Being Funny In a Foreign Language

Being Funny In a Foreign Language

Twenty years into their time together as a band—and approaching the 10-year milestone of being a hugely successful one—The 1975 felt in better shape than ever. Self-reflection, sobriety, even fatherhood have influenced the way the four-piece, assisted by producer Jack Antonoff, approached the creation of their fifth studio album, resulting in 11 songs that distill the essence of The 1975 without ever feeling like they’re treading old ground. “The working title, up until I chickened out, was At Their Very Best,” singer/guitarist Matty Healy tells Apple Music. “But I knew we were coming out in sunglasses and suits, and it could look like a bit of a joke. I’m not joking.” It wouldn’t have been an unfair assumption. Healy has carved out a reputation for building to a punchline—in his lyrics, in conversation, on social media. But he has (mostly) put that defensive reflex aside for this album, dialing back the sardonic interrogations of society that dominated previous records in favor of more soul-baring tracks. “My work has been defined by postmodernism, nihilism, individualism, addiction, need, all that kind of stuff,” says Healy. “As you get a bit older, life starts presenting you with different ideas, such as responsibility? Family? Growing up in general? But they’re less sexy, less transgressive ideas. It would be easy to do another record where I’m being clever and funny. What’s hard to do is just be real and super open.” Being Funny in a Foreign Language is indisputable evidence that those 20 years together and the experience gained has paid off. “This is the first time that we’ve been really good artists and really good producers and grown men at the same time,” Healy says. “It was the right time for this album to not just reaffirm, but almost celebrate who we are. It was a self-analysis and then a reinvention.” Here, he guides us through that reinvention, track by track. “The 1975” “On the first three albums, ‘The 1975’ was a rework of the same piece of music. It came from video games, like how you would turn on a Sega Mega Drive, and it had a check-in, load-up sound. The purpose it serves on this album, apart from being this conceptual thing that we’ve done, is to be like the status update. On our previous albums, the whole record has been about the cultural environment, but here I’m setting that scene up right at the beginning, and then the rest of the album is about me living in this environment and talking about how it makes these bigger ideas of love and home and growing up and things like that really difficult.” “Happiness” “‘Happiness’ is where we acknowledged that there was a certain lyrical and sonic identity to what The 1975 was. We felt like it wouldn’t be a ’75 record if we didn’t have a song that owned what we did best. The thing is, we weren’t actually very ’80s; we just used loads of sounds that grunge and Britpop made unfashionable because they were associated with Phil Collins or whoever, but we were like, ‘No, that sounds better than that.’ It’s a live record, so there’s a lot of call-and-response, a lot of repetition, because we were in the room, jamming.” “Looking for Somebody (To Love)” “If I’m going to talk about guns, it’s probably good for me to talk about the thing that I probably understand or empathize with the most, which is that the only vocabulary or lexicon that we provide for young boys to assert their dominance in any position is one of such violence and destruction. There’s a line that says, ‘You’ve got to show me how to push/If you don’t want a shove,’ which is me saying we have to try and figure this crisis out because there are so many young men that don’t really have guidance, and a toxic masculinity is inevitable if we don’t address the way we communicate with them.” “Part of the Band” “I really just trusted my instinct. As a narrative, I don’t know what the song is about. It was just this belief that I could talk, and that was OK, and it made sense, and I didn’t have to qualify it that much. I have a friend who is much more articulate than me, and there’s been so many times that he’s explained my lyrics back to me better than I ever could. So, I’ve learned I can sit there and spend five hours articulating what I mean, but I don’t think I need to. A movie doesn’t start by explaining what’s going to happen; it opens on a conversation, and you get what’s going on straight away. So, there’s a level of abstraction in this song where I’m giving the audience the benefit of the doubt.” “Oh Caroline” “The chorus of this song came first—‘Oh Caroline/I wanna get it right this time/’Cos you’re always on my mind’—and it just felt really, really universal. I was like, ‘OK, this doesn’t have to be about me. It doesn’t have to be “I was in Manchester in my skinny jeans.”’ You don’t need to have lived a story to write one. Caroline is whoever you want it to be—you can change that name in your head. Sometimes we call songs like this ‘“song” songs’ because they can be covered by other people and still make sense. Well, ‘“getting cucked,” I don’t need it’ would be a weird line for someone, but it’s close enough.” “I’m in Love With You” “I was trying to make it like a traditional 1975 song. I wanted to debase the sincerity. But [guitarist, Adam] Hann and George [Daniel, drummer] really challenged me on it, so I was like, ‘OK, fuck it. I’ll just write a song about being in love.’ At the time, I was in a relationship with a Black girl who was so beautiful, and I was in love with, and there were all these things that came up—especially with the political climate over the last two years—that you can only really learn from experience and living together. Like, our bathroom was full of specific products for skincare and stuff like that. Things you can’t just get at [UK high-street drugstore] Boots. So, there’s the line that goes ‘You show me your Black girl thing/Pretending that I know what it is (I wasn’t listening),’ which came from this moment when she was talking about something that I had no cultural understanding of, and all I was thinking was, ‘I’m in love with you.’ And maybe I should have been focusing on what it was, but in that moment, I didn’t care about anything cultural or political. I just loved her.” “All I Need to Hear” “Thinking objectively as a songwriter, ‘All I Need to Hear’ is maybe one of my best songs. I was in a big Paul Simon phase, and I was kind of trying to do something similar to what he did on ‘Still Crazy [After All These Years].’ He can be as verbose as me, but that song was really, really tight. Almost lullaby-esque. I wanted to write something that was earnest and sincere and didn’t require me, specifically, to deliver it. I almost hope it will be covered by someone else, and that will become the definitive version.” “Wintering” “This is very much a vignette, a little story in the middle that paints a picture but doesn’t really tell you much of where I’m at. It’s kind of about my family, and it’s kind of a Christmas song, but it’s also that thing of relatable specificity because everyone knows that feeling of getting home for Christmas and the wanting to, but the not wanting to, but the needing to, and having to do all the driving and that whole thing. Other parts of the record have a bit more purpose, even though they’re slightly more abstract, but ‘Wintering’ is just this moment of brevity, and I think it’s really nice.” “Human Too” “There’s lines on the record where I talk about being canceled and acknowledge that it was something that I was dealing with. There’s no insane smear campaign. No one is going to the trouble of ruining my life for a hobby like they do with Meghan Markle. But it does sting when it happens, and this is the first time I’m saying, ‘It does affect me a bit. I totally get it, I’m a messy person...but I’m a good person. Give me a break a bit.’ I was worried about this song because I didn’t want to sound self-pitying, but it works because it’s really just about empathy and giving each other the benefit of the doubt as humans. We’re all people—let’s not pretend that we’re not going to make mistakes.” “About You” “Warren Ellis from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds came in to do the arrangement for this song. It was really simple—it sounded like ‘With or Without You’ essentially—and he made it all weird and shoegazey. Even though it’s major key, he gave it this terror, which makes my performance in it a lot less romantic because everything is mushing together, and it’s violent. I think this has a similar vibe to ‘Inside Your Mind’ from the third album. I’ve always loved those kinds of [David] Cronenberg, body-horror analogies, the tension between death and sex. I think that the morose can be quite sensual, and there’s quite a bit of that in my work.” “When We Are Together” “The album was finished with. ‘About You’ was Track 11 and there was a Track 10 called ‘This Feeling.’ But because of what the song was about, and also sonic reasons, I was like, ‘That song can’t be on the album.’ But we had to deliver it in four days. So, I said if I could get to New York tomorrow, and Jack [Antonoff] was around, with a drum kit and a bass, I had a half-finished acoustic song that would be better for the record. It needed to finish, and at that moment, it didn’t—there was no emotional resolve. So, I went out there, a bit heartbroken post-breakup, and this was written, recorded, and mixed in 30 hours, which is the perfect example of what making this album was like. There’s always been this ‘will they/won’t they?’ question with The 1975. Are they going to split up? Will Matty go mental? That sort of thing. Totally created by me. But I’ve stopped doing that, and I think of it more as installments of your favorite thing. Or like seasons from a TV show. ‘When We Are Together’ is the end of this season.”

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