The 1975’s Brits nomination proves great pop isn’t always drowned out by mindless gym music | Brit awards
There’s something that naturally happens when you’re over 30 and working in the UK music industry. You’ll be at the gig of a new hype artist, listening to fairly innocuous songs about situationships, boys not calling you back and TikTok and think: “Cool – I finally aged out of this.”
Every generation has this rite of passage – of becoming too past it for most youth culture, and passing the baton backwards to those younger, freer and less experienced. With that being said, I also think that a lot of British pop music nowadays is made for reality TV, iPlayer adverts and the gym. It’s not the actual content of the music that disturbs me but the surface level lyricism, which often only grasps at the emptiest parts of modern existence, of our loneliness and lack of connection.
It’s a far cry from previous decades, when artists like Elton John, Kate Bush and Phil Collins – who made music about grown-up concerns, which could be enjoyed by teens alike – soundtracked our lives. (It’s no surprise that this is the current state of pop in a country whose music industry is, according to the charts, propped up by a holy trinity of po-faced men: Ed Sheeran, George Ezra and Lewis Capaldi.)
I’m not saying I don’t like music about hedonism, the internet and being a slut, but I am saying that a lot of pop music about sex isn’t that sexy. The music about having fun doesn’t sound that fun and the songs that reference technology feel as if they were made by it, rather than being about it. Last year, there was one mainstream pop album in particular that felt like it existed outside this void: The 1975’s Being Funny in a Foreign Language. For me, it is the only pop record nominated for the album of the year Brit award that’s deserving of the trophy.
Being Funny is simple, classy and restrained, a reaction to The 1975’s last two albums which were overblown, lengthy comments on social media, technology and politics. What could be more original, The 1975 seem to say, than just making great songs about love – stupid, disappointing but ever-sustaining romantic love, and the people we choose to come home to at the end of each day – and playing them really well?
It’s catchy (the jangly, bright I’m in Love With You), clever (the band’s wry comment on masculinity), funny (frontman Matty Healy singing, hilariously: “I’ve heard it’s en vogue to be super thin / But your friends aren’t thick, so they can’t come in”) and touching – if All I Need to Hear doesn’t make you cry, it’s possible you’re heartless.
It’s also a direct response to the overproduced, gratuitously sample-heavy electronic pop music we’ve been surrounded by for the past five or so years. While making the album, The 1975 sought to capture the pure essence of their band – to simply “play it and record it,” as Healy told the New York Times last year. “Any kid can make a bedroom thing that sounds crazy,” he said. “What you can’t do is have been in a band for 20 years and be great players and go into a room and have that freedom.” The resulting album makes you feel as if you were in the room with the band as they recorded it.
Discussing Being Funny with friends recently, I mentioned that it was a relief to listen to an album that’s playful, skilfully made and intellectually stimulating enough to engage with like a good book. That may be one of the worst things I’ve ever said out loud, but it’s true – obviously pop music should always make you feel but it’s not too much to ask that it sometimes make you think.
Being Funny makes me wonder if I have another demand of pop music – that it sometimes has the ability to make me a better person. Being Funny, with its simple but resonant romantic missives, reminds me to re-centre love and art, to ensure that they stay grounding forces amid the busyness of routine and obligations, to ask me if I’m taking myself and the people in my life seriously today.
Other intelligent pop music along these lines does exist. Last year Charli XCX released Crash, an innovative break-up album that also commented on her career and persona, for which she netted her first UK No 1. On her album Dance Fever, Florence + the Machine’s Florence Welch interrogated her artistry, womanhood and conflicting feelings about having a child. But neither of those artists received album of the year nominations.
I won’t be stunned if The 1975 don’t win the trophy themselves, as we all seem to know at this point, awards more often exist to celebrate commercial juggernauts rather than the genuine “best”. Maybe winning the big prize doesn’t matter much – that the 1975 have made a mainstream pop album that can appeal to both over-30s and teenagers is a reward of its own.