For the better part of the year, it seemed like the ubiquitous heartthrob reigning over all of our algorithms and plastered on every magazine cover would be Harry Styles. At first, I was a bit irritated, never having been too fond of him. But as I watched more videos that came up, I became disarmed, giggling as he talked to fans from the stage and danced in glittery outfits. He’s perfectly wholesome. He passes all of the purity tests. He’s not overly sexual, but when he is, he’s talking about giving women head (he hasn’t outwardly admitted it because that would be too much, but he’s vaguely confirmed it as the meaning of “Watermelon Sugar”). When the “As It Was” singer took a water bottle to the nuts and a skittle to the eye, it was painful to watch.
Is this what we want? An undeniably good figure that poses no challenges? No moral ambiguity? Enter Matty Healy of The 1975, who announced Being Funny In A Foreign Language in July. Now that’s a polarizing man. If he took a water bottle to the nuts, fans would cheer. They would celebrate and say he deserved it. And there’s something beautiful in that.
We’re in the midst of an era where the internet is divided into two insufferable sectors of overbearing liberals and agitative edgelords. The fun thing about Healy is that he’s probably pissing both of them off. One minute he’s making a joke about grooming, and the next he’s pushing for his fans to show up to polls to vote.
Being Funny In A Foreign Language reflects this duality, containing some of the most powerful, emotive instrumentation you’ve ever heard in your life (the outro of the opener, the fuzzy guitars in “About You”) and probably the weirdest sentences to ever exist in a song (“Don’t f*ck it / You muppet,” “John’s obsessed with a fat ass / And he’s 10 years old”). There’s now a whole TikTok trend of fans ranking the weirdest lyrics on the album.
@keiramillin he was being funny in english actually!! why r the cows wearing matty’s sweater!!!! #the1975 #mattyhealy ♬ original sound – keira
Even since I started writing this very article, many things have happened. First, Healy received criticism for posting pictures of his fans on his Instagram Story and calling them the “hot girls of the tour.” There’s a distinct irony in getting upset over something like this. Part of the attraction of The 1975 is that being a part of the fan base means instantly becoming a hot girl — a Tumblr-native, knee socks-sporting, cigarette-smoking hot girl. The aesthetic is as important as the music is; wearing a white top and a black American Apparel skirt to the show is basically the dress code. Those who criticize Healy say he shouldn’t be doing this “at his big age,” as if a 33-year-old rock star is supposed to be well-behaved. Again, is that what we really want?
It’s not like that’s not problematic; criticism, especially against Healy, is often warranted. There was a lot of damage done in the 2014 Tumblr scene that catapulted The 1975 into fame. It glorified bad habits, the worst probably being the prioritization of skinny bodies. In many ways, it feels like these harmful values never left the community, and that’s worth acknowledging. However, there has been a lot of criticism of Healy for kissing fans, which is rather counterproductive. Some are claiming there’s an obvious dynamic between a celebrity and a fan, but every situation has dynamics. People can only make attempts toward a semblance of balance — like Healy literally checking a fan’s ID before kissing her. It all boils down to this current obsession of stripping women of agency and painting them as victims because it is easier to do that than believe that they are autonomous and can feel active desire. Women literally hold up signs with requests ranging from “be my first kiss” to “spit in my mouth,” yet when Healy complies he is portrayed as doing something bad to them rather than fulfilling their wants.
And Healy is aware of this — of the subconscious purity embedded into our minds, no matter how progressive we pretend to be. Before performing “Somebody Else” at one show, he rambled about the way our culture has demonized resentful feelings of sexual ownership that occur post-breakup: “If you’re a bloke, you have those feelings and you feel like a bit of a misogynist or something like that. But if you’re a girl, the narrative is that you’re just some crazy b*tch,” he said. “And the truth is, is that neither of those are true. Sexual ownership after you break up with someone is just a phenomenon and it’s got nothing to do with politics or how woke or privy you are. It’s just your genitals.” This is a fact most people can’t accept — a lot of things cannot be explained, especially not through Twitter threads. Somehow, The 1975 are able to capture the nuanced nature of everything, not providing answers but helping with the general direction.
Something else that happened: Healy deactivated his Twitter. This is tragic for me as I was hoping to insert some of his tweets like I did in my review of their Madison Square Garden show (“might start working on my handwriting cos some of these tattoos are f*cking dog sh*t,” I quoted). But that’s fine considering “Part Of The Band,” the grabbing lead single of the LP, reads like a chronically online Twitter thread: “Am I ironically woke? The butt of my joke? / Or am I just some post-coke, average, skinny bloke / Calling his ego imagination?” From name-dropping Arthur Rimbaud to mumbling about being canceled, Healy achieves his goal of coming off as unbearable, like a Red Scare listener you meet in the smoking section of a show and get stuck in a conversation with. But Healy has proven himself to be too thoughtful and genuine to be written off as a vapid, arrogant pseudo-intellectual. Their 2020 album Notes On A Conditional Form opens with a speech from Greta Thunberg about climate change. “People” from that record begs for young people to take action: “Wake up, wake up, wake up / We are appalling and we need to stop just watching shit in bed.” Eating raw meat on stage was a simultaneous commentary on masculinity and successful attempt to irritate the general public.
Just the opening track of Being Funny In A Foreign Language serves as a mélange of zeitgeist humor and charming earnestness. He sings about QAnon and boners in an effortless flow against shameless LCD Soundsystem-ripped piano and ends it with the poignant, apologetic refrain: “I’m sorry if you’re living / And you’re seventeen,” repeating it over and over. On “Human Too,” he grasps for personhood: “Don’t you know that I’m a human too?”
The title “Being Funny In A Foreign Language” accurately encapsulates the essence of the band’s appeal. Sometimes it feels like Healy’s jokes are ones only he can understand, with some close fans let in on them. If you get it, you get it. If you don’t… that sucks because he’s probably all over your algorithms, fueling your resentment and confusion. At the end of the day, these conversations are more interesting than anything Harry Styles has ever done.