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Music by VICE

Never Mind the Cell Phones, Here's The 1975

“I guarantee you this moment will be more potent than a fucking video.”

by Ian Cohen
Apr 21 2016, 7:30pm

The 1975 are way more popular than you think! Their 74-minute opus of a sophomore LP, i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, didn’t just debut at number one; it absolutely trounced their closest competitor, doubling the sales of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and getting close enough to six-figure outright sales that the 1975 could legitimately be seen as pop royalty.

The 1975 aren’t as popular as we thought! Sales plummeted after week one and i like it currently sits at number 120 on the Billboard 200. For reference, Skrillex’s label sampler OWSLA Worldwide Broadcast has been out for a similar amount of time and is clocking in at #93. The album rollout for i like it hasn’t, by appearances, significantly increased the fanbase fostered by their massively successful 2013 self-titled debut. It just made those fans way more intense—more like a cult, not large enough to be a legitimate #hive.

This is as popular as The 1975 should be! You can sell out the Shrine Expo Hall two early weeknights in a row only if you’re popular enough to have one of the biggest font sizes on the Coachella poster. But when 1975 front-pouter Matt Healy asked “how many people saw us at Coachella?” he seemed happy with the relatively quiet response. He talks like a guy who kinda wishes Indio would sink into a hole in the earth midway through Calvin Harris’s set.

There’s a kind of juvenile, anti-establishment mean streak that distances The 1975 from just about any true pop artist of the current moment. Aside from their first breakthrough single “Sex,” a geyser of blue-balled self-loathing, their vitriol isn’t haphazardly directed at women the way Future or Drake or Kanye or the Weeknd’s is. Even if the possibly-confirmed subliminals about possibly-confirmed exes are aimed at Halsey and Taylor Swift, those figures are more being used as proxies for American pop culture itself. And unlike the other rock bands who have to consider pop artists as their peers—just witness Coldplay turning the entire promotion cycle of A Head Full of Dreams into an apology for even existing and not being as cool as David Bowie or Beyonce, Imagine Dragons’ collaboration with Kendrick Lamar, or basically anything Dave Grohl does—The 1975 have no interest in playing nice.

Though a good portion of i like it is earmarked for Healy’s deconstructions of his boho-himbo self-image, he concedes to pop music as the best platform to get his rickety, revolutionary message across. If you wanna get super specious, when Healy smirks, “I’m just with my friends online and there’s things we’d like to change” on Monday’s set-opening “Love Me,” it sounds almost Bernie-bro quixotic: a major component of their crusade is feeling that if they fail to upset the current hierarchy, it’s too corrupt to be saved in the first place.

But that’s about the only time you’d use the word “bro” in relation to The 1975—of any band who primarily plays guitars, or really any non-boy band at all, there isn’t a single one that draws a higher female:male ratio in the crowd than these guys. It’s not even close. Yes, there are some bro aspects; the 18 to 21 dress code indicated a not-insignificant sliver of crowd walked over from the nearby USC Greek row, and when Drake’s “Know Yourself” pumped over the PA between sets, most everyone felt it necessary to shout along with their #woes. Otherwise, The 1975 occupy a unique space in the pop-rock world: Too conversant with synth-pop, electronic, hip-hop, high fashion, and sexual fluidity to be lumped in with macho predecessors like Arctic Monkeys, but far more edgy in persona and presentation than Passion Pit or the Killers. And even if the non-Healy members of the 1975 are rakishly handsome enough to give credence to the idea that the 1975 could or might be a boy band, they’re an actual band, the first line of defense for fans who want to present them as more legit than a pop act.

Still, Healy is the pop star The 1975 needs—full of confidence and self-belief but not necessarily swagger. He owns it, but he’s scrambling to make payments. Healy has charisma and an utter disinterest in wearing undershirts, but he never comes across as intimidating. Though the “greed is good” sonics of the 1975’s most recent singles have likened them to Duran Duran or INXS, Healy isn’t a natural at pretty boy swag the way Simon LeBon or Michael Hutchence were. His best comparison might actually Brandon Flowers from The Killers, the previous decade’s biggest cult-pop act.

As with Flowers, it’s unclear whether Healy is in on his own joke. Or whether he recognizes there is a joke to begin with. Healy doesn’t banter on stage, he pontificates. And then, almost immediately, he pops his balloons full of hot air. Healy told the crush of bodies up front to take three steps back from the stage because he “doesn’t want anyone to die on our behalf.” He later applauded The 1975 for being the reason all of these people came out on a Monday night. In a serious moment between goblets of wine, Healy paid tribute to the victims of the Brussels terrorist attacks (they were in Belgium the same week) and noted that a pop concert is a place where society can be most free. He demanded, “let’s be free in honor of those who aren’t,” and then played “Paris” of all things, one of his most misanthropic songs, one that hinges on a line that goes “you’ve been romanticizing heroin.”

He sounds best when 2,000 or so people are backing him up—witness “Robbers,” the silliest song on The 1975 because it was the most serious. Yet, when Healy backs away from the mic so everyone can yell “NOW EVERYBODY’S DEEEEEEAAAAAAD!!!!” (the most serious/silly line on the song), it’s clear that Healy can pull this whole thing off because The 1975 fans feel the same way. Couples embraced and jumped together upon recognizing “Change Of Heart,” 2016’s most dickish breakup ballad. The irony with which Healy sings “fuck that, get money” as a defense mechanism during the despondent bridge of “Somebody Else” is laid on too thick to go unnoticed, but the crowd chanted it as if it were an actual Drake lyric.

The degree to which The 1975 lyrics have been dissected on Genius suggests that most fans get the double entendre when Healy laments being forced to sell sex on “Loving Someone.” Nonetheless, the loudest chant of the night preceded the encore: “We Want ‘Sex’! We Want ‘Sex’!” (thank God there was never a chance of them playing ambient cut “Please Be Naked”).

Healy often saves his most withering criticism for phones: See the immortal line from “Change of Heart,” which goes “you said I’m full of diseases, your eyes were full of regret / and then you took a picture of your salad and put it on the internet.” Healy asked the crowd to put away their iPhones for a five-minute period of time, grousing “I guarantee you this moment will be more potent than a fucking video.” At which point he announced, “this next song is about me.” The song in question is literally called “Me.” Not that it stopped anyone from trying to surreptitiously tape it.

A group of friends walking outside the venue after the show discussed this very moment. A previous part of their conversation revealed that one of them was 19—“2005 was an incredible year.” “I was eight.”—and this young woman was now wishing she was her current age back in 1970, when she might’ve been able to experience a concert without being stuck behind people waving their arms in an attempt to turn a Snapchat panoramic. But then she expressed the paradox of being a 1975 fan in 2016 in a way that Healy would have appreciated: “I mean, I posted pictures on Instagram, but I wish I didn’t have to.”