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I'm Clifford Stumme, and I use literary analysis and research to explain the deeper meanings of pop songs. Feel free to leave a comment or to email me at clifford@popsongprofessor.com with questions or ideas!

What does "Sincerity Is Scary" by The 1975 mean?

What does "Sincerity Is Scary" by The 1975 mean?

“Sincerity Is Scary” Lyrics Meaning

(The following blog post is a transcript created by Xalma of the below video.)

Alright, this time we are going to talk about “Sincerity Is Scary” by The 1975; this song is written by Matty Healy, the lead singer of the band, and this is so exciting for me, because it means that we are going to be talking about one of my favourite controversial philosophical topics, and that’s Postmodernity.

Let me give you a brief overview of Postmodernity real quick, before jumping into the song, because trust me, it’s really important to know. Basically, the dominant philosophy, particularly in the United States of the times, back in the early 1900’s was something that is called Modernism, or Modernity; and it was this trust that we could figure out the truth, we could figure out the best way to do things, because we believed in science a lot, we believed that science will help us make a better world; and it was kind of like humanity giving itself a pat on the back, and saying “We’ve got this!”.
Well, along came two World Wars, the Vietnam War, lots of assassinations, a lot of racism, a lot of sexism, and a lot of really bad stuff; and everybody started particularly in the 1970’s to feel like “Oh shoot! Actually, I don’t think that we know what we’re doing here!”
So, Modernity gave way to Postmodernity, which is basically questioning  both, the truth and the authority themselves, it is saying “Just because somebody believing that it’s true, doesn’t meant that it is true. Not just because some old white dude tells me XZY, does it mean I have to believe XYZ”.
So Postmodernity has resulted in a lot of people feeling philosophically on their own, and away from other people, which caused them to find a way to protect themselves emotionally, because they thought “Apparently we don’t really know what’s true, so we’ll have to watch out for ourselves”. Which particularly in art, has led to a lot of self-awareness, self-referentialism, and irony; people masked their true feelings with irony and sarcasm, so they control how people see them; self-referentialism like in Monty Python, Deadpool, or Ferris Bueller's Day Off; this sort of breaking the forth wall, it has become a huge part of art; but not only does Deadpool self-image manage in his movies, but also people self-image manage in their conversations; we hear a lot of people referring to like “I’m not THAT kind of a person”, or you hear somebody talking about themselves and then following it up with “… He said!”
It resulted to a lot of irony, and sarcasm, and the unwillingness to completely say something, or to commit to something, because you’re so sure that somebody else with a slightly different version of the story, or the truth, that is going to jump on your case and completely prove how you’re wrong in some way. So rather to put your feelings out there, you will kind of make ironic jokes, which takes a little bit of cleverness, but takes no courage at all; a really good example of that is somebody walking into a bar and saying “Man! I really love Amish romance fiction!”, and so everybody in the bar looks at him like “Are you freaking kidding me? Are you stupid?” and the person there quickly put on their ironic armour and then he says: “Ha! I was only practicing what an idiot would say”, all while dying inside. It’s ironic, it’s sarcastic, it’s him not showing what he truly feels, and it’s him being self-referential.
All of that was because people have a lot of sometimes slightly different perspectives on truth, and I think a big motivating factor for a lot of people today is to be very careful to not look like idiots when people are disagreeing with them.

So! What does all of that have to do with “Sincerity Is Scary” by The 1975? Well, we get into verse one here and we hear,

 

Verse One

And irony is okay, I suppose
Culture is to blame
You try and mask your pain in the most postmodern way
You lack substance when you say
Something like, "Oh, what a shame"

 

which is actually something that Matt has written as lyrics in the past in songs, “Oh what a shame! I guess that’s not a big of a deal!” but it was of course about something that was kind of a big deal.

 

It's just a self-referential way
That stops you havin' to be human

 

and that what people do sometimes, when they take irony and sarcasm too far, it’s when you take those honest true human emotions, and you end up being like a cold metallic heartless robot.
The pre-chorus jumps into this weird discussion about this relationship, that even Matty Healy has admitted it’s a bit out of context of this song, but he kind of mention it again in the chorus and say,

 

Chorus

Why can't we be friends, when we are lovers?
'Cause it always ends with us hating each other

 

so, instead of tearing each other using sarcastic, ironic, and sardonic comments, why can’t we just sincerely enjoy each other? Isn’t that better that of having to “seem cool” instead? After that we jump to verse two, where he says,

 

Verse Two

And why would you believe you could control how you're perceived

 

that’s a big part of Postmodernity, being very careful about your image management,

 

When at you're best you're intermediately versed in your own feelings?

 

like, you know your feelings, why can’t you just enjoy them? Why can’t you just be them?

 

Keep on putting off conceiving
It's only you that you're deceiving
Oh, don't have a child, don't cramp your style, I'll leave it

 

he’s basically saying that we shouldn’t be doing what everybody else is doing, just because everybody else is doing it, we just need to be ourselves.

And in the outro, we hear Matt being sincere himself, saying

 

Outro

I'm just pissed off because you pied me off

 

Which is what I think is a British slang for saying “I wanted to kiss you, but you left me hanging”

 

After your show when you let go of my hand
In front of some sket who wanted to bitch

 

showing that he was emotionally vulnerable in that moment, he asked to kiss her, but he didn’t get to, and that by him telling us that, is him doing what the song is telling us; it is being sincere and vulnerable in a scary way.

Let’s see what he has to say about the lyrics himself,

I’ve become so aware of the shtick that exists within my kind of lyrical narrative as well, because obviously I love everything that I’ve done previously but now as I got older I see these kind of defense mechanisms whether they be jokes or being slightly sardonic or like he is the big emotional bit of the song but I’m not going to be really emotional. All those kind of things. I think on this record it’s slightly more, it’s just a bit more open and a bit easier, and genuinely sincere

And that my friends is what the song “Sincerity Is Scary” is about; it’s a fantastic message about being true to yourself, not in an obnoxious way, but in a sincere way, being true to yourself for the sake of your own health, and for the sake of the health of the relationships that you have with other people. It was this emotional and philosophical epiphany that Matty Healy had, and I am glad that he shared it which us.

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