Coldplay: sitting very comfortably in the middle of the road. Photograph: Brian J Ritchie/Rex Shutterstock
Last modified on Friday 4 December 2015 05.02 EST
or more than a decade now, I have harbored a secret – one that I have shared only with my closest friends and family. I avoid discussing the subject for fear of derision from my colleagues and the complete loss of my peers’ respect. But I’m tired of hiding. With the release of their latest album, I’m finally going to publicly admit it: I love Coldplay.
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It all started around the turn of the century, when a girlfriend introduced me to Parachutes, the band’s first album. Sure, there were some cliches in the lyrics, and my mom said the singer sounded like he was getting over a cold. But the melancholy songs and their spare arrangements worked their charms on me. I liked the way Chris Martin’s gravelly, unconventional voice lent a sense of intimacy to the record. This was long before Coldplay songs became stadium anthems; Parachutes was an album best listened to privately on one’s Discman (unless, of course, you were one of the lucky few who already owned an mp3 player).
At the time, Coldplay were still small enough to be considered something of an indie outfit, but it was already clear that they weren’t cool – their songs were too easy to enjoy, too uncontroversial, for them to be seen as boundary-pushing artists. Already, I found myself suffering some trepidation when telling friends I’d been listening to the band. But it wasn’t until after their third album, X&Y, was released in 2005 that being a fan really became a liability. It was that year that Jon Pareles offered his “case against Coldplay” in the New York Times, in which he labeled them “the most insufferable band of the decade”. Since then, anti-Coldplay fervor has only grown, with a review of last year’s Ghost Stories in the Quietus dubbing it “one long stagnant f***ing pool of premium grade f***ing cockwash” (asterisks theirs). A commenter noted that the review was too lenient.
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Perhaps I’m being paranoid; perhaps the opposition to the band isn’t as strong as it seems to a self-conscious fan (Pitchfork, for instance, was less harsh in its Ghost Stories review, merely accusing the album of having the “visceral impact of a down comforter tumbling down a flight of stairs”). But this critical vitriol seemed to pervade the public consciousness, at least among people who consider themselves to have discerning musical taste. It didn’t help that Coldplay kept getting bigger and bigger; when it comes to music, of course, popularity and coolness are diametrically opposed.
Coldplay want to be liked. They write songs people like. That’s why so many people don’t like them.
The thing about Coldplay, though, is that they are very aware that they will never be cool; Chris Martin has called his band “the shit Radiohead”. The challenge for them is that they’re not quite silly enough to embrace ironically – like, say, your average boy band – nor do they cultivate an image of being above the fray, of being consummate artists who don’t care what you think. They occupy a space somewhere in between, and that means the hip kids and the critics will never offer them unqualified admiration.
Maybe that’s part of why I admire them. I am also not cool, and I also definitely care what people think. Since I spend time with many people who feel strongly about music – people who are perfectly nice, I hasten to add – I have long kept my Coldplay fandom quiet. But when we would discuss our favorite albums, I would feel as though I was living a lie as I avoided mentioning A Rush of Blood to the Head and Mylo Xyloto. In the weeks after a new Coldplay release, the dreaded question “What are you listening to these days?” would send me into a panic. I would rush to think of a cooler band – read: literally any other band – to name-drop. The issue has continued well into my adult life. First date? Don’t mention Coldplay. Moving in with new roommates? Don’t leave your iTunes on shuffle; there is a very real risk of blasting Fix You. And while I plastered posters of most of my favorite musicians on my walls, the Parachutes-era picture of Martin and company staring wistfully into the distance stayed at my parents’ house.
Such a crisis might, in other circumstances, require joining online communities where I could share my fandom anonymously, or forming a covert group of listeners who meet secretly to discuss the finer points of Swallowed in the Sea.
But fortunately, none of this was necessary: Coldplay fans already have a safe space. Concerts were my refuge, my sanctuary, the place where I could belt out the “oh-oh-ohs” of Viva la Vida with no fear of social calamity. (At the last show I attended, we fans really pushed our luck, continuing to sing the refrain en masse between the Emirates Stadium and Arsenal station. Miraculously, no one beat us up.) A Coldplay show forges an alliance of the uncool. Given the adversity we face as Coldplay fans in the outside world, it’s all the more moving to join voices; it’s practically all we can do to keep from joining hands and bawling together at the sheer beauty of it all.
Some disdain the band’s highly singable choruses, their emphasis on strong melody, the clear effort to write songs for a stadium crowd. But when you’re in the stands, those songs offer an impressive demonstration of how tunefulness can build community. If that sounds saccharine to you, fair enough. You’re probably not a Coldplay fan.
Coldplay want to be liked. They write songs people like. That’s why so many people don’t like them. If you are genuinely offended by the inoffensiveness of their music, I can accept that. But I’ll be buying the new album, even if the record store clerk judges me for it.
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