O2 Arena, London
The 1975 are the biggest band in the United Kingdom.
It’s been like that for some time, most notably since their 2015 sophomore record went straight to No. 1. but over the past 18 months the band have entered a slightly different space. A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, the band’s third album which was released in November of 2018, found them reaching a new level of credibility and prestige.
The record uses themes of online behaviour as a lens with which to view humanity, information and connection and the modern age, with frontman Matty Healy delivering lofty, self-referential anthems for those feeling simultaneously hyperconnected and out on their own. Despite moments of true pop songwriting mastery, the record’s precise depiction of kids-on-phones is a little on the nose. There’s a spoken interlude called The Man Who Married a Robot / Love Theme, which tells the story of a man and his friendship with the internet (sample lyric: “One day, the man, whose name was @SnowflakeSmasher86, turned to his friend, the internet, and he said, ‘Internet, do you love me?’)”. The interlude, it should be noted, is voiced by Apple’s virtual assistant Siri. But despite the heavy-handedness, the album has connected deeply with their fans.
Huge in almost every possible sense, A Brief Inquiry…’s elevated manifesto was met with equally dramatic (and almost unanimously positive) reviews. Following a quote of Healy’s lyrics, Pitchfork concluded their review with the statement: “Life becomes him”, and Love it if We Made it topped their songs of the year chart. NME described the LP as “OK Computer for millennials”. So this tour – including a two-night stop at The O2 – was a milestone in a new chapter of distinction.
Huge screens buffer into life as the warbled Auto-tuned album intro to A Brief Enquiry… hums through the arena. Dressed in suits, the band enter and launch into Give Yourself a Try. The catchy emo-pop track prompts Healy to spring across the stage with a rehearsed bashfulness, clutching his floppy fringe and stumbling over himself. The energy continues for TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME, a tropical house bop that sounds like a Drake crossover hit written by AI.
By leaning so heavily on the topics of the internet and digital existence, The 1975 have allowed themselves to move through sounds and ideas at light-speed. It’s also a license to make broad, sweeping statements with no requirement to dig deeper, scrolling through social issues with barely a pause. Perhaps most notably in Love it if We Made it, a musical moodboard of headlines and soundbites designed to reflect the fidgety millennial attention span.
Moments like this – such as the production effect which depicts Healy stood inside a giant iPhone screen – deliver a kind of Black Mirror effect. At their best, they are well-produced ways of telling us basic truths (phones make us sad, we’re valuing celebrity gossip over world crises). At their worst, flashing visuals of the Grenfell Tower disaster and one-line references to police brutality, paired with a band so flagrantly plotting for superstardom, leave a bitter taste – express nods to trending issues because, hey, that’s how we consume this stuff, right?
And through unrelenting self-reference and calculated self-deprecation, The 1975 have made themselves immune to interrogation. When they play Sound in the encore, quotes from negative reviews flash up on the screen (as they do in the track’s music video), portraying criticism as a mean-spirited, arbirtrary sport.
But that hook, “I’d love it if we made it,” stayed with me. In the song Healy is singing about breaking through the malaise, bulldozing the algorithm in search of some real. But perhaps the line is just a reference to wanting to be as big as is humanly possible. When you’re watching 20,000 fans scream along, what’s the difference?