Sometimes, the internet is hard. Social media’s an incubator for trolls and shit photography. Piers Morgan exists. The other day I woke at 4AM and spent half an hour watching conspiracy theory videos about Taylor Swift’s belly button.
For these reasons (and many, many more) hating it is easy, too. But it’s also kind of boring. We get it: we’re all addicted to our phones and they’re probably going to give us cancer. But memes are funny. WhatsApp connects us. So, please, let us broadcast videos of our cat stuck in a cardboard box to our 493 followers in peace.
The ability to reconcile these dualities – to sift through all the internet’s shit and embrace it anyway – is why The 1975’s latest album is so refreshing. Granted, from the title – A Brief Enquiry into Online Relationships – you’d be forgiven for assuming it’s a bleak amalgamation of existential despair and failed Tinder dates. But it isn’t. It’s hopeful. Standout single “Love It If We Made It” , which made a strong case for song of the year, achieved the seemingly impossible. Simultaneously a call to arms and a cry for help, you hurtle through the shittiest headlines from a particularly shitty year: Lil Peep’s death, drowning children, Kanye’s pivot to Trump, each line a suckerpunch delivered through a feverish, thumping vocal – like someone pushing a bruise over, and over, and over again. Then the chorus shifts gears, from dark to light, driving home a much more hopeful refrain: I’d love it if we made it. It’s a survey of the absolute state of us, delivered with the Internet’s crushing lack of subtlety. And you still come out of it feeling ok about the world.
So, in the middle of British winter and the shitshow that is this country’s politics, I was fairly ready for The 1975’s latest show on Friday. To escape, for a couple of hours, into their world of optimism – albeit a slightly despairing brand of it. And it was like tripping down an arena-sized YouTube wormhole. There were no extending stages or flying pop stars or Drake-esque giant ball collections bobbing over the crowd. But from the opening strobe explosion to the closing Siri-voiced “Goodbye,” the internet-geared visuals consume you. There’s warped flowery graphics and pixelated TV static. Huge rainbow cloudscapes, New York streets, walls of pink – things begging to be Instagrammed, basically. Giant lyrics also flash past at breakneck speed. It’s like someone pulled together a supercut of the pretty parts of the internet, all trippy lights and @ifyouhigh videos. Combined with the band’s undeniable charisma, and a collection of grade A pop bangers, this leaves you euphoric. Instead of, say, when you snap out of an internet vortex and realise you’ve been sitting on loo the past 20 minutes, achingly deflated by the discovery that Logan Paul still gets 5.3 million views for a video of him punching an obese pumpkin.
Because, after all, this is a show designed for the Instagram generation. There’s even a bit where Matty gets rapped in a giant phone, which everyone immediately took a photo of, because #meta. It figures: the 1975 are smart. They know their core demographic and play to it. Last year, he told Dazed, “the reason that the last album is pink is because, when the black-and-white era finished, I went on Tumblr and everyone was re-editing pre-existing images and making them all pink.” (RIP erotic The 1975 Tumblr fanfiction).
Not that they aren’t aware of the dAngErs of living through your phone. In 2016, during the London leg of their tour for the lengthily titled album i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, Matty asked everyone to put their phones away for a song. He promised that “The memory of the next five minutes, three and a half minutes, will be far more potent than a fucking video on your iPhone.” Which is probably true, tbh. But this time round he remained tight lipped on the issue – and every issue, really. In fact, for a guy known for how much he likes to talk, he was relatively subdued. When it came to lengthy diatribes, at least, it seemed he preferred to dance.
Because the thing is, with this album and show, it doesn’t feel like The 1975 are trying to impose some sort of binary moral compass on our online obsession. There’s more a sense of acceptance that the internet is here, and it’s not going away, and it isn’t inherently good, or bad, it just… is. So we might as well try and figure out how to make some sort of peace with it, by questioning or exploring or pushing it – or, idk, chucking it on a massive stage at the O2 complete with a travelator and graphics that look like that meme of the confused blonde lady trying to figure shit out, instead of just constantly pontificating about whether it’s the best or worst thing to happen to modern civilisation since the advent of capitalism. Or something.
That’s not to say The 1975 don’t point out how shit modern life can be. “Modernity has failed us” is literally a main lyric of one their singles. " Sincerity is Scary" taps into our almost self-sabotaging distaste for earnestness on the internet; our desire to gloss over issues with sarcasm, our deep-seated aversion to vulnerability. I still can’t post an serious tweet without deleting it two minutes later, or whacking a self-deprecating lol on the end. Lol. They also played fan-fave “The Sound” against a slideshow of insults, highlighting large swathe of peoples’ (and/or bots’) remarkable propensity for bashing out hate from behind a screen. And of course, Matty-in-a-giant-phone thing is a pretty strong allusion to the idea that we’re! All! Stuck! In! Our! Screens! And! Can’t! Es! Cape!
Obviously, it’s nice to step away from the internet. Before the show, I’d recently got back from New Zealand, my home country, and over my three weeks off I took a proper break from the internet. And it was good, and I de-stressed, and returned vowing to calmly float above Twitter beefs and existential angst for the rest of the year. I lasted a week. Oh, and that’s not including all the Instagram photos I posted while away so all my followers knew I was having a great time.
Sure, social media is stressful and hectic and bla bla bla – and we do need to take a break, to read books and talk to people and appreciate the colour of plants. But it can also birth community and commonality. It can unite us, and all the other corny shit you slur when you’re drunk. Halfway through the gig I Facetimed my best mate, still back in New Zealand. Two weeks ago we were in the same place, absolutely cooked, incoherently screaming The 1975 from a couch in the corner of a damp flat. Now we were on opposite sides of the world, on completely different time zones and oceans apart, but sharing the a song over a shitty WiFi connection. Despite the fact we probably won’t see each other for a while, we still felt connected. Sure, the 1975 didn't facilitate this (at least not the phone call anyway – they're a band, not tech boffins). But their meditation on online relationships – both the bad and the good – offers a refreshingly brighter take on the future than everyone banging on about the dystopian Black Mirror episode we’re supposedly living in, and that’s what made their show so good. Send tweet.
Georgie is a presenter at MTV News, and you can find her on Twitter here.