Why Do We Hate Coldplay?
If they can satisfy eighty million people, then what is it about Coldplay that makes critics and serious music fans loyally despise them?
There’s always been a broad corridor of stomach-wrenching hate reserved for Coldplay among British music fans. In fact, ever since they informed us that the stars in the sky are indeed yellow, it’s almost as if we haven’t been able to talk about them without referencing how innocuously tepid their form of shower-grout prosaicism is.
Their last record has been called “empty”. The one before that was described as a “stagnant fucking pool of premium grade fucking cockwash”. Even The Guardian dubbed the band as “grindingly tedious”. When they are written about positively, it’s usually with some sort of tedious admission of guilt, like the writer is confessing to not paying their TV licence. It’s almost as if a horrible chain-letter was sent round years ago, forcing critics to reference exactly how overwhelmingly blank the band’s music is – or else suffer the arrival of a deceased girl in the night, coming to collect their soul.
Watching last weekend’s Superbowl performance, it’s perhaps easy to see why. Chris Martin is a man who seemingly cannot transition between one place and another without skipping. He slides across the floor like a toddler at a pre-school disco, high on Calypso Cups, and punches and kicks the air. He is the musical embodiment of Jamie Oliver, but with worse clothes. In essence, his unbridled positivity is everything British people find difficult to stomach. It just doesn’t sit right with us.
Yet despite the whoops, and the kicks, and the electric grins, the band remain resolutely popular. They’ve sold eighty million albums and, this summer, they will play another run of stadium dates in the UK. They’re even rumoured to make history this year, becoming the only band to headline Glastonbury four times. They are the Brazil football team of British pop music. So, if they can satisfy eighty million people, then what is it about Coldplay that makes critics and serious music fans loyally despise them?
The funny thing about Coldplay is that they don’t tick the usual boxes that come pre-packaged with hating a band of their size. They aren’t exactly the cash-injected privileged and pudgy-faced elite leeching off nepotism, who we’ve come to see dominate our charts. They don’t appropriate folk and pass it off as their own, like Mumford and Sons, and they don’t really fall in with the monotonous and trite indie brigade – for all their criticism, they have changed their sound repeatedly. In fact, despite rising above the birthing mucus of major label detritus to become one of the world’s biggest acts, there’s something strangely authentic about Coldplay when you look at them on paper. They write their own songs, have transformed and evolved with each album, and sell millions without being cynically marketed towards a teenage demographic, making them somewhat of a relic in today’s age of Max Martin productions.
A lot of people will tell you the problem with Coldplay is their music. That it’s so tiresome it’s like running through the desert only to reach an oasis of airy nothingness. And often, it is. Yet there are moments in their songs that are so universal, it’s difficult to believe that even the band’s most forthright detractors haven’t been touched by them at some point – even if by accident. The big singles – “Clocks”, “Fix You”, “Yellow”, “In My Place”, “Strawberry Swing”, “Viva La Vida”, “The Scientist” – undeniably possess a melodic quality that allows them to soar and transcend mass swathes of people.
When I think about Coldplay, I think about my Dad. I was eight years old when he arrived home with a copy of their debut album Parachutes – an impressionable age, where the music you hear sticks whether you want it to or not. They were always there – in that weird, untouchable place where my early formative memories were made and cognitive associations were created. So, forgetting the cross-country car rides and Sunday lunches the band sound-tracked is impossible. It’s like those moments are imprinted on me, as though the music seeped through my pores and deep into my soul, to become part of my being.
As a result, Chris Martin’s voice recalls a very specific, personal atmosphere to me. When I listen to it, those moments ripple from my belly and into the here and now, visualising behind my eyes. I hear the summer of 2000, the year I got my first pair of football boots on one of the last family holidays I can remember. Or the last time I hung out with him on a semi-regular basis, the year the Viva La Vida album was released. It’s that album that affects me the most really, because it sounds like untouched snow on a Christmas morning. If I listen hard enough, it feels like I can reach out and touch something that hasn’t been spoiled by passing time. Yet when I grew old enough to read music magazines, the overriding sentiment was that I was a total mug, and I kinda grew to acknowledge that and run with the hate.
There is some sort of deep-seated guilty association that prevents us from heralding Coldplay with the reverence their biggest, most affecting tracks deserve – that makes us put disclaimers on any compliment. Is it because they are the music equivalent of feeling moved by an episode of Hollyoaks? Is it our hang-ups over them being the next U2? Our hangover from the bleak period in the mid 2000s when Snow Patrol and The Fray poured cups of lukewarm tea into our collective gullets? That’s certainly part of it.
It all comes back to who we are as people. Chris Martin, for all his talent, is an employee eating a cheese sandwich in his cubicle. He is the guy you met at that party one time who you really need to delete off Facebook, but haven’t. He is the Next Christmas sale, your Uncle shopping in Fat Face, and your drama teacher waving his hands. He’s your ex-boyfriend, lights dimmed in the room and candles lit, strumming through a song he “penned” on the bus home from work. There’s something so everyday, so pedestrian about him - if the average person wrote a song on the guitar and DM’d you a Soundcloud link, the end point they would feasibly get to would be close to “Yellow”. By choosing not to like Chris Martin’s music, we’re choosing to strive harder, higher, and further than what we deem to be average.
But at the same time, there are those moments: the little snatches of context that bring these so-called tepid songs to life. The power Coldplay has almost lays in just how non-descript these songs are. They tackle undefinable problems and situations, fleshing out feelings rather than ideas, leaving the listener to place their own context inside.
The infamous bedwetting tag Creation Records founder Alan McGee bestowed upon Chris Martin and co in the early 2000s has been interminably associated with the band ever since, like an unceremonious birthmark. Yet there’s also an unfairness about that term. Why are Coldplay ordained as merchants of damp patheticism simply because they tackle emotion at its most base level – one which appeals and connects with vast swathes of the population? Is emotional music only good when it runs complicated and deep? Yes, they stoop the lowest on the sentiment scale, and hoover up the low hanging fruit. But, in turn, they service any willing listener's most basic emotions. They mine what others perceive to be trite cliches, yet are no less real and universal. In essence, Coldplay are testament to the fact that music doesn’t always need to ask questions of the listener or challenge them. Sometimes it just has to affect, which is an exercise they manage to stretch into, even with the whooping and hollering and cub scout leader schtick.
In the British vacuum of passive-aggressive public transport and mumbled apologies, Chris Martin’s stomach-ribbing charisma on stage can be as nauseating as doing star jumps right after lunch, and it’s not hard to see how the everlasting hate for Coldplay was born. But when we hate on them, are we just acknowledging that we want to experience more from life? Or are we negating the fact we feel these everyday – average, yet no less meaningful – emotions deep down, too? I think it’s a bit of both.
You can find Ryan Bassil on Twitter: @RyanBassil