An Essay – The 1975

By Craig-Russell Horne

The 1975 are an easy meme of a band: 4 young, rich, white men (one of whom being the son of two UK celebrities and who seems to be constantly on a stream to delivering a line of the most pretentious nonsense you’ve ever heard when asked a question about something as simple as his opinion on skirting boards) and an ideology of making music riddled with nostalgia. Now I don’t think the ‘young rich white men’ part is a contentious subject but, the nostalgia part is.

Britain has had a rather public & rather embarrassing issue recently about ‘things being better in the 80’s’ and when I say Britain, I mean England. This doesn’t come from a Scottish man taking a shot at the English but more a socio-economic truth. Scotland was Thatcher’s policy playground, Northern Ireland was at one-an-others throats and Wales was being shafted. The North of England got hit hard, Middle England, in the most part, done fine (as it always seems to do) and the South of England done not too bad either. Thus,for many the 80’s where pish yet people who lived and grew up during it, when asked a question about it, remembered the days you could leave your door open and not get robbed and you could be homophobic and racist at a rapid rate as if you had sprayed diarrhoea through a fan at the speed of sound and talking about the speed of sound, we had Concorde and we had shipbuilding and blah blah blah equals ‘Take back control’ equals ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and here we are.

Now, what does that have to do with The 1975? I hear you ask. I also hear you asking ‘Craig, have you completely lost the plot?… to your second question, yes but not completely.

Now to answer your first query, The 1975 have captured a generation of disenfranchised young people who as a group have zero identity. I am a millennial. Many of you reading this will be too. Tell me what our identity is as a generation? Social media? Life behind filters of dogs? Tik Tok dances? I honestly don’t know. The only good thing to come out the COVID-19 crisis is that we will finally have an interesting story to tell about our epoch to our children and grandchildren rather than telling them about ‘Dank Memes’ leading to us all being ushered into care homes at the age of 410 when we can actually retire. What many of us have in fact done is revert to the same thinking as the ‘Brexit means Brexit’ lot. It’s cool to listen to music and wear clothes from 30 years ago and listen, I’m not being a hypocrite here, I’m literally wearing a shirt from 1986 while writing this. But, as previously stated, The 80’s was shite. Why are we doing this? I often get fascinated by these videos of fashion across the decades. Let’s do a little thought experiment together as a group- think of 60’s fashion. Pretty easy to get a very clear picture in your head isn’t it? Now… think of 2010’s fashion. Struggling aren’t you? If you managed to get a picture, was it a hipster type wearing mostly vintage clothing? More than likely.

This is, to my mind, where the genius of The 1975 lies. They looked upon a generation that was always going to be looking back and gave them music that allowed them to continue that but, still moving forward at the same time. They provided that 80’s sound but adjusted its meaning to a modern era.

Go to the first album, ‘The 1975’. Songs like ‘Girls’ & ‘Heart Out’ are 80’s tunes recorded digitally as opposed to on an 8 track. The aesthetic of monochrome pictures and cover art ablaze on neon lights both felt very late 70’s/early 80’s but, still bound to the early (and by far the coolest period) of Instagram. They might have not provided anything new but, what they did was make music that tapped into the pulse of millennials growing up in the 2000’s/2010’s. It’s funny to see the hate they receive as a band. Not funny ha ha but funny in the sense of ignorance from music journalists and what seems to be the vast majority of people online. The 1975’s success from the first album is both an outstanding understanding of a generation but, also a sad indictment of it. The 1975 bare a lot of the hate on behalf of a group of people and to me, that doesn’t seem fair. Or, have I got this wrong? Have they in fact just magpie’d from a surface level of the postmodern? Sold a dream of the 80’s that is colourful shirts, Miami Vice and Johnny Marr’s jangling guitar tone? Instead of showing the real 80’s, the one with mass unemployment and the AIDS virus and class struggle? Attributing a sound to a generation, of a generation that suffered substantially more than the one right now or, was that just the direction of travel? For example, a ‘Vintage clothes’ culture started way before this album was released. Was it the fanbase that was dazzled by the store front of Postmodernism or the band? I don’t think you could answer that with any degree of certainty. It’s a chicken and egg argument. Perhaps the truth lies in the middle. The success of this album and the bands success as a whole is down to ‘The 1975’ and their fanbase thinking the same. Both the ideology of the band and its music is the same as the ears it falls upon. Appropriating all the joys of the 80’s and none of the misfortune and, if that is the case, should the band really take all the responsibility for it?

Moving on to ‘I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It’, the same ideology is taken forward but altered slightly. I believe this is the bands best work. It remained with the quintessential 80’s sound on ‘The Sound’ and ‘Love Me’ but started to test an audience that was 3 years older. Now 3 years doesn’t seem a long time but, for their fanbase, that’s potentially 13 year olds becoming 16 and 17 year olds becoming 20. This is potentially a period of time in which their audience are discovering sex or drugs or booze for the first time or all of them at the same time. Some going to college and university, embarking upon classic literature and opening their minds at a rate of knots. This is when the Brian Eno-esk work began to rear its head in The 1975’s discography. Tracks like ‘Lostmyhead’ and ‘Please Be Naked’ still remembers the younger listener who first discovered the band but accepts they have now grown up. It provides a challenge to their ears and personalities. It’s a fascinating body of work.

Now consider the most recent music, ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ and the singles for whatever the next album is going to be. As a band they have now went from providing for the generation they take so much heat for, to now lecturing them and offering guidance. Not lecturing in a nagging teacher kind of way but more like your granny. Not aggressive, just a quiet word. The title of ‘Give Yourself A Try’ springs to mind.

This is by a long way the most original work The 1975 have released. It’s them showing themselves as musicians and not just a commercial music machine. But, want to know the sad thing? I didn’t like it. I half did and half didn’t. It’s just too brash and often thin of any groundbreaking ideas. It all feels rushed and unfinished. It’s just not what The 1975 do well.

Yet now I hear their new single, “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”, and I like it.

So, let’s call a spade a spade, it’s a return to that same 80’s sound for a disenfranchised generation.

What does that mean for me then? The problems I take such an issue with, I am part of. I feed it like millions of other millennials across the planet. I am not allowing our identity to grow as people floating on a spinning rock hurtling throughout space for the very small period of time in the history of the planet that I will be connected to for all of time. So, what does that leave me to ponder…simple…I hate what we have become.

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