One of the most attractive things a guy can ever do on a date with me is hand me the aux cable. In my car, office, room, etc., I am DJ Tyrant all week long. There is hardly a moment of my life that doesn’t have a personally and carefully picked soundtrack.
Growing up, mine was the era of mixed tapes, MTV, and Sony Hi-Res Walkmans. Once iTunes and Pandora made their debut, I would spend hours discovering new music and that was when my music exploration obsession began.
When I got to college, I had a roommate who was from Seattle. She wore shirts with band names on them that were so weird they were cool. She hooked me up with the latest indie music trends from the best stations that played obscure music at obnoxious hours of the night and I became obsessed. We blasted her homemade mixed CDs in her Subaru for hours and I loved every second of it.
In my musical adventures I came across a wonderful band called The 1975.
As a musician, I love their complex beats, their inventive chord progressions, their exploration and defiance of genres, and their use of so many different kinds of sounds. As an English major, I love their use of phrases like “epicurean philosophy” in a beautiful song. I love how their lyrics paint neon images that float across the surface of my brain and toss down an anchor, so I’m thinking about them all day long. I love how their name came from a Jack Kerouac novel. As a human, I love that they sing about real, relatable things in a unique way. I can’t help but swoon at their charismatic presence. They are everything.
When their latest album, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It, came out, I fell in love all over again.
Around the same time, I met a boy with music taste that perfectly matched mine. The first thing he did when I got in his car was hand me the aux cable. It was perfect. Until something major happened.
I asked him if he liked The 1975. And he told me, “Well, I’ve just heard of them too much, so they can’t be that good if everyone likes them.”
At first I thought he was kidding. I jokingly asked if he would give up the aux cable so I could prove him wrong. He grunted and gave it to me.
I put on one song and looked at him to see if he liked it. He was hard to read. So next I played him my favorite song, “The Sound.” And in response he just muttered, “You really want me to like this band, don’t you? They seem way too overdone. They’re trying too hard.”
I was stunned that he would be so rude and dismissive just because the band was becoming well known. But then The 1975 provided the perfect response to this elitist behavior which is sadly entirely too common in the indie music culture.
They made the music video to my still-favorite song, “The Sound,” and it sends an incredible backhand to people like that aux-cord-betraying boy.
The band starts out stressfully playing in a glass box that is filling with steam. A crowd of people dressed in white clothing forms around them and captions fill the screen saying things like, “Is this a joke?” and “terrible high-pitched vocals over soulless robo beats.” The audience accuses them of just making electronic Huey Lewis tunes and trying too hard. The insults roll in, punch after punch, coming more frequently as the band becomes more and more fitful until Matthew Healy scrawls “help me” into the steam on the glass.
But then they turn everything on its head and the audience is trapped in the box instead. The insults keep coming, but no one can hear them through the glass.
Many articles from many music-based publications have stated that this was Healy’s way of getting back at critics, but I think that the message is more than just a smack down; it is a commentary on the current attitude of music culture.
The criticisms in the captions aren’t just comments on a YouTube video posted by a vaguely named user. The audience is given real faces and identities, which defeats the protection of anonymity given by the Internet. Real people are saying these real, terrible things about a band as if their opinion meant anything.
As a fan of indie alternative music, I can’t count the times that I have heard people, including myself, say things like, “Well, I liked this band before they become popular but now they’re just sellouts,” or, “They’re just putting electronic beats to recycled 80s music. It’s not even original.”
We claim that we love our bands, but when they actually do well and succeed, we turn our backs because they are simply too well known. We are judgmental without reason and give inflated opinions simply based on how others will perceive us. And that is a tragedy.
The band is not happy when the audience is in the box. They don’t smile or celebrate. In fact, Healy ends the video kneeling on the ground, staring at the floor. The microphone lays to the side as he rises and walks away. The message isn’t that critics need to be smacked down, it’s that the people are too busy listening to their own harsh criticisms to hear the heartbeat—the sound that they would recognize and might say that they “just don’t get it,” but “[we] know [they] do.”
The lyrics of “The Sound” fight against all of this pretentious rhetoric that reinforces a musical caste system within indie music. The woman referenced in the song says some offensive things but the singer doesn’t let that affect him. When she says that he’s “such a cliché,” he responds, “I can’t see the difference in it either way.” He is just who he is and “it’s not about reciprocation, it’s just all about [him].”
The dialogue doesn’t matter, the music does. The underlying sound of a heartbeat, a natural, human reaction, defines us and joins us together.
Photo cred to NRK P3.