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In Defense of Being Pretentious—That Is, Matty Healy

by Sarah Engel

   he resurgence of English indie rock band The 1975 came as no shock to
reformed Tumblr users and music lovers alike. Hailing from Manchester, England,
The 1975 is known for their gut-wrenching lyrics set to poppy, danceable music.
Their fifth and most recent album, Being Funny in a Foreign Language, was re-
leased in October with the help of producer Jack Antonoff. After the disappointing
pandemic release of Notes on a Conditional Form, The 1975’s ne
w record is being
praised for its masterful curation of songs. But with that comes controversial
frontman Matty Healy’s return to the spotlight. 

Since his rise to fame in the early 2010s, Healy has been known for making pre-
tentious remarks. Whether it be comparing himself to a 21st-century messiah,
patronizing his young, primarily female audience, or refusing to apologize for controversial tweets, Healy is often the subject of contention. In 2020, Healy was “soft-canceled” on Twitter after linking his band’s song, “Love It If We Made It,” to a tweet about George Floyd’s death. He subsequently explained that he didn’t intend to make the incident about him and deleted his account. “The deletion of my Twitter was not because I was scared,” he maintained. “I’m just about to start writing about this culture war, and I feel like I’m being made a pawn in it. All it’s going to do is debase my ability to make points with context. And the context that I have and that I own is my music.”

Aside from internet controversies, Healy is often associated with pretentious lyricism. As the main songwriter for his band, he uses music as a poetic outlet. Lyrics like “Don’t fall in love with the moment and think you’re in love with the girl” (‘The Sound’), “I can’t exist within my own head, so I insist on haunting your bed” (‘Haunt // Bed’), and “That orange English light casts only one singular shadow, for you are not beside but within me” (‘Loving Someone’) demonstrate Healy’s way with words. But, he wouldn’t be Matty Healy if he didn’t have some fun with it. According to The New York Times, The 1975’s new album is chock-full of “sociocultural critiques bookended by dick jokes.”In “Part of the Band,” the album’s hit single, Healy sings “Am I ironically woke?/The butt of my joke?/Or am I just some post-coke, average, skinny bloke/calling his ego imagination?” To answer Healy’s questions, yes. He is simultaneously woke and pompous in his lyrics. And, to make things more interesting, he’s self-aware. In songs like ‘The Sound,’ he sings, “It’s not about reciprocation, it’s just all about me / A sycophantic, prophetic, Socratic junkie wannabe.” In ‘Loving Someone,’ he sings, “I’m the Greek economy of cashing intellectual cheques.” All of this can be interpreted as a social commentary on intellectualism and celebrity culture. It’s a deeply meta phenomenon as Matty Healy questions the industry in which he himself thrives.

When asked about being pretentious, Healy admitted “It’s true. We’re not embarrassed about much. One could criticize me for loads of things, but you can’t criticize me for being insincere. Annoying, whatever. But I’m not insincere.” Still, he seems to have learned from his past mistakes — “I’ll die on the hill of my records, but I won’t die on the hill of my tweets. It’s better to say good things less than to say average things more.”

It seems that Matty Healy, and, by extension, The 1975, is fine with risking cringiness for the sake of sincerity. If pretentiousness is the desire to impress and assert a sense of superiority, is it even applicable? “It’s way more pretentious to pretend you don’t care about something,” Healy argues. Those who criticize him for acting high and mighty are hypocritical if they refuse to admit their own bias. Denouncing the flaws of others to affirm one’s own intellectual prowess is pretentiousness itself. Matty Healy’s references to Jack Kerouac and Paul Verlaine are, perhaps, ostentatious. But in the cutthroat world of pop music, aren’t all songwriters looking to establish a sense of superiority? Where else can inspiration be drawn, than from a self-assured, unapologetic artist? If a grandiose literary reference is how Healy wants to express himself, who’s to say it’s inauthentic? The whole eating raw meat thing is a little harder to explain — is it a protest against the meat industry or a commentary on the animalistic nature of man? Who knows! That’s not to excuse his past offenses, such as making islamophobic quips, using the r-slur, groping himself on stage, etc. There is, of course, a slippery slope between making provocative jokes and being a bigot (see: Kanye West). Healy is now back on Twitter, notably by his own free will and not, like former president Donald Trump or Kanye West, by the lobbying of Elon Musk. As long as he truly learns from his mistakes and doesn’t make the harrowing descent into xenophobia, there is hope for Healy after all. 


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