Musicians and groups evolve. Bob Dylan controversially transitioned from a guitar-plucking folk artist to a rock-and-roller, Elton John from gritty piano-bluesman to bubble-gum pop singer and Beyonce from R&B princess to flaming Hip-Hop diva. The 1975, a British pop-rock group, are embracing the process of evolution differently: by unleashing a burst of political consciousness.
The group’s latest singles, “The 1975” and “People,” released in preparation for their upcoming album “Notes On a Conditional Form,” represent a jolt from the light-hearted, poppy tone of their 2012 debut single “The City.” In fact, it’s almost different in every way; “The City” is captured by mundane lyrics and a lifeless, autotuned voice, while both “The 1975” and “People” have sound both clear and guttural, which cuts straight to the heart.
For example, “The 1975” single isn’t what we’d conventionally call music; there’s no instruments playing, no beat and no rhythm. Instead, it seems like spoken-word piece that blasts humanity for not taking action on climate change. While the single is controversial due to its nod to hard-left politics, its style is radically inventive in form, if not content. With this single, they rebel against the dominant practices of the day — namely what they see as unfettered capitalism — while also toppling the traditional concept of what a “song” is. Protest music has been popular since the ’60s, from Woody Guthrie’s rag on fascists, to Bob Dylan’s predictions of nuclear apocalypse. But they were songs. They were composed with instruments, a tone and a rhythm. With “The 1975,” the group rejects conventions and reinvents the genre of protest music to include plain-spoken alarmism. While they’re not selling anything original — human beings have a tendency to fear the natural changes of our earth — they’re changing the rules of the game. That, at least, deserves applause.
“People” is a little clearer — but not by very much. Whereas “The 1975” is very cerebral, “People” channels the inner primality of humanity with its brash, pointed lyrics and its screamo sound. “People” sets political dialogue alight with references to apathy and economic turmoil, among others. The first few lines of the song, “Wake up, wake up, wake up,” once more provide an alarmist flavor; this is like no other problem, and we must face it quickly. The 1975 seems to confine their criticisms to a particular, unidentified monolith, by unflatteringly referencing topics in contemporary American politics.
In an interview with New Musical Express , lead vocalist Matthew “Matty” Healy explained that he wrote “People” when his tour bus was in Alabama and his group was “advised to leave quickly due to Alabama being an Open Carry state.” Other events that inspired the song’s creation was their stop in Texas, where Healy said he saw “a collection of knives for incels” and various salacious images which served to socially degrade women.
Thus, it is evident that The 1975’s evolution was sparked by an ingredient in all of our hearts: discontentment. It’s easy to sing about teenage heartache normally, but we’re in fundamentally abnormal times; The 1975 gets this. And as a result, their message is resonating. Both “People” and “The 1975” received critical acclaim, with “People” reaching #54 on the UK charts while “The 1975” was awarded Song of the Week by online magazine Consequence Of Sound.
Whether you agree or disagree, The 1975 is poised to make their mark on the country’s political conversation. That’ll have us all taking notes of some form — on the streets, in the classroom, on internet discussion boards or even right here at The Cluster.