The Candy-Coated Angst of the 1975

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Promoting the February release of their second studio album, The 1975 took to the Shrine Expo Hall, bringing an energetic and visually engaging performance to their LA audience. Photo courtesy of Meg Meyer.

Americans can’t get over their Brit obsession, a fascination that has recently manifested in the form of the lanky, messy-haired British boys of the band, the 1975. The 1975’s surge of popularity — sold out concerts, a number one album in the US and UK, 60K likes on any given Instagram post, screaming fangirls — is in part due to a perfectly poised campaign of creating their image, in combination with their genuine artistic exploration and development. They’re snarky, they’re real, they’re a bit dangerous and a bit of facade; the band’s niche persona attracts a massive audience — enough to fill LA’s Shrine Expo Hall, as well as an international tour through the end of September.

The lyrics, written by lead singer Matt Healy are all about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll; one song is literally called “Sex,” and another is “Chocolate,” a euphemism for marijuana. With Healy’s Manchester accent and their overtly upbeat pop sound, you would hardly know the violence and angst that the songs actually contain: their sound is beautiful, synthy, mesmerizing pop that hits the brain’s pleasure zone and subsequently sounds a bit superficial. Careful listening is not required, but it adds much more complexity. Admittedly, it can sound like brain dead teenage pop with Healy’s high-pitched, boy-band voice, but their lyrics are always saying something about fame, addiction, sex, relationships, making music and yes, soul-searching.

On one hand, the
1975 is able to appeal to audiences with catchy verses and rhythms, but then you also get the fans that dig into the lyrics and read into the hidden depths of Matty’s heavily accented — at times nearly indecipherable — words. Then you get the Anglophiles who love the fact that they’re not American, which the band makes fun of in the song “She’s American” on their most recent album

Healy himself is a powerful factor of their spell-casting charm; he’s iconic as the face of the band with punky long, curly black hair, a tall lanky body that he’s not afraid of exposing and a huge attention-commanding, narcissistic, artistic ego — the picture-perfect model of a modern sex icon, rock star and troubled artist.

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Photo courtesy of Meg Meyer.

Beyond Healy and the whole band’s ragged, British allure, they’ve got the ideal soft-grunge blogger aesthetic. Their website is a pale pink that’s actually a little difficult to read, they use a simple geometric rectangle as their unifying symbol, their signature is a retro stencil font and their band name is a year in which none of them were actually alive yet. Their most recent album, “I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet unaware of it,” has such a pretentiously long title that it actually won them the longest title of any Billboard number one album. The lyric book for the album used pink neon signs of the song titles in places like the desert, above a bed, a church, a cityscape, the beach, etc. It’s Tumblr heaven.

All these elements have earned what  belongs to  any other popular indie-pop band: a cult following that attracts hordes of people.

My twelve-year-old sister and her seventh-grade friends (plus one of their dads) saved me a spot in the line that started forming hours before the concert. I saw Bastille at the Shrine about a year ago, and even for that immensely popular indie-Brit band, the line wasn’t nearly this long at the time we arrived. But, the masses and myself were not disappointed by the show; the 1975 know how to perform. A long monotone sound intensifying over the course of ten minutes built up momentum for the band to enter in a flash of neon pink for their 80’s infused single, “Love Me,” and continued to carry the band through a high-energy performance with the visual chops to match — three of their signature rectangles above, grainy digital cityscapes, simple geometric blocks, constantly changing lights.

Their set list was lengthy enough to satiate these hungry fans and covered the majority of their recently released album, which happens to be 17 tracks, and much of their well-loved songs from the past album. The band took a noticeable departure from their first album, transitioning from indie to pure pop, but kept their fans intrigued with bribes. Their eager fans were blessed with samples and music videos before the release, the promise of early access to concert tickets if they pre-ordered the album, and most importantly, a marathon of music on the album that gives a wider variety than their first album with a range of acoustic, instrumental, 80’s pop, high-strung, and low-strung tracks with plenty of references to their previous work.

The 1975’s act of the tortured artist disguised in an attractive, catchy pop band, discussing the consequences of pop culture and current events in the world we live in, gives a lot for their largely female fan base to love and contemplate, but even more candy-coated angst and rebellion for their parents to hate.

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