The 1975 confronts our glitching relationship with technology
“We’re back and we’re really good.”
- Matty Healy
“We’re back and we’re really good” taunts Matty Healy (@trumanblack on Instagram), the lead singer of The 1975, who just released their third studio album this past Friday. A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships presents a sonically cohesive dystopia of a turbulent digital romance. From an artistic standpoint, the band does a phenomenal job of creating an album which tells a story that is hard to ignore - how to confront our relationship with technology and head on, and finding a love which transcends the artificial feelings of robots. Listeners like myself become immersed in this auditory universe, only to take a step back and realize this ‘universe’ bears uncanny similarities to our modern reality.
While the album’s accompanying music videos have been powerful visuals to say the least, the reason A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships felt so compelling was due to The 1975’s unique ability to execute this dystopian narrative using only sound. Motifs of glitching, static transitions throughout the album give new meaning to the term “online relationships” as we begin view their ups and downs through nuanced perspectives. We’ve been societally conditioned to rely on technology as a means of cultivating relationships that replaces genuine human interaction. Yet, this album reminds us that the more we use robots to express emotion, the greater chance a glitch in the system. Whether this ‘system’ is a physical iPhone or a misinterpretation of words via the internet, the message that wired mediums can often be a defective form of communication is clear.
Initially, I was struck by the almost-entirely instrumental track, ‘How To Draw/Petrichor’ for the quiet contrast it gives to the bold lyrics of the rest of the album. The sonorous melody fully absorbs the listener in an auditory experience of futuristic yet malfunctioning sounds. About four minutes into the song when the vocals pick up, they are static and artificial - a metaphorical representation of a harmonious relationship which becomes chaotically disoriented once technology is introduced.
A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is, however, an album much deeper than love songs. Immersed with bold social commentary, the band takes an even further step back from telecommunication to understand its integral role in the circulation of current events and pop culture. The electric-infused track, ‘Love It If We Made It,’ is filled with Healy’s exclamatory vocals “saying controversial things just for the hell of it,” on every topic from immigration and racial injustice to Kanye West and Donald Trump’s erratic friendship. Songs like ‘Sincerity is Scary’ and ‘Give Yourself A Try’ leave us with a sense of peace, as The 1975 reminds us we are not the only ones struggling with feelings of insecurity and doubt, which are only magnified by constant exposure to the internet.
The album’s thematic climax occurs during ‘The Man Who Married A Robot/Love Theme,’ a soliloquy about a very lonely man who falls in love with the internet. While listening, I found myself mesmerized by the monologue’s poignancy, unable to stop hanging onto every word with a discernible awe, all of which intensified when I abruptly realized I was processing all this stimuli while scrolling through Twitter. The accuracy of Healy’s words to our daily lives as a society is uncomfortably true - we find solace in robots and use technology as an increasing escape from face-to-face interactions. Right before the chord change, Healy existentially zooms out from the lonely man who died in the lonely house on the lonely street, but don’t worry, because you can still go on his Facebook! The melody gets quiet and nostalgic for what feels like the comfortable passing of a thousand universes, while the dynamic message of the monologue rings loud and clear - online relationships do not escape loneliness, they perpetuate it.
As someone who enjoys “putting on music and getting in my feels” as my friend Alli would say, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is a masterpiece able to evoke even our most suppressed emotions. It explores our relationship with technology in a cyclical manner, using dynamic sounds and loud vocals to form an active listening experience only The 1975 could create. As I write this on a computer, while listening to music on my phone, in a room surrounded by robots, it is clear we cannot escape the album’s message of a society which will continue to customarily shift in the rise of technology.
While this dialogue focused more on music than visual concepts, the use of themes and motifs to convey a deeper message is parallel, and a technique The 1975 has been able to seamlessly incorporate into all three of their studio albums. As a creative, it is inspiring to evaluate this process through other art forms, as art is one of the few things technology cannot absolve. Although I have only lived through two decades of time, I have witnessed a monumental rise in technology. I can remember talking to my friends for hours on our home landline *blinks twice* it’s five years later and I can’t remember the last time anyone called that number who wasn’t a solicitor. Our face-to-face relationships have changed as we begin to let online interactions reveal their own depth of character, rather than taking a step back to recognize the probability of a glitch is greater in robots than humans. “Modernity has failed us,” screams Healy on ‘Love It If We Made It,’ and to that, I would agree, but only once we forget we have the power to unplug it.