The 1975’s ‘Being Funny in a Foreign Language’
The Observer | Wednesday, October 26, 2022
“We’re experiencin’ life through the postmodern lens/
Oh, call it like it is/
You’re makin’ an aesthetic out of not doin’ well/
And minin’ all the bits of you/
You think you can sell whilst the fans are on.”
These lyrics, written for the opening track of The 1975’s newest release, “Being Funny in a Foreign Language,” set the tone for the whole album. “The 1975 (BFIAFL)” has the stereotypically quippy writing of frontman Matty Healy. With lighthearted references to serious topics like QAnon and drug usage, the song toes the line between an “ironically depressing state-of-world address according to Matty Healy” and a sincere apology from a millennial to today’s youth.
The album itself dances between irony and sincerity as Healy explores what it means to be both a famous musician and a vulnerable artist. He thinks he’s “minin’ all the bits” of himself which he thinks he can sell, but still claims this album is the most sincere one he’s written. As Pitchfork writer Ryan Dombal says, we’re “stuck between two Matty Healys, with one of them rolling their eyes at the other.”
“Being Funny in a Foreign Language” is an attempt to bridge the gap between Healy’s private and public-facing identities. In an exclusive interview with Spotify, Healy says the album’s title comes from “the height of empathy…straddling two cultural boundaries…and bringing them together.” Ultimately, it’s an album about connection in a time of severe alienation. It’s love through the postmodern lens.
I’ll spare readers the whole conversation about postmodern philosophy and literary theory, but the important thing to note is that “Being Funny” is postmodern art. Healy rejects the idea that the world is ordered and understandable, instead, he focuses on the one true thing he can attest to — his experience as a singer-songwriter. The album is both incredibly earnest and contradictory.
Only The 1975 can write a song called “Happiness” with lyrics like “God, help me ‘cause/ Oh, I’m never gonna love again, hey.” Only The 1975 can write a catchy 80s bop like “Looking for Somebody (To Love)” and casually drop that it’s about toxic masculinity and school shootings in an interview. Only The 1975 can write a cheesy over-the-top love song like “I’m in Love With You” in 2022 without a resounding “Ugh!” in response from fans. Only The 1975 can write an incredibly vulnerable song like “All I Need to Hear” and say it sounds like a cover.
The band plays with sincerity and irony inside and outside of the studio, toying with both their instruments and the music industry alike. The beauty, though, is in the dynamic between their sincerity and irony. There’s balance. The album as a whole is concise and sonically cohesive. The fact that earnestness and sarcasm exist together in the same album goes to show that maybe, contrary to Healy’s opinion, great and funny aren’t very different.
Artist: The 1975
Album: Being Funny in a Foreign Language
Label: Dirty Hit
Favorite tracks: “I’m In Love With You,” “All I Need to Hear,” “About You”
If you like: M83, The Neighborhood
Shamrocks: 4 out of 5