The Case for The 1975’s Matty Healy, Pop Music’s Most Controversial Frontman

During live performances of “Love It If We Made It“—a startlingly sincere song that borrows one of its most bruising lines, I moved on her like a bitch, from Donald Trump—Matty Healy usually goose-steps his way across the stage, drawing a connection between the former U.S. president and the Third Reich. Sometimes, he’ll toss in a Nazi salute for extra shock value.

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It’s a theatrical, super-charged moment in a song that’s been hailed as a socially-conscious protest anthem for millennials, even winning “Best Contemporary Song” at Britain’s Ivor Novello Awards for music writing in 2019. Older fans in the audience might draw parallels to U2’s ZooTV Tour, which found Bono—dressed up in leather as his over-the-top alter ego, The Fly—goose-stepping to the introduction of “Zoo Station,” then lifting one arm in an Aryan salute before slapping it down to the ground with the other.  

Taken out of context, though, both Healy and Bono are just white men displaying Nazi behavior onstage, all under the premise of performance art. 

Such is the curse of Matty Healy, a frontman who’s either the voice of a generation or an overhyped loudmouth, depending upon who you ask. As the singer, songwriter, lyricist, and co-producer of The 1975, he makes pop music that’s unapologetically modern, even as it takes cues from retro sources like The Blue Nile, Talking Heads, and John Hughes’ movie soundtracks. His fans adore him, and their rabid support has allowed The 1975 to perform at the biggest venues in the world, including Madison Square Garden, the O2, and the main stage at Reading Festival, without a large catalog of hits. They’re the biggest group your parents have probably never heard of, and although their lead singer is the shortest member of the group, he’s categorically larger than life. 

Pot-Stirrer Extraordinaire

In the UK, it’s a tradition for rock ‘n’ roll singers to run their mouths—a tradition Healy, a Manchester native, is happy to uphold. He’ll go to Malaysia and call the local government “a bunch of fucking retards” during a high-profile festival performance while making out his (male) bass player in protest of the country’s anti-gay laws. He’ll pause the music during The 1975’s concerts to criticize his own bouncers for failing to pick up audience members who’ve fallen down. He’ll make public comments about his musical peers—comments that can be (and often are) misconstrued on social media—and he’ll refuse to clarify those moments once they’ve become misinterpreted. To put it simply, the guy likes to stir the pot. 

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Back in 2020, Healy reacted to the murder of George Floyd by taking to the Internet, where he tweeted a video link to “Love It If We Made It”—a song that specifically references police brutality and racial discrimination—with the comment, “If you truly believe that ‘ALL LIVES MATTER’ you need to stop facilitating the end of black ones.”

To those who already knew the song, Healy had a point. That didn’t stop a backlash from erupting almost immediately, with many people accusing Healy of misusing Black Lives Matter to promote his own single. This occurred at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the controversy it generated remains white-hot several years later.

Racism cannot be excused. Bigotry cannot be excused. Sexism cannot be excused. Matty Healy has been accused of all three, but he’s also been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, environmental regulations, and progressive politics. To understand why the same person can be so critically lauded in some circles and so maligned in others, it helps to look at the context.

Born to Be Bold

Healy is the son of two full-time British actors, and he was raised to be a fan of immersive art. Under his guidance, The 1975’s shows aren’t just musical performances; they’re opportunities to deliver meta stories that are alternately surreal, satirical, and sincere. Often, it’s up to the audience to tell the difference. 

For The 1975’s At Their Very Best Tour, Healy developed his own Fly-like persona: a sleazy “man’s man” who ate raw meat, catalogued his own machismo, and even did rounds of push-ups in front of a TV broadcasting right-wing news footage. It was a cinematic spectacle that ended with Healy crawling inside a television set and disappearing from view, literally swallowed whole by the mass media he consumed, until it consumed him.

For fans, this was one of the high points of The 1975’s shows, as well as a pointed commentary on the way our world can amplify, distort, and pervert ideals of masculinity. In numerous newspaper reviews, Healy’s performance earned comparisons to filmmaker Charlie Kaufman’s work. On TikTok, though, quick clips circulated of the singer eating uncooked steak while widely accused misogynist Andrew Tate fumed on a nearby TV screen. Devoid of context, the performance just looks disturbing. 

Sincere? Or Rabble-Rouser? Or Sincere Rabble-Rouser?

In comedy, a joke loses some of its luster if it has to be explained. Does the same go for music? If Healy breaks the fourth wall and explains to all of us that his performances are just performances, would he be pulling his punches? He’s already outlined all of this before, telling The Observer in 2023 that “[The show] is about how if you’re a single guy and you’ve spent a year or so alone on the Internet, you go mental. The show is about looking at masculinity, looking at being famous. It’s about what’s real and what’s sincere and [what’s] not sincere.” Does he really need to explain it again, and again, and again? 

For Healy’s fans, part of the fun is figuring out where those lines exist between sincerity and its opposite. 

Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for KROQ

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