The Week In Pop

Behold The 1975 In 2019

Who are all these people? This was my first time seeing the 1975, and I was shocked at the sea of humanity in front of me, packed together closely with no easy path to the front. Granted, the Manchester band are huge in their native UK, and they’ve been playing Columbus from the beginning, working their way up from a cramped underground bar with no sightlines to the 5,000-capacity amphitheater next door. Still, besides my cousin’s wife, who’s been riding since Day One, I’ve never met an American 1975 fan outside of music critics and their loyal readers. Yet here they were headlining the parking lot behind the amphitheater in a “festival” setup I’d only seen deployed for legit crossover stars Mumford & Sons and Fun. “I’m pretty sure we’ve played this venue 100 million times,” Matty Healy announced early on. “And now we’re playing the fucking car park. We’re coming up in the world.”

Healy and his band have been debated online with an uncommon intensity, but even though they debuted at #1 with 2016’s I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It, I was skeptical that their popularity in this country was proportional to all the critical scrutiny. Like, if “Love It If We Made It” is a generational anthem, how come it never cracked the Hot 100? On the other hand, LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” (which the 1975 cribbed from on early hit “Sex”) became a totem without coming close to charting. And unlike James Murphy’s band, the 1975 didn’t even have to spend six years broken up to be received as conquering heroes in Middle America.

My doubts about whether these guys are Stateside superstars evaporated into the comfortably chilly spring air Tuesday night, along with the fog from whence their saxophone player occasionally emerged. Healy was lithe and charismatic in his cardigan and white T-shirt, his appendages flopping around as fluidly as his hair while he recited lyrics that would have made incredible AIM away messages back in the day. (The 1975’s emo roots really come through when the words are projected on a giant screen behind them or, in the case of lines like “She had a face straight out a magazine/ God only knows but you’ll never leave her,” shouted back at them by an adoring audience.)

Healy had plenty of space to emanate personality thanks to a steadfast performance from the band. In particular, Adam Hann’s tight, Knopfler-esque guitar work on “She’s American” could be described as tasty. From the opening Strokes/Joy Division/Postal Service salvo “Give Yourself A Try,” they felt like a proper unit and not a Healy solo project — especially compared to circa-now Vampire Weekend, their fellow critical-darling poppy white festival act with an eclectic palate and Big Ideas.

They performed that first song as the core four-man lineup but were soon joined by two keyboard players and two black women dancers, incorporating the “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” video’s Stop Making Sense homage as part of their real-life stage design. Like David Byrne, Healy sometimes loosely joined in with the choreography, his legs noodling and crisscrossing to the beat with or without his guitar. But Talking Heads were just one factor in an equation that could fill several chalkboards, and as the parade of hypermodern graphics behind the band reminded us, the 1975 are only stuck in the past to the extent that our entire culture is.

All musical artists are the sum of their influences, but this band cycles through nostalgic references like a series of “remember ____?” tweets, a library of enthusiasms manifest as a complex aesthetic. Their magic trick is that the persona outshines the pastiche; Healy is too much of a thinker and a bigmouth for his perspective to get lost in the kaleidoscope of touchpoints. Even more emblematic of their era: This nonstop curation-as-creation plays out in a mishmash of high and low culture, hip and unhip commingling without shame. They are the indie rock boy band whose millennial OK Computer includes the millennial “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” Either your eyes roll at it or you roll with it, and those willing to shrug off their embarrassment are treated to an embarrassment of riches.

Tuesday’s set, then, was a natural extension of records that fling together disparate elements fearlessly and preposterously. The dancers appeared to do BlocBoy JB’s ubiquitous shoot dance during “I Like America & America Likes Me,” the pained Bon Iver power ballad about gun control. Brooding synth jam “Somebody Else” resembled both the glossiest new wave of early MTV and a Junior Boys MP3 plucked from an old hard drive. Healy made goofy tongue-wagging faces during the impassioned agnostic spiritual “If I Believe You.” Even his David Byrne mannerisms were cut with traces of Byrne-concurrent sex symbols Simon LeBon and Axl Rose.

About that: I’m not sure how many people in attendance Tuesday were aware of the discourse surrounding their heroes, but Healy, who is nothing if not extremely online, made sure to loop them in. At one point he remarked upon his own leather pants and wondered aloud whether it’s still possible to be a rock star in the Jim Morrison sense. “All will be discussed in the next three minutes, you just enjoy yourselves,” he concluded, before launching into “Love Me,” the INXS sendup where Healy goes full Hutchence. Like much of the 1975’s work, that tune examines such questions in real time. They perform old rock-star archetypes with self-awareness that stops short of a wink. Healy is conscious of his own ridiculousness but unapologetic in a way that encourages his audience to engage without the safety of ironic remove.

So, uh, can you still be a rock star in 2019? The 1975 looked and sounded the part Tuesday. After burning through most of the singles from last year’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships near the beginning — the tender, computerized “TooTimeTooTimeTooTime”; the lovely gospel- and jazz-infused slow-drift “Sincerity Is Scary”; the ecstatically chintzy “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” — they dug into their back catalog in revealing ways. It’s funny: While U2 were trying to regain relevance by clinging to the rawk sound of their last true hit “Vertigo,” these guys were getting huge by writing classic U2 anthems for the Drake era. Not coincidentally, when they glommed together a bunch of their gloomier songs in the second half of the set — older ballads “Robbers,” “fallingforyou,” and “You” plus newer ballads “If I Believe You,” “I Like America & America Likes Me,” and “Somebody Else” — just like in the deep recesses of a Drake album, it bogged down their momentum.

Fortunately things picked back up with a soaring, set-closing “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes),” a Glastonbury highlight in waiting that imagines what Radiohead’s The Bends might have sounded like if they’d latched onto their peers’ Britpop glamour. The encore was even better: “Love It If We Made It” was sped up slightly, as if to match the heartbeat of someone processing the world’s ills; “Chocolate” bopped along with a joyous playfulness that lent itself to Healy’s silly dancing; “Sex” rampaged with the fervor of a Bush-era NME buzz band. They capped off that one, the hardest rocking song of the night, by projecting “ROCK & ROLL IS DEAD” on the big screen.

More such messaging closed out the night. As they surged through their blog-house banger “The Sound,” all the scathing, reasonable 1975 critiques from its video popped up behind them: “Is this a joke?” “They’re essentially making robotic Huey Lewis tunes.” “This band thinks it has a charismatic singer… they are mistaken.” It was the closest a 1975 show comes to punk rock — a defiant gesture from a group that dares to be extra and a line in the sand for anyone thinking about coming along for the ride. To experience the 1975 as intended, you have to leave behind your smarmy posturing and give up trying to be cool. Sincerity is scary, but for Healy and his army, insincerity is the real terror.

CREDIT: Michael Schmelling

CHART WATCH

Vampire Weekend’s Father Of The Bride, the soundtrack of my 2019 thus far, is also Vampire Weekend’s third straight #1 album. Per Billboard, the band tallied 138,000 equivalent album units and 119,000 in pure sales, both of which represent the best week of 2019 so far by a rock album. They’re also the first artist to score three #1 albums without charting even one track on the Hot 100. After Billie Eilish at #2 and Khalid at #3 comes a #4 debut for PnB Rock’s TrapStar Turnt PopStar via 42,000 units/2,000 sales. It’s the singer/rapper’s first top 10 effort. The rest of the top 10 comprises Ariana Grande, Schoolboy Q, BTS, Post Malone, and Juice WRLD.

The Hot 100 is a lot more active this week. Although Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Old Town Road” remains #1 for a sixth straight week, there are two new songs in the top five. “Old Town Road,” as Billboard points out, now owns five of the seven biggest streaming weeks of all time after logging 104.1 million on-demand streams this past week — good for sixth best all-time and about 3 million more than the prior week, in case you thought this song might be going away soon. It’s the longest leading #1 since OMI’s “Cheerleader” four years ago, and judging by his media savvy I suspect Lil Nas X will be lingering in the spotlight quite a bit longer than that guy.

After “Old Town Road” comes a #2 debut for Shawn Mendes’ “If I Can’t Have You,” which instantly becomes Mendes’ highest-charting hit ever. His three prior top 10 hits were “Stiches” (#4), “Treat You Better” (#6), and “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” (#6). Taylor Swift and Brendon Urie’s “ME!” drops one place to #3, while Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker” holds at #4. Debuting at #5 is Logic and Eminem’s “Homicide,” the one that samples Chris D’Elia’s Eminem impression. It’s Logic’s second top 10 hit following “1-800-273-8255″ and Eminem’s 21st, which ties him with Jay-Z for third-most among rappers trailing Lil Wayne (24) and Drake (33).

Two Post Malone songs are at #6 and #7, “Wow.” and “Sunflower” with Swae Lee. Then comes Halsey’s “Without Me” at #8 in its 28th week in the top 10 (just five weeks short of Ed Sheeran’s record 33-week run with “Shape Of You”). And rounding out the top 10 are Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” and Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings.”

POP FIVE

Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber – “I Don’t Care”
This is it: The moment when the music and the algorithm merge forever into one.

Charli XCX – “Blame It On Your Love” (Feat. Lizzo)
I preferred this song when it was called “Track 10” and was a lot weirder.

Madonna & Swae Lee – “Crave”
This new Madonna material adapts so much more naturally to today’s music landscape than, say, the last Katy Perry album, and the songwriting is better than you usually get from Bebe Rexha or Zara Larsson or whoever. Additionally, it’s becoming clear that Swae Lee, who really ought to be the top billed artist on “Sunflower,” is the kind of duet partner who makes everyone around him better.

Meghan Trainor – “Badass Woman”
When I say “Badass Woman” sounds like it was produced in a pop-songs-from-movie-soundtracks factory, that’s an insult. When I say it sounds like it should be sung by Gazelle, the cartoon pop star voiced by Shakira in Disney’s Zootopia, that’s a strong compliment. Synthesize that how you will.

Billy Ray Cyrus – “Angel In My Pocket”
Carpe diem, Billy Ray Cyrus.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Kanye West and Kim Kardashian welcomed their fourth child. [CNN]
  • Demi Lovato is beginning a “new chapter” with a new manager: Scooter Braun. [Instagram]
  • Drake announced a partnership with Cargojet and turned a Boeing 767 cargo plane into “Air Drake.” [People]
  • Halsey’s new single “Nightmare” drops tonight. [Twitter]
  • Here’s a tiny preview of Miley Cyrus in Black Mirror season 5. [YouTube]
  • Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” video is coming Friday. [Twitter]
  • DJ Khaled will donate all proceeds from the new song “Higher” to the family of Nipsey Hussle. [Twitter]
  • Taylor Swift and Jonas Brothers will perform on The Voice season finale. [ET]
  • Justin Timberlake and Missy Elliott received honorary degrees from Berklee College Of Music. [CNN]
  • The first items from Rihanna’s new LVMH house will be unveiled in a few weeks. [NYT]
  • Lauren Daigle covered Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” [YouTube]
  • Kacey Musgraves signed with IMG Models, the agency that reps Karlie Kloss, Bella and Gigi Hadid, Lily Aldridge, and Hailey Bieber, among others. [Twitter]
  • Ariana Grande is the new face of Givenchy. [Twitter]
  • The Masked Singer will return in the fall and in the spring, and air immediately after Super Bowl LIV. [THR]
  • Ty Dolla $ign’s new single “Purple Emoji” featuring J. Cole drops next week. [Instagram]
  • Madonna defended her upcoming Eurovision performance in Israel, saying, “I’ll never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda nor will I stop speaking out against violations of human rights wherever in the world they may be.” [Reuters]
  • Machine Gun Kelly covered Billie Eilish’s “Ocean Eyes.” [YouTube]
  • Lizzo, Martin Garrix, and Patrick Stump and Macklemore will perform at the MTV Movie & TV Awards. [MTV]
  • NCT 127 performed on The Late Late Show. [Twitter]
  • In an excerpt from his new book, Howard Stern says Ed Sheeran is one of his favorite new artists. [Rolling Stone]

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