Music

Two tribes: Is it high time for the return of the tribal pop rivalry?

The obsessive fandom around returning pop icons Robyn and The 1975 has the potential for some good old-fashioned rivalry says Malcolm Jack

The faintly deranged tribalism of loving one particular pop star at the expense of all others has been dampened somewhat by the eclectic, fractured and fickle nature of music consumption in the digital streaming and playlist shuffling age, and fandom plainly isn’t quite what it once was any more.

Will a child on Brighton beach never again know the old-fashioned terror of having their sandcastle building interrupted by a rocker battering a mod over the head with a deckchair? Will such tonnage of hairspray ever again be expended in anger as during the folically extravagant pomp of Durannies vs Spandaus? Shall the future witness such  thinly veiled class war as Blur vs Oasis? Is there true animosity between Taylor Swift’s Swifties and Katy Perry’s KatyCats, or is it all just glittery handbags at dawn?

Who can say. But I’m always reassured by all-too-rare instances these days of when pop stars become subjects of properly cultish obsession. On which note: hooray for the serendipitously overlapping returns of Robyn and The 1975.

Swedish electro-dance-pop queen Robyn has become a subject of such intense devotion to some that there’s even a popular twice-yearly club night in New York dedicated entirely to her music. This Party Is Killing You sees droves of Robyn acolytes, some of them copying the various mutations of her trademark short blonde hairdo, descend on venues in Brooklyn to lose themselves to the so-called “tears on the dancefloor” sound of songs such as With Every Heartbeat, Dancing on My Own and Call Your Girlfriend.

Is there true animosity between Taylor Swift’s Swifties and Katy Perry’s KatyCats, or is it all just glittery handbags at dawn

In suitably emotive style, Robyn drops in on them by surprise in the mini-doc teaser video for Missing U – her first new single proper in eight years, another almighty sad-banger that finds her picking up the pieces of her heart again along to a throbbing beat, sifting in vain for meaning amid the wreckage of another doomed romance, sounding bloodied but unbowed. With life-affirming music like that, Robyn has influenced not just a whole swathe of artists from Charli XCX to Tove Lo, Carly Rae Jepsen, La Roux and Lykke Li, but more importantly inspired a wave of emotional emancipation among an army of superfans, who like her find feeling down and feeling like getting down to be by no means mutually exclusive.

Much of the cult of Mancunians The 1975 surrounds their singer and songwriter Matt Healy, a cover star of The Big Issue a couple of years back. Stick thin, fabulously haired, motor-mouthed and scarcely shirted, the son of actors Denise Welch and Tim Healy is a flamboyant, decadent, over-the-top pop star of a sort you don’t see often these days, and he’s easy to ridicule for it. Which is to overlook the very real connection the band’s many mostly quite young fans feel with him, his overactive mind and his vulnerabilities like open wounds. To the extent that they’re forever getting tattoos of his sex, drugs and neurosis-stained lyrics etched about their person and showing them off online.

Pick a side, people, because it’s high time we stoked up another good old-fashioned music rivalry

Such is Healy’s and The 1975’s influence, there’s even a whole genre of new music semi-jestingly named in his honour. Healywave – or as the man himself sportingly claims to prefer, “Mattycore” – has become a shorthand for new bands espousing a similar dreamified take on Eighties pop-rock (lapsed Durannies/Spandaus – one for you maybe?).

With their forthcoming, typically wordily-titled new album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships The 1975 look set to follow up the US and UK chart-topping success of 2016’s I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It in some style. Advance singles Love It If We Made It and Give Yourself A Try are some of the most heartfelt stuff yet from a band whose genre-fluid, and as Healy calls them “generationally informed” songs fluently speak the language of internet-reared children of the shuffle age like few others.

Pick a side, people, because it’s high time we stoked up another good old-fashioned music rivalry. Robyn fans (Robbers? Roblyns?), get your peroxide out. Healywavers, whip your shirts off. Grab a deckchair and let battle commence.

Robyn’s new album (title TBA) will be released before the end of 2018, robyn.com; The 1975’s new album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is out in October, the1975.com

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