The 1975 have always been tough to pin down.
Their genre-defying sound, coupled with their seemingly ever-evolving aesthetic, have arguably rendered them one of the most intriguing and polarising acts of the millennial generation.
They appear, however, utterly unabashed by the fact that they are simply not for everyone, and even ostensibly embrace their notoriety, as evidenced by their 2016 music video for “The Sound,” in which they provocatively project some of their harshest reviews- ranging from “ridiculous, contrived knockoffs” to “punch-your-tv obnoxious”- on a massive pink screen, in a direct nod to their haters.
Yet despite their frequent style changes and unapologetic commitment to non-conformity, the 1975 have been wholeheartedly embraced by an intensely loyal fan base (as well as many music-critics), who have lauded their evolution as a symbol of their fearlessness to explore new sounds and push the limits of traditional pop music.
We aimed to analyse the remarkable progression of the 1975 through the benchmarks of three of their records, which all reflect a distinct musical/lyrical shift. In order to delve deep beyond the surface, we employed MyPart’s SongCrunch to crunch a dozen songs from each record, with an emphasis on four primary aspects:
Production and Sonics- everything related to what the song “sounds” like – from bpm, through acoustic traits to genre influences and mood.
Lyrical Themes and Moods: the narrative and feelings conveyed by the lyrics, measured on a scale of zero (low association) to five (strong association).
Lyrical Writing Style: aesthetic preferences in lyric writing, including literary and linguistic devices such as repetition, rhyming and alliteration schemes, verbiage selection, etc.
Musical Composition Analysis: the song’s compositional features, including harmony (keys, chord progressions, cadences, etc.), melody (i.e. vocals, hooks), song structure, and arrangement.
Here’s what we found:
“Chocolate,” from The 1975
The 1975 burst onto the scene with a self-titled debut album that primarily featured upbeat, guitar-heavy indie-pop/rock tracks, with lyrics that echoed the hedonistic “sex, drugs, and rock & roll” mantra to be expected from a band founded by four British teenage boys.
“Chocolate,” for example, describes the small-town kids’ love for marijuana (for which “chocolate” serves as a euphemism) and subversion of authority: “Now we run, run away from the boys in the blue / And my car smells like chocolate...” Their playfully defiant “no we're never gonna quit it, no we're never gonna quit it, no,” further comes off as an immature, if but harmless and relatable teenage resistance towards being told what to do.
However, despite relatively conventional, radio-friendly tunes, and unimaginative-sounding track titles such as “Sex,” “Girls,” and “M.O.N.E.Y,” the band also began to display their unique ability to covertly delve into more serious topics (e.g. heartbreak and heavy substance-abuse) whilst brilliantly masking them with catchy hooks and up-tempo beats. The album scores highly in themes like infatuation, romance, breakup, sex (4 songs received perfect “5”s), empowerment, and hedonism.
This sophisticated tactic became a staple in later records as well- i.e. “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You),” which sounds more like a love song out of a nostalgic ‘80s movie, and less like frontman Matty Healy’s delineation of his addiction to heroin.
2. “I Like America & America Likes Me,” from A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships
The band’s third album takes on a slightly angrier tone than its predecessors, with songs covering more serious and politically-charged themes, scoring higher grades in protest, satire, and criticism. As a whole, the record serves as a compilation of social commentaries on modernity & the internet, and their detrimental effects on our interpersonal relationships.
In “I Like America and America Likes Me,” for example, Healy addresses gun violence in the United States (“Kids don't want rifles, they want Supreme. No gun required), as well as his very tangible, existential anxieties about dying (“I’m scared of dying / is that on fire?”).
In an apparent ode to American rap culture, the AI show's the group experimenting with more traditional hip hop and trap beats on this record, as well as EDM influences and the use of autotune, with Healy’s voice heavily distorted by synthesizers for dramatic effect. The AI also detected more acoustic moods in Brief Inquiry than in the other albums.
3. “People,” from Notes on a Conditional Form
Upon first listen, one would assume that “People,” the group’s lead single off their fourth (and most recent) album, genuinely sounds like a different band.
The track, along with the accompanying clip, sees the 1975 once again pushing the (genre) envelope, as they morph into a dance/glam emo/punk rock band that sounds like a far cry from the upbeat, poppy fun of their eponymous debut album.
Healy sounds angrier and more rebellious than ever, as he raucously shouts about issues that span climate change (“It's Monday morning and we’ve only got 1000 of them left”), his fear of death (a recurring theme), and the generational gap and divisiveness in politics (“stop f*cking with the kids”). There is a sense of urgency in his voice (“Wake up, wake up, wake up”) as he aims to inspire a societal defiance far more pressing and significant than that of “Chocolate.” Overall NOACF is more aggressive according to the AI and slightly more electronic. It’s darker in their timbre, and has a faster bpm average.
Their lyrical density has increased, and they use more choruses in their songs. They also employ more new and complex/challenging words, and less profanity.
Whilst the 1975 are constantly experimenting and evolving their sound, the band’s lyrical sophistication remains a constant, as does their ability to deliver.
Love them or hate them, you can’t call them boring.