The best way to describe the latest viral heartthrob is the following interaction between two people who commented on a TikTok of him: “please tell me who this is,” someone wrote. The other person’s reply: “You don’t wanna know.”
The man is Matty Healy, the enigmatic 33-year-old singer, songwriter, and frontman of the English synth-pop band The 1975, which has been making music with a particularly iron grip on young, extremely online women and which has confounded and infuriated music critics since 2013.
The most recent revival of social media thirst for Healy comes as a result of the band’s latest album, Being Funny in a Foreign Language, which was released in October to excellent reviews. More specifically, it comes during their ongoing world tour, from which clips of Healy’s onstage antics — which include making jokey auto-tuned asides, kissing fans, eating raw meat, simulating masturbation, unbuttoning his pants so low that he nearly exposes himself — have gone viral. This, however, is crucial to Healy’s schtick, which has the unlikely ability to come across as endearing rather than gross, in part because it’s a self-aware, ironic performance of fame and authenticity in the social media age and in part because — well, he’s hot.
But before you understand what is so alluring about Healy, you must understand all the ways he is not. For one, he is among the current culture’s most despised cohort, the nepo babies, or children of famous parents (Healy’s are British actors Tim Healy and Denise Welch). He is notoriously loose-lipped and often comes across as deeply pretentious; a Billboard reporter once described him as having “the helter-skelter intelligence of an autodidact, name-dropping Debord and Dostoevsky, and accidentally inventing words like “dissolvement.” He is skinny and not tall, and has been quasi-canceled several times (after the murder of George Floyd, he tweeted, “If you truly believe that ‘ALL LIVES MATTER’ you need to stop facilitating the end of black ones” with a link to the music video for “Love It If We Made It,” a song that references police brutality, and was accused of using a tragedy to promote his own music). He’s admitted to gaslighting and manipulating former girlfriends, idolizes dudebro literary icons like Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson (the band’s name was taken from an annotated version of On the Road), and is obsessed with his penis, according to him. (I reached out to him for an interview but didn’t hear back.)
Perhaps all that is why even his most devoted fans, like the TikTok commenter who replied “you don’t wanna know,” allude that their obsession with him comes at a psychic cost. To be fair, a lot of people really do dislike Matty Healy, possibly because of those things but also because he, to use the common phrasing, gives them “the ick.” On the many TikToks devoted to fanning over him, a decent portion of the comments read some variation of “WTF HE LOOKS ILL YOU ALL NEED TO TOUCH GRASS.” Still, devoted fans remain, less in spite of his flaws than because of them.
why am I acting like this over matty healy— shit you should care about (@SYSCAbout) December 19, 2022
Lucy Blakiston, like many other 25-year-olds, discovered The 1975 on Tumblr when she was in high school after the release of the band’s eponymous 2013 album. Soon after, Healy built a big following on Twitter and Instagram, where he ranted, shitposted, and, sometimes, beefed with other famous people (“I don’t know what the fuck that is but I love that song about being in a phone box or whatever it is,” he once tweeted at Maroon 5 after they implied The 1975 copied their album artwork). “We’re so used to seeing celebrities being so manufactured, living and dying by their publicists, made for our consumption,” she explains. “There’s something really enticing about someone that seems unpolished.”
Since the tour started making the rounds on TikTok and Twitter in November, Blakiston pivoted the social channels for her media company, Shit You Should Care About, into Matty Healy stan accounts — semi-ironically, of course, befitting Healy himself. “I’ve gone through so many interviews of him and learned about who he is as a person — early on, he labeled himself as pretentious and potentially problematic, but it’s quite obvious he has a heart of gold and has a lot of values that people like me align with,” she says. “He blurs the line between performance art and authenticity in a really interesting way.”
How much, exactly, of Healy’s persona is “authentic” — or whether it even matters — is a subject constantly up for debate, most often by Healy himself. The older he gets, though, the more he seems to yearn for earnestness. “I do the Jim Morrison thing a bit, but I know that you know that I know that this isn’t real,” he told Billboard. “It’s difficult because everything’s so postmodern and self-referential and hyper-aware of everything being bullshit. As I grow as an artist, I just want to be sincere.”
It’s that glimmer of sincerity — which also features heavily in The 1975’s catalog, most notably in 2018’s “Sincerity Is Scary”) — that draws in fans like 25-year-old Brittany Tomlinson, better known as Brittany Broski, who first soared to national stardom from a TikTok of herself trying kombucha. She points specifically to a 2019 performance in Alabama in which Healy gave a passionate speech against the state’s six-week abortion ban. “Matty understands on an intrinsic level what a lot of ‘internet children’ feel: this indescribable feeling of hyper-self-aware cringe that creates a hard shell around the deep-rooted desire to be earnest and genuine,” she told me over DM.
Broski happens to be famous enough that when she met Healy at an afterparty following one of his shows at Madison Square Garden this November, he recognized her. “IM LITERALLY LIKE GENUINELY HAVING AN OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCE I SMELL LIKE CIGARETTES AND PISS AND I TOUCHED MATTY AND HE HUGGED ME AND TOUCHED MY ARM,” she wrote of the experience.
No fan, however, was as lucky as Carmen Matson, who managed to nab a spot in the very front of the crowd at The 1975 December show in Minneapolis. She told me she’d known that Healy usually picks one fan (or sometimes a bodyguard) from the front row to kiss during the song “Robbers,” and so she arrived prepared, armed with a sign that read, “Be my first kiss.” “After the song was over I thought, ‘Oh damn, there goes my chance,” she says. “And then shortly after he brought up my sign and said ‘Yeah, a hundred percent.’” What happened next went ultra-viral: Healy came down to the pit to check her ID to make sure she was of legal age (she’s 22), then held her face, asked if she was ready, and kissed her twice. “I was just like, ‘yes, yes, yes.’ It was like I blocked out everybody else and I will never forget it. It was such a special moment for me.” (And yes, it really was her first kiss, she says.)
That a grungy, skinny British rock star with asshole-adjacent tendencies and a history of drug abuse (Healy was addicted to heroin for several years in the mid-2010s) is also a sex symbol is not particularly revelatory; just ask any Manchester-based rock band of the past 60 years. But Healy lies in contrast to a decade of wholesome, “unproblematic” hunks — the “golden retriever” internet boyfriends like Chris Evans, Harry Styles, Michael B. Jordan, and Oscar Isaac. He’s got what many of today’s leading men lack: a sex appeal that’s messy and maybe a little icky. His bona fides do not include being “unproblematic”; in fact, some people on social media accused his onstage kisses of being nonconsensual or creepy because of the “power imbalance” (Matson and another fan who went viral after her kiss have stated that it was very much consensual).
Healy’s brand of brashness has less in common with the often sterilized cultural discourse of the last few years and more with the idea of “indie sleaze,” or the era of hipster debauchery in the late aughts and early 2010s, around the time Healy got famous. “Indie sleaze” was not exactly an aesthetic that celebrated meaningful (or really, any) values beyond having fun and looking cool; it’s therefore not exactly a surprise that some of the most notable pioneers of the scene turned out to be creeps (American Apparel’s Dov Charney and photographer Terry Richardson, to name two). Healy, however, toes the line between sexy and skeezy because he, as Broski told me, “gets it.” “He’s hot in the skinny, coked-out British rock star way. It just works,” she says. “It’s science.”
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