The 1975 scrutinizes societal role of social media in ‘A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships’

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“Modernity has failed us,” Matty Healy cries in “Love It If We Made It.” This modern-day “We Didn’t Start the Fire” anthem, filled with commentary on social fragmentation and technology, is a reflection of the larger theme of The 1975’s newest album, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships.

The idea that modern institutions are flawed is something that Healy argues throughout the album, citing now-President Donald Trump’s infamous 2005 “Access Hollywood” quotes with the lyric “I moved on her like a bitch,” among other controversial samples that argue his point. The Manchester-born quartet doesn’t shy away from cultural commentary; rather, it focuses its music directly on the United States’ most politically polarizing subjects. The group covers topics from the disproportionate incarceration rate among Black men to the Syrian refugee crisis, with the most recurrent theme of all being the internet.

Without forfeiting its classic pop-rock sound, The 1975 expanded its postmodern gloominess to address an issue specific to its younger audiences: social media. “It’s so easy to expel your insecurities onto those who are closest to you,” Healy explained in an interview with Genius. The lead singer feels that social media is an essential tool for connecting to his audience, but he fears that younger people let it serve as their identity. And as he puts it, “That’s fucking brutal.”

Healy and The 1975’s drummer, George Daniel, produced the majority of the album themselves, revealing their talent for cleverly constructing anecdotal songs that appeal to a teenage audience.

A buzz of electricity starts off “TooTimeTooTimeTooTime,” the energetic, Afro-rhythmic-influenced ballad that questions the boundaries of infidelity in a digital age. Within the song, Healy points out how the common dissatisfaction of not receiving a like on an Instagram post is ironic; this is just one of many critical stances he takes, masked by infectious choruses.

The 1975 doesn’t share its societal views without revealing some personal demons along the way. Never failing to be direct, Healy shouts, “And poison me, daddy, I’ve got the Jones right through my bones” in “Love It If We Made It.” In this lyric, he coolly alludes to the internet’s claiming of the word “daddy” and his struggle with heroin addiction in the same breath.

It’s been a long road for Healy, who was first admitted to a two-month-long rehab in Barbados in 2017 and has volunteered to take weekly drug tests ever since. Perhaps he best expresses his journey in “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You),” which directly talks about his addiction: “I can stage a situation, but I just can’t eat, and there’s a feeling you’re replacing embrace.” Again, the trick at play here is to accompany his introspective and somewhat depressing lyrics with upbeat undertones. Oftentimes this takes a digitized turn for the worse, most notably with the heavily layered voice in the recurring opening song “The 1975.”

A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships takes a slight departure from the band’s previous romanticism and instead directly confronts modern issues. And yet, it has all the same bells and whistles of your average The 1975 album: A song with barely any lyrics, frequently peppered-in jazz trumpets, and many new self-referential tropes. Given the quality and consistent content the group has produced, it’s no wonder it’s maintained a devout international fan base.

If anything can be said for this album, it’s that it came at an essential and relevant time. The 1975 made an ingenious move by deciding to share political values representative of its followers’ beliefs, a voice often neglected by politicians. A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships may not have as many hits as The 1975’s previous album, but it suggests the band’s comfort with navigating new musical terrain.

Contact Christopher Chang at [email protected].