For as long as music has been around, whether intentional or not, every band has had an associated “Front Man”. Take the Rolling Stones – Mick Jagger immediately comes to mind, or Freddie Mercury for Queen. They’re the face of the band, the one whose everyone’s eyes are upon. So today, when social and moral compasses are ever-changing and developing, and cancel culture is raging, it’s more important than ever that those with the spotlight thrust upon them are careful of how they present themselves or their social and political standpoints.
It begs the question, what do you do when the frontman of a band you’re crazy about is considered to be pretty problematic? Does it have any influence whatsoever over how you support them and their music?
Let’s take Matty Healy from The 1975 as an example.
Matty is known for being incredibly outspoken on a wide range of issues that the world has faced, including sexuality, race and more recently, the environment. But maybe what he might be better known for is how often he tows the line of what is considered acceptable. He has been accused of being a bit of a hypocrite and a poser.
So whilst it is brilliant for someone with his following and influence to be bringing social and political issues to the forefront of minds both young and old, sometimes the way in which he has raised awareness about these issues has distracted from the real problem at hand and instead, focused interest on him.
Twitter has been his worst enemy on countless occasions. We have all been guilty of misconstruing someone else’s words online since we can’t always fully grasp the intended tone when you don’t hear the words out loud, however, Matty’s sarcasm, dry wit and timing has led to an influx of backlash on several occasions and ultimately resulted in apology after apology.
One particular instance of poor judgment in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, lead to him deciding to deactivate his Twitter account completely. He had linked The 1975’s song “Love It If We Made It” in a thread of tweets he’d posted. Immediately, he was called out as using the Black Lives Matter movement as a way to promote his own band and their newest album. He defended himself by explaining that there are in fact lyrics within the song that directly correlate to what had happened. He apologised by posting, “Sorry I did not link my song in that tweet to make it about me it’s just that the song is literally about this disgusting situation and speaks more eloquently than I can on Twitter.”
After this apology, he deactivated his Twitter account which only further enraged people. One user said, “if matty healy really cared about improving what he said he would’ve stayed online and listened to those trying to correct him. Instead he deactivated because of ppl calling him out for promoting a song during a tweet that shouldn’t have included any links to his work.”
Another happening that seems to have stuck with fans is when a tweet surfaced from Matty seemingly comparing being Muslim to being a member of ISIS. When a fan called him out on it, Matty seemed to have a bigger issue with the fact that a Harry Styles stan account had held him to account, rather than the fact he’d tweeted something that the public were perceiving as racist. He tweeted, “I resent being ‘educated’ by a Harry Styles fan account” when in reality, someone in his position with so much influence shouldn’t really resent being educated by anybody.
A supposed “joke” about the coronavirus pandemic also left a bad taste in people’s mouths. In response to an indie band promoting their music, Matty tweeted, “Stop telling people to support you, we don’t want your EP and zine bundle right now Laura, we’re going to die.” Inevitably, the backlash started, so he further went on to say, “I deleted my joke in case anybody anywhere got offended.” He added: “I’m not sorry I’m just bored.” For obvious reasons, this didn’t satisfy the twitter audience. They continued to call him out for being privileged and insensitive as many indie bands need sales to survive (and as a member of a band who struggled with music labels and getting music out there he should be well aware of the hardships of the music industry). So to justify his initial tweet he concluded with. “It was a joke about the current narrative on social media NOT a serious comment on the economic status of aspiring artists – to make that jump is dramatic and ridiculous in my opinion and I’m not going to keep apologising about everything cos twitter says so.”
In terms of their music, a large portion of it uses references to drugs and drug use and it’s no secret that Matty himself struggled for a long time with drug addiction, going so far as spending entire shows drunk, high, or a mixture of the two. Fans have admitted they respect him for eventually being so open about his past and current struggles but emphasised that it doesn’t excuse any of his behaviour.
One of the band’s music videos also caused huge controversy due to its insensitivity. The music video for People portrayed Matty exploding a bomb that he was wearing which sparked huge outrage, especially when taking into account his Manchester roots and the arena bombing tragedy that shook the city.
And yet, despite all of this, his band has won Brit Awards, sold out tours across the UK, Europe and the US and has a following of two million on Twitter.
So out of interest, I decided to take it to the fans of the band to see why exactly they continue to support The 1975 but also question if their support had ever wavered as a result of something Matty said or did.
One thing was agreed amongst all fans asked; they all appreciate how creative Matty is when it comes to his music and how he incorporates real issues into his songs. They applaud him for speaking up and using his voice whether that is musically or using his social media platforms.
Interestingly, one fan said, “He can be a bit bold sometimes and that can cause trouble but most situations have been cleared up. I think he really just doesn’t care what others think and that can come across as aggressive or narcissistic.”
As a fan of The 1975 myself, I have seen and heard a fair amount of things from Matty that have made me slightly uncomfortable or caused a grimace or two. But has that stopped me from listening to The 1975’s music or going to see them in concert? No, it hasn’t. To me, the inclusive and exhilarating atmosphere they create at a concert is second to none and I view their music is an entirely separate entity to them individually as people. In fact, the most I know about any of the other band members are their names.
Long before I knew who sang the song, I loved She’s American. I only actually discovered who The 1975 were when they performed The Sound on The Brits and I recognised the song from the radio. From there, I listened to their entire discography and loved everything about it.
And this seems to be the general consensus amongst the majority of fans. One fan continues to support them because “[Matty] isn’t the only member of The 1975 and I can enjoy their music without being a huge supporter.” Another justified her support by saying, “I try and separate the band and their music because their music has helped me through a lot. I don’t defend and won’t justify Matty’s actions but the band itself is talented and I’ll continue to listen to them.”
Some fans were honest in the fact that they’d been on the fence a couple of times as to whether to continue in their support but upon reflection, have stayed – “I have taken a step back to evaluate things a couple of times but always end up back here. I do however think that it is important to hold not only Matty, but all musicians accountable for their actions. I also think it’s important to give them the opportunity to speak on the situation before we automatically jump to conclusions.”
Whilst the majority of the fans I spoke to were still supporting the band, those who no longer followed them at all or as closely didn’t do so because of any behaviours Matty has exhibited. It was for the simple reason that their latest music wasn’t quite to their taste any more.
So are a couple of problematic things about a band member’s behaviour necessarily a deal breaker for me? No, not really. It doesn’t stop me listening to their music or spending money on concert tickets for the simple reason that I don’t follow the band just because Matty Healy is in it. I’m not interested in something he said on Twitter last Tuesday or how he conducts himself in interviews or his personal life. Do I think it would be wise for him to be more careful? Of course. He has got to think about who may be watching or listening to him; whether that is young, impressionable kids or companies he may want to work with in the future. But taking into consideration that his band has been around for the best part of a decade and he’s pushing thirty, it’s unlikely that he’ll ever change
and there’s not an awful lot myself or anyone, fan or otherwise, could do to change him.
And it seems that his fans understand that. Instead of abandoning the band, they further show their support by holding him to account for any wrongdoings. In today’s society when things change by the hour, that might be all we can do as fans. We just have to hope he listens and learns from his mistakes.
And if not, that’s his prerogative. Whether his behaviour makes you want to support his band and
his music or not, that’s up to you to decide.
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