Last November, I spent the hours before The 1975’s show at Madison Square Garden speaking to fans outside the venue. I wanted to capture the stories of a subset of the Extremely Online who immortalized the band as part of their earliest expressions of identity while growing up on the internet in the 2010s. Dozens were eager to tell me how deeply personal and formative the band had been for them for the past decade, their faces lit up by unvarnished sentimentality.
In the months since, lead singer and notorious loose cannon Matty Healy has cast a chilling pall over the joy of being a fan of The 1975. In February, Healy appeared on a podcast in which he, among other things, delighted in blatant misogyny, joked about watching porn of Black women being “brutalized,” and mocked the racial identity of rapper Ice Spice. In May, he began a very brief, very public fling with Taylor Swift. That relationship catapulted Healy into the mainstream, and renewed criticism of his podcast appearance stoked heated discourse on Twitter.
The 1975 has four members — Ross MacDonald, George Daniel, Adam Hann, and Matty Healy — though Healy is its face and spokesperson. Credit: Elizabeth de Luna
Fans of The 1975 are used to Healy putting his foot in his mouth, and he has practically made a career of social exhibitionism. He is the kind of public figure whose life blurs so much with his performance of it that you’re left to wonder whether he’s speaking from the heart or just to hit a nerve. Healy offers all of the allure of an oil slick: colorfully revelatory in the right light, but inevitably noxious and highly flammable. The 34-year-old has openly struggled with addiction and depression and generally fumbled through almost a decade of fame in a way that endears him to anyone with a smidge of empathy. He is relentlessly impish and relishes pushing the boundaries of political correctness in his work, but he has made grand gestures of support for women and communities of color that seemed to speak to his core beliefs.
In a January story about Healy’s TikTok popularity, I wrote that “attraction to Healy usually coexists with the looming threat of total repulsion.” I’d say that goes for being a fan of The 1975, too. Any time Healy has the mic, you can feel him teetering playfully on the edge of controversy. He has said that he was playing the part of a “trickster” on the podcast, and it’s important to note, for context, that host Adam Friedland enjoys goading the politically correct even more than Healy.
Yet, when it came time to apologize, Healy dug in. He dismissed(opens in a new tab) criticism of his comments as “moralistic virtue signaling,” calling those who take it seriously “a bit mental for being hurt.” Essentially, he said, nobody cares.
But the people I met that night at The Garden told me they cared very much about what he has to say. Some of them have cared for 10 years. After reading Healy’s statement, I opened the folder of images I had taken of them to revisit their stories and ask, after all this time, who cares about The 1975?
Namra, 23, no longer has a Tumblr but remembers how it affected her aesthetic as a teen. “Back then I was fully in black, I had the knee-high combat boots, the cuffs with skulls on them. It made me feel closed off to the world and that’s how I wanted to be understood because I was misunderstood.” Credit: Elizabeth de Luna
Faith and Joey, both 20, were seeing The 1975 live for the first time. “Since I was 12, all I’ve ever said is ‘I’m not dying until I see The1975,'” said Faith. Credit: Elizabeth de Luna
Tumblr teens and empty boxesIn November 2014, I saw The 1975 live in a 3,500-seat venue at the top of San Francisco’s Nob Hill. The band was riding high on their popularity on Tumblr, the microblogging site now often referred to as a vestige of that decade. Between 2010 and 2016, the site’s spirited fan communities popularized a swirl of British acts: One Direction, Ed Sheeran, Olly Murs, and Cher Lloyd, as well as American acts The Neighborhood and Sky Ferreira. But The 1975 were especially well-suited for Tumblr’s young audience of mostly women who were using blogs to shape their identities in the same way past generations had molded theirs from fashion magazines and TV.
The band’s first single, “The City,” was supposedly described(opens in a new tab) by Healy as “a love letter to the baffling cacophony that is teenage self-exploration in places loud and inspiring.” Their first EP, Facedown, contained three other tracks: one about “broken heads in hospital beds” and “chasing the first line,” another about an atheist’s envy of the devout, and a third that reverently related Healy’s teenage encounter with a prostitute. Their music encompassed so much of the human experience — mental health, addiction, sex, religion, family — that even if you’d never had your heart broken, or snorted coke, or been held in a psych ward on a 5150, you felt seen by their music.
And while the feelings the band expressed were complicated, their aesthetic of black and white imagery, skinny jeans, and loose tees was not. Young women on Tumblr swept the group up and edified them on the altar of their youth, immortalizing them in gifs and photo sets.
Ethan, 20, began listening to the 1975 to connect with his girlfriend, Isabella, 18. Elizabeth, 22, convinced bestie Alyssa, 19, to start listening to the band just a few months before the concert. Matty, 24, discovered the group in 2015 and introduced them to Mark, 26, when they met in 2018. All three parties met while waiting in the general admission line earlier in the evening. Credit: Elizabeth de Luna
A local photographer’s review(opens in a new tab) of that 2014 concert in San Francisco reclined on a bed of stereotypes, saying the band played “to the delight of apparently every high school girl in the city” who “lined up before 9AM (on a school day!) and apparently figured their love of the Mancunian lads would provide all the sustenance they needed, because several of them passed out.”
Those “high school girls” are now in their 20s and 30s, and they’re still showing up to concerts. Of the 27 fans I spoke with at the MSG show, 23 had either become fans of the group on Tumblr or had been brought to the show by one of those fans. They dressed in honor of their younger selves, mixing fishnets with band merch and heavy eyeliner. I caught 19-year-old Alise heading into the venue with her best friend Mecca. “That Tumblr phase was very formative for me,” she smiled, “You know, The 1975, Halsey, the fishnets, the ripped jeans and jean jackets. I was just so obsessed with it, but I was kind of too young for it and couldn’t indulge the way I truly wanted to. But now I’m just so ready. I’m so happy to be here.”
Robbie, 23, told me that era of “mostly gays and girls” on Tumblr was foundational to him finding his identity as a gay man. When he listens to The 1975, “I feel like I’m 13 again.” Helena, 18, attended the show with Tara, 19. “I was so young and impressionable, so I’ve grown up with their music and now it’s a nostalgia thing. It’s crazy,” she said, shaking her head, “I listened to this when I was 12.” Shana, 27, joined friends Alicia, 28, and Megan, 29, for a night of Tumblr nostalgia. “The 1975 was the soundtrack [of that time], you couldn’t get away from it,” Shana reminisced. “It was definitely a big era of discovering myself, my interests, leaning into the culture and digging out what was ‘me’ within that.”
Malvina, 30, was grossed out by Healy’s consumption of a raw steak on stage, mid show. Of her concession stand hot dog, she said, “What do Matty Healy and I have in common? Eating meat that shouldn’t be eaten at MSG.” Credit: Elizabeth de Luna
The band has managed to age with its audience. Victoria, 32, told me in an echoing stairwell that, “they kept evolving and growing and adapting to the times.” She began listening to them in 2015 and felt like “they were always writing for me.” While leaving the concert, Tara explained how “there’s this honesty to their music that I feel like even today is really hard to find. [Healy’s] probably the most honest person in the industry.” Helena added that “there’s a weird comfort” to the darkness of songs like “I Always Wanna Die Sometimes.” “They’re not just this candy-coated pop band, it’s dynamic and it’s fun and it’s smart,” said Shana as Megan and Alicia nodded, “You can engage at surface level or dive deeper.”
The 1975’s latest album, Being Funny in a Foreign Language, actively leans into that nostalgia, regressing to black-and-white aesthetics and revisiting themes from their earlier music. TikTok’s favorite album cut, “About You,” is considered the spiritual, if not musical, successor of 2013’s “Robbers,”(opens in a new tab) whose heroine was practically the blueprint of the manic pixie Tumblr dream girl. When I asked Alise what first drew her to the group, she pulled out her phone and showed me a still from the “Robbers” music video. It’s one that any Tumblr teen would recognize, of Healy and the girl in silhouette. “It was the most beautiful [image],” she told me, “almost haunting.”
Like many 1975 fans (and Healy and bassist Ross MacDonald) Alise got the band’s “empty box” iconography tattooed on her arm. “It’s so simple, but it means so much… Being a Black woman and a fan of them is out of the norm,” she explained. “I remember when I first heard [“I’m in Love With You” off BFIAFL] and [Healy] said, ‘You show me your Black girl thing,'” referencing a line about Healy’s ex, FKA Twigs. “I will be honest, I started crying,” she told me. “It’s hard having faves in this kind of culture where most of them like tall, blonde models. Idolizing them and seeing their preferences and being very much ‘outside’ of that box, it’s hard to feel like you should be in the fandom. Because, like, maybe I don’t really belong here.” But The 1975’s empty box “looks the same on everybody,” she said. “It’s kind of just like, ‘You matter, too. You’re a fan and you deserve to feel those emotions.’”
Alise, 19, flashes her box tattoo. “I went to my mom’s tattoo artist in the Bronx and got it, my first tattoo ever, for this concert.” Credit: Elizabeth de Luna
Alise and Mecca, 20, are best friends. “We were both the same age during that Tumblr era,” says Mecca. “The way that Alise feels about The 1975, I remember feeling about The Neighborhood.” Credit: Elizabeth de Luna
Those who careHealy and the young women who loved him once curled the lips of established music critics (the band skewered this disdain in the music video for “The Sound”(opens in a new tab)). Now the group is lent legitimacy by that same ilk, deemed “good enough” to be a straight man’s band. For BFIAFL, their team crafted a PR parade of coverage by mostly white men: Dork(opens in a new tab), Pitchfork(opens in a new tab), and NME(opens in a new tab) profiles, recorded interviews with Zane Lowe(opens in a new tab), Tom Power(opens in a new tab), and John Kennedy(opens in a new tab), and performances on The Jonathan Ross Show, Later with Jools Holland, and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. An excellent piece in Rolling Stone(opens in a new tab) by Hannah Ewens and a Chicken Shop Date(opens in a new tab) appearance with Amelia Dimoldenberg were some of the only opportunities provided to women, a great irony given that women were the first and, for a time, the only people who believed the band were any good.
“If you want to know why the trajectory of the band has changed,” says J, who runs The 1975 Updates(opens in a new tab), a leading fan account on Twitter, “it is 100 percent down to the fact that in the beginning, [there was] an association that because their fan base are young girls, that they do not hold any weight. It’s misogyny.” I spoke to J in January. She’s in her 30s, discovered the band on Vine in 2015, and attended her 40th 1975 show this year. “If I was queuing for Yeezys, no one would fucking bat an eyelid.”
Nicole, 26, was “a big Tumblr girlie, hence the outfit. It’s an homage. I went to the band’s concert in Boston the other day and the amount of people there who had Xs on their hands because they were under 21… I was like ‘Oh my God, I’m ancient!'” Credit: Elizabeth de Luna
Shana, 27, Megan, 29, and Alicia, 28, call their time on Tumblr “paradise.” Shana says, “it was definitely a big era of discovering myself, my interests, leaning into the culture and digging out what was ‘me’ within that.” Credit: Elizabeth de Luna
A month later, Healy joined Adam Friedland on his podcast for a distasteful hour(opens in a new tab) in which they managed to deride and objectify women, mock Hawaiian, Inuit, and Chinese accents while speculating about Ice Spice’s racial identity, make insensitive jokes about gay men and queerbaiting, applaud an impression of Japanese people working in concentration camps, and call Scots “retard English.” When Healy began dating Swift in May, folks online mixed his genuinely offensive comments from the podcast with out-of-context clips from The 1975 live shows in an attempt to capture Healy’s insensitive oeuvre. But Swift is a megastar, and constructive dialogues around the Friedland appearance were overshadowed by gossip mag recaps and hot takes on the romance. For several weeks, the fling was perhaps the most talked-about relationship in the world.
Healy made several acknowledgements of the upset. At a May 21 concert in Auckland he told the audience,(opens in a new tab) “I’m a little bit sorry about shit that I’ve said… It’s not because I’m annoyed that me joking got misconstrued, it’s because I don’t want Ice Spice to think that I’m a dick. I don’t want to be perceived as, like, kind of mean-hearted… I’m sorry if I get it wrong, we all get it wrong…and I just have to do it in public and then apologize to Ice Spice, and my life’s just a bit weird. I am genuinely sorry if I’ve upset her because I fucking love her.”
But in a June 5 New Yorker profile(opens in a new tab) he didn’t show any remorse. “It doesn’t actually matter,” he said in regards to his podcast comments. “Nobody is sitting there at night slumped at their computer, and their boyfriend comes over and goes, ‘What’s wrong, darling?’ and they go, ‘It’s just this thing with Matty Healy.’ That doesn’t happen… If it does, you’re either deluded or you are, sorry, a liar. You’re either lying that you are hurt, or you’re a bit mental for being hurt.” At a June 7 concert in Dublin, Healy spray-painted “SORRY”(opens in a new tab) onto a blank piece of fabric, stepped back to look at it for a beat, then added a question mark to the end. Then he turned to the audience and bowed.
It was a stunning admission of apathy, and a confounding rejection of accountability, the equivalent of saying “sorry you feel that way” to someone who asks you for an apology.
Tara, 19, holds up merch referencing the 1975 song “Paris.” She and her friend Helena, 18, were influenced by a wave of British pop on Tumblr that included The 1975 and One Direction. Credit: Elizabeth de Luna
“It’s almost like I’m mourning the Matty that I grew up with” The truth is, Healy is wrong. People do care, very much, about what he says. Healy’s comments have been deeply painful for Alise, the girl who had the box tattooed on her arm. I caught up with her last week on a video call, and she is having the exact kind of conversations Healy mocked in the New Yorker. “When everything first dropped, [my friend] Mecca said, ‘Alise, I want to show this to you gently because I know it’s really going to affect you,” she tells me, as I notice the bottom of a large 1975 poster behind her on the wall. “It’s a real thing. People who are affected by it aren’t deluded or liars. Your actions affect people. [It’s easy to say they don’t] when you’ve never had to be hated on or discriminated against because of how you were born. To say that it doesn’t really matter is just such an irresponsible statement… You’re 34 years old,” she shakes her head. “Grow the fuck up.”
Alise has had to justify liking The 1975 for the past seven years. “For me, personally, being a fan of [The 1975] is difficult in itself, especially in my family [and] within my own community. Whenever I talk about it, they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s that white band that she likes or whatever.’ They really don’t get it.” Her face crumples. “It’s also very embarrassing,” she admits in a quavering voice. “Because Matty made those comments about Ice Spice, who is a prominent Black figure right now… My family would come up to me like, ‘Hey, your boy’s out here saying racist stuff.’ Growing up, I’ve always had to defend my interests because they were out of the norm for what I was supposed to do and what I was supposed to like,” she remembers. “But their music was my safe space. I could be who I was without feeling judgment or being ridiculed for it. To have had that safe space turn into something so ugly… It hurt a lot.”
Victoria, 32, brought her husband Marco, 34, to the show. She’s been a fan of The 1975 since 2015 and mostly engages with them offline. “I have a big vinyl collection, I know they get a bigger cut out of that than streaming.” Credit: Elizabeth de Luna
Yannah, 22, and Emma, 21, are best friends and run a fashion label together called Atelier Vendetta. “Tumblr was that very early spark of being on the internet and having that reflect in your aesthetic,” said Yannah. She sometimes sends Emma memes that reference how “aesthetically codified” the style of that era has become. Credit: Elizabeth de Luna
Alise also feels for Ice Spice, a fellow Black fan of The 1975. “I’ve watched videos of her talking about how she loves their music,(opens in a new tab) and then [Matty’s] sitting here on this podcast, co-signing these terrible comments about her.” The moment Swift announced that her May 26 “Karma” remix would feature the Bronx rapper, Alise says the whole thing “felt dirty.”
Tickets for The 1975’s new North American tour go on sale this week. Alise won’t be going. “I did sign up for presale,” she confesses. “Then I talked about it with Mecca… I just don’t feel comfortable spending my own money and going into that space, knowing that the things that may hurt me, discriminatory things, don’t matter to him. And I don’t know if it will matter to the people that still choose to be there.” She frequents the 1975 Reddit and has been disappointed by the general lack of discussion around the issue among fans. “What do I really expect? People don’t tend to care unless it directly affects them or a group that they’re in.”
Healy now strikes her as deeply hypocritical, a shadow of the artist she grew up with. “How can you make a song as profound as ‘Love It If We Made It'” — with the lyrics “Selling melanin and then suffocate the Black men / Start with misdemeanors and we’ll make a business out of them” — “and then do what you’re doing right now? I just felt this deep sense of, I don’t want to say betrayal, because it’s a parasocial relationship [but] I just felt hurt by it… It’s almost like I’m mourning the Matty that I grew up with. Like, who is this person that I’m seeing? Is what you were doing in the past performative, and we’re seeing the real you now? How can I, as a Black woman, still be a fan of you the way that I was knowing that you literally watch torture porn of Black women being brutalized and tell it as this cute little story?”
Jess and Aidan, both 19, got into The 1975 when the band released “The Sound.” “I feel like they used to be playing small shows and now we’re here,” says Jess. Credit: Elizabeth de Luna
Zade, 23, wears official 1975 merch that reads, “Your girlfriend’s favourite band.” He started listening to the group in 2013, when a track from the band’s EP “IV” was the free single of the week on iTunes. Credit: Elizabeth de Luna
I read her a quote from my interview with J: “Community br