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“Matty Healy is a community resource.” That’s how my friend Mel (her name changed to protect her dignity) describes the lead singer of British band The 1975. “I saw that in a TikTok comment.”
We’re on the phone tracing her recent and wholly unintentional descent into stanning Healy, a man she “actively didn’t care about” in November when she accompanied me to the band’s show at Madison Square Garden. Mel swayed politely for the first half, but got the ick when Healy bit into a raw steak. Then he crawled into a TV blaring images of Ben Shapiro, Logan Paul, Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs, and Zuckerberg’s metaverse. The commentary on online radicalization, male chauvinism, and modernity was a little too on the nose for her. She left the arena indifferent to Healy and the band. “I didn’t feel any type of way, really,” she shrugs.
Within a fortnight, Matty Healy thirst TikTok had her For You page in a horny chokehold. She was barraged by clips of Healy’s onstage antics — the meat eating, thrusting into the camera, spitting on fans or making out with them (with consent) — from the group’s 20-plus North American tour dates. One particular genre featured Healy doing crowd work and chastising security guards in autotune. These videos have millions of views on both TikTok and Twitter, where his name has trended regularly over the past two months. Though the group has a significant built-in fanbase of 20-somethings who discovered them on Tumblr between 2012 and 2015, the reach of these videos traveled beyond them to people like Mel.
Mel thinks the TikTok algorithm picked up on “people who were on Harry Styles TikTok” as the ex-boy bander turned actor closed out a string of more than 30 sold out shows in early November. When The 1975 began touring around that same time, she theorizes, “the algorithm was like, if you enjoy this one white man’s antics, here’s another one!”
We have to talk about “the infamous clip,” she says to me. “You know what clip I’m talking about.” I do not know what clip she is talking about. It turns out to be a relatively nondescript one by Healy standards, from the band’s gig at Corona Capital in Mexico City on Nov. 20. He bunny hops across the stage in a black suit, then eases his hand down his chest to his groin, rolls his eyes back in his head, and licks his lips as he sings “Call me when you’re bored and you’re playing with yourself.”
This video has spawned hundreds of breathless reaction videos from adult women. A top comment reads, “Matty is the original female gaze.” “The allure of Matty Healy is that he’s a slut and everyone feels that they can pull him — just give me 15 minutes in a coffee shop,” Mel explains. Between the sloppy stage kisses and overt flirting, “he feels just accessible enough.”
In contrast, TikTok users have also fashioned him into soft indie boyfriend who is “so babygirl” (a loving though somewhat infantilizing term). A comment on a particularly light performance of Healy captioned “boop” (as in, a boop on the nose) read “he’s definitely on his stomach kicking his feet in the air in his head i love him so much.”
The attraction to Healy usually coexists with the looming threat of total repulsion. “This man is always within one inch of giving me the ick,” Mel says. “He’s the most annoying but somehow the smartest person in your class where you’re like, ‘I really want to make out with you but you’re such a dick.'”
TikTok videos have been made to address that contradiction, too, supercutting his weirdest onstage behavior — doing somersaults, dancing like an inflatable tube man — to the sound of Demi Lovato saying “I love this man, and I have to have him.”
And of course a lot of people find Healy’s game perplexing. There’s an entire cadre of TikTok videos of women showing their boyfriends the Matty Healy “playing with yourself” clip and their partners appearing disgusted or unimpressed.
“My boyfriend is actually a fan of the band but he doesn’t 100% ‘get’ Matty even though he does like their music and wants to see them live,” says Susie, 23, who posted one of these videos. “We’ve both been fans of the band for years; I found them in 2013 after seeing them open for a different band and he found them around the same time when ‘Chocolate’ was a 69 cent song on iTunes.” She says her boyfriend, Rich, “would describe Matty as a string bean/rat from Flushed Away who thinks he’s cooler than he actually is.” Susie adds, “For the record I disagree. I think Matty is, in fact, cool.”
But no matter how precariously he teeters on the edge of ick, Healy is almost always redeemed by how hyper-aware he is of the narratives surrounding his behavior, and how much he enjoys engaging with them. It’s all playful, done with a wink and a knowing smile. He replies to horny fans and shoots his mouth off on Twitter. He posts fan memes to Instagram and screamed “I’m a sex symbol!” at a show in Minneapolis. He wears a “Matt Healy is a rat” sweatshirt out in public. A lyric from their most recent album, Being Funny in a Foreign Language, asks “Am I ironically woke, the butt of my joke?”
“The whole conversation of ‘Do I know that I’m a rock star, do I accept that I’m a rock star, is that OK to do?’ has been going on since my second album when I had the song ‘Love Me,'” Healy noted in a recent interview with Variety. “[Being Funny in a Foreign Language ] felt like you were watching something, like you were a witness to something” — so the tour’s stage design featured the band scattered across two levels of a life-sized dollhouse, cut in half and open to the audience. Healy’s TikTok fame feels like an almost too-perfect extension of that underlying theme.
When boyfriends grimace at his dancing or outlets like The Guardian react to his consensual on-stage make out session with fans with headlines like “Creepy behavior or pop performance?” they’re kind of missing the point. Healy wants to be perceived. “Everything’s a statement for him,” says Mel. “I don’t think it’s put on, but I do think it’s intentional. Matty Healy is never unaware.”
The man is having fun and wreaking havoc, for your benefit and for your feed’s. “I feel like Matty Healy would definitely go get Auntie Anne’s with me in the mall for the bit, as commentary on the state of American mall culture,” says Mel. “He is basically asking us ‘What do you want me to be?’ He is in on the joke. And Matt Healy is not above anything.”