The 1975's Matty Healy Has A Lot To Say—But What Does It All Mean?

An interview with The 1975 frontman on A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

Photo by Magdalena Wosinska

Matty Healy is pissed off. He knows a lot of people don't think a musician should be the person to try and educate people about the rise of fascism in the U.S., but Healy's angry, so he's going to tell you about it anyway. Because what the fuck else is there to do at this point? Matty Healy doesn't know, but still, he has a lot to say, and he wants to take the same kind of risks in his life that he does in his music.

"There's that thing surrounding us, a lot of people think the artist is gonna live their real life like they do their art," Healy explained to me. "But they probably, most of the time, quite often, don't. Because you can create a safe place with art where you're bold and you take risks in ways that you would never do in your real life."

Besides, Healy said, "if I'm going to write, if I'm going to do the thing, I might as well go to the real places, the shit I really care about."

And yet, Healy followed that up by cautioning: "As an artist, we don't have to have answers." He said, "We're supposed to signpost toward ideals and utopian ideas, and kind of uphold progressive movements, [but] we're not diplomats, and you shouldn't ask artists how we should run the world, 'cause they're the most self-centered subset of humanity that we've got."

If Healy sounds conflicted, it's understandable. It's a complicated time to be an artist with a large platform; audiences have come to demand that artists make clear and cogent statements about everything happening in the world around them. Think of how even the once notably apolitical Taylor Swift has gotten involved in the Instagram endorsement game.

Healy—though he wants to take risks—says that it's not his job to guide your politics, or teach you the difference between wrong and right. "My job is to get pissed; to feel," he says. "And there's a lot of stuff to feel at the moment."

Last Friday, The 1975 released their third studio album, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, the first of two albums that will make up the Music For Cars era, to be completed with another full-length album, Notes on a Conditional Form, to be released in May of next year.

When I ask Healy what makes it so urgent to follow up this album with another so quickly, he answers with a single word: "life."

Then, after a brief chuckle and pause, he answers with a lot more than one word, as he tends to do. "There's an element of me being excitable and enjoying pushing myself creatively… and the way that we consume things is so fast now." What arose from a quick joke about making two albums, quickly solidified into the official game plan.

And then again, nearly unprompted, Healy says even more, doubling back on the thing he just said: "I don't want to fucking become part of some culture that puts an album out and then six months later puts the first single out again with, like, Stormzy on it. You know, shout-out to Stormzy. I fucking love Stormzy. The thing is everything now is singles. The design of music at the moment is to keep people's attention to that sweet, sweet three minutes, and I'm not that good at that. But, I'm alright at that in the context of a record."

He continued, "I don't have the option of making this album and then in April of next year just dropping "thank u, next." Or fucking "Hotline Bling." I'm not going to be able to make one statement. I have to make an album."

The ease with which Healy drops names when defining his creative process more than suggests a holier-than-thou attitude (or, at the very least, a mouth that moves faster than his mind). It doubtlessly leads to people thinking he's insensitive, or worse. But since he's made it clear in the past that he loves Ariana Grande, the reference to wildly popular singles, including hers, as being something he couldn't pull off could be construed as a product of insecurity, rather than, you know, jerkish-ness.

Of course, Healy's musings also feel like a reflection of the method by which he learned to publicly process his thoughts: Tumblr, a place wherein his thoughts on everything from music to the internet and digital communication to love were born and widely embraced, cementing Healy's place within the canon of young male celebrities best known as softboys. But while the Tumblr era has come and gone, The 1975 has stuck around.

When I brought up Healy's place within this digital history, he excitedly replied, "I find it really flattering, because I love watching cultural trends." He rapidly spun the simple observation into something much grander, suggesting, "We'll maybe look back and think, What was going on then? Were they a bit ahead of their time?" It's clear it's not an association of which he's embarrassed. Healy stressed, "I still find Tumblr to be cool, socially. I'm not on Tumblr or anything, but I like how it's stuck to its guns."

One aspect of achieving Tumblr-era success was undoubtedly an artist's ability to appeal to as many people as possible, to appear non-threatening in a very specific, internet-boyfriend kind of way: the softboy effect. Even in the post-Tumblr era of internet trends, this still exists. Healy spoke of it, pointing out, "There's a kind of interesting twink-crossover... young gay men who young women are as obsessed with but [the men are] openly gay in the way that George Michael at that time wasn't."

Healy said of the phenomenon, "I don't find it particularly interesting. I don't know if I find it cool. I just notice it, do you know what I mean? But unfortunately, it's mainly for white artists."

I mentioned that K-pop group BTS has pretty widespread adoration in fandoms across social platforms, though they have still not received quite the mass appeal in the U.S. as they have overseas. Healy suggested that "maybe Brockhampton" could be considered along the same lines, but said, "Then we're getting into different kind of genres… they're not in the kind of cute photos; one of Timotheé Chalamet, one of Troye Sivan. Do you know what I mean? One of who is openly, openly gay... It's just fucking great, really."

Questions about his sexuality have followed Healy throughout his career, no doubt fueled in part by the homoerotic shipping tendencies of Tumblr users that made up a big part of his fan base. And Healy has embraced the conversation, doing things like calling his style vibe that of a "sexually confused Edward Scissorhands"; he told us, "I suppose I lean into things like that, I kind of enjoy it."

But he also, in our conversation, stated, "I'm like a straight guy," before continuing, "That's what I am if we need to say it. But then we get into my personal history, and it's quite obvious that sexuality is... people can be on a spectrum of sexuality. But it doesn't mean that we need to go and ask people personal questions in order for them to define because we find it interesting culturally now."

There is, of course, a not small amount of privilege associated with having the freedom to define or not define your sexuality as you see fit, but Healy doesn't see it that way, or maybe he hasn't thought of it that way at all. Not that he doesn't think about it. It's just not all he thinks about. He said, "I am not defining my sexuality; I've got a long-term girlfriend. But I do find sexuality interesting. But then again, I find loads of things interesting. I talk about so much stuff, and I think what I really talk about is that gap between what is thought and what is said. I suppose if I'm ever in a situation where I'm seemingly playing with that, I'll probably keep playing with it."

Although he's fine to play around with your perception of his sexuality, he hates that the conversation is such a hot topic for musicians in general. "In order to designate whether you relate more to someone as an artist, you have to designate their sexuality. I find it really boring, to be honest with you." To me, he's never sounded straighter. He didn't even have to remind me again that he is, in fact, straight, but he does, concluding his thoughts on sexuality by saying, "I'm just a person. But, I'm a person with a girlfriend. I love having sex with my girlfriend. That's like my favorite thing, and I wouldn't want to do anything else." (A few weeks prior, Healy made a few headlines after telling Shortlist he kinda wanted to kiss guys, but "doesn't want to annoy his girlfriend by talking about it.")

The thing that's notable about talking with Healy is that the talking rarely stops—particularly on his end. There was, though, one exception to this, when he took a moment to pause, as if at a loss for words, when I brought up the Lil Peep mention on A Brief Inquiry track "Love It If We Made It."

Healy had spoken so much of his willingness to go from flippant to serious within his songs that I was curious as to where on Healy's flippant-to-serious spectrum this specific line fell. Healy said, "He died when I was in rehab. That's gonna make you think isn't it?" After another brief pause, he explained, "I think there was real sincerity with 'Love It If We Made It.' Every time something really moved me, I just wrote it down in the 'Love It If We Made It' file. Peep's death really moved me. It's kind of nothing more than me just wanting to send my love to [his] family; I'm sorry about what happened."

On the rest of this track, distinguishing what is a thought or belief of Healy's from what is a mimicry of the batshit world around him becomes near impossible at times, giving listeners a kind of emotional whiplash. He knows this, and told me, "Sometimes I don't even know if I'm saying something or I heard it said."

This happens quite a bit on the album, although some references are quite obvious. "I moved on her like a bitch" is easy to identify as a direct quote from Trump, as is Healy's inherent criticism of the words; but some references are more difficult to parse—even for Healy. "When I sang 'Modernity has failed us,' everybody might think that's an opinion of mine," he said to me, "but sometimes I don't know where I draw the line."

He took a moment to unpack this lyric a bit further: "Maybe it's a reference to the fact that I feel like everybody else in the way that it's so scary to be alive now—and this time it's terrifying, and this time it's a nightmare; maybe it's because we know so much." He continued, "I hate Donald Trump as much as the next person, but what he's really done, is taken the mask off and [shown] partisan politics doesn't care about you; stop pretending that this model has existed forever, like, works for you."

But Healy isn't totally sure he believes that modernity has actually failed us. He said, "Sometimes I feel like I want to say to myself, Okay, well choose a time and a place in human history that you'd rather live in if it's so dreadful [now]. Do you want to go back to the '40s, before the Civil Rights movement? Do you want to go back to the 1800s?"

Healy's constant stream of conversation effectively mimics the rapid cycle of information being exchanged on the internet, in the way that it's uninhibited, if at times careless, but always a way of screaming into the void. It is, for anyone who's fallen down a Tumblr (or Twitter or Instagram) rabbit hole knows, an addictive way of communicating. And Healy is aware of how he's particularly susceptible to those charms. He said that the internet "provokes me to obviously do different things and operate in a different way, and the thing is with social media, is that we're all addicted. I'm a recovering heroin addict… I've done the paperwork on addiction."

That said, he claimed that the internet, the immediate focal takeaway from a title like A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, isn't the most "interesting thing to ponder" in this day and age; rather, what made it interesting to him is that all social interaction that isn't face-to-face is mediated via the web, in one way or another. So, an album about relationships inherently becomes an album also about the internet. And an album about the internet is one that follows no traditional path—it's rapidly changing, and is often incoherent and jumbled. The 1975 doesn't stick with a single genre, a single mood, for more than a track, yet somehow it works through these textual links.

"At the end of the day," Healy said, "it's us four in a house making music, and it can't be boring. That is why the record sounds the way that it does."

And that sound comes from a place of Healy wanting to "avoid being bored." If you're not sure what that means, listen to the album. Or maybe see if you can get Healy to chat with you for a while, because, as with everything else, I'm sure he'd be happy to elaborate.