibits. ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language’ voices those exact frustrations- it is absolutely okay to romanticise your life, as long as you approach it maturely and realistically. Life is far from perfect, especially in 2022, but we must still allow ourselves permission to be happy wherever possible. The 1975 continue to define a generation by writing songs that fit the sincere, grounded philosophy of young people living through unprecedented times.
Being Funny In A Foreign Language is out now on all platforms, and tickets for The 1975’s ‘At Their Very Best’ tour are on sale now.