Matty Healy: Solidarity or Performative Activism?

by Amelie Ritchie

The 1975 have been one of my favourite bands for some time now. Their song Me & You Together Song has been my most-listened to song on Spotify for the last three years, and other songs from them have soundtracked many important moments of my life, such as the trip home from my first date with my now partner. 

While their lead singer, Matty Healy, has faced criticisms in the past for his questionable actions, including several distasteful comments as a guest on the podcast The Adam Friedland Show, I never dug too deep into them. But his most recent controversy in Malaysia, which made headlines all over the world, forced me to reevaluate my opinion of him. 

What exactly happened? 

In July 2023, The 1975 headlined at a three-day music festival, Kuala Lumpur’s Good Vibes Festival . Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia, a country which currently has anti-LGBTQ laws in place. Going against these laws can result in 20 years imprisonment. In the middle of their set on the first day, Matty Healy began criticising these laws, saying, “I do not see the point of inviting The 1975 to a country and then telling us who we can have sex with.” 

He then kissed his male band member, Ross McDonald, before the band walked off stage a couple of songs later, stating they had been banned from performing in Malaysia. The final two days of the music festival were then cancelled. 

Via Sky News

What’s the problem? 

While Matty Healy’s speech appeared to be an act of solidarity with the LGBTQ community living under Malaysia’s laws, the effects of his words have been far from positive. 

After the rest of the music festival was cancelled, many LGBTQ activists were worried that this was just the beginning of what will become a larger crackdown against their community. While his words held good intentions, the way they were delivered was quite problematic. Before kissing his bandmate, he went on a drunken rant criticising Malaysian law. In response to this, Malaysian drag performer, Carmen Rose, commented, “The majority of the country is ultra-conservative. They don’t like us already, and this … gives them more ammunition to discriminate against us and ostracise our community.” In a conservative country that is already prejudiced against the gay community, this absolutely had the power to perpetuate gay stereotypes and fuel discrimination against the entire community. By speaking on behalf of this group of people, Matty Healy has placed them at the centre of attention of those seeking to discriminate against them.

Not only this, but consideration must be had for the impact of the cancellation of the remaining days of the music festival, which resulted directly from Matty Healy’s actions. Many local artists and small businesses were impacted by the sudden cancellation, robbed of their opportunity to perform and earn income. This outburst will also likely lead to stricter rules when it comes to foreign artists performing in the country, impacting Malaysia’s music industry overall. 

Via Action Press

Is Matty Healy a ‘white saviour’?

The answer to this question lies behind Matty Healy’s intentions; was he trying to ‘save’ the Malaysian people from their homophobic laws, or was he trying to show solidarity and bring awareness to the issue?

Personally, I don’t believe Matty Healy meant to do any harm. The problem, for me, is when you are trying to advocate for a group, it is important that you understand the intricacies and nuances of the experiences of that group. And in this case, he didn’t. 

To me, activism means knowing and advocating for a cause and continually taking action to support that cause. Here, Matty Healy fell severely short of what many Malaysian LGBTQ organisations are already doing, like creating a sense of community for people in a place that would otherwise cast them out. 

Via Getty Images

Final thoughts

I think it is completely okay to still enjoy The 1975’s music – I still do – but it is important to hold Matty Healy accountable. At the end of the day, he gets to go back to his comfortable life in London, where he is free to express himself, while the Malaysian LGBTQ community have been left to deal with the consequences of his actions. Which is not okay.

Amelie Ritchie is a second-year UNSW student who started off studying Science and Engineering, but joined the dark side by transferring to a Bachelor of Media (Comms. and Journalism) to engage in her affection for writing. She loves to read and write, finding the most enjoyment in fiction and personal essays. It is likely you will find her sitting in the gentle light of her bedroom, listening to music as she burns a candle. 

Blitz Editor

Anandi Ganguly

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