The 1975’s Stunt: A Legacy of Colonialism

Matty Healy, the controversial leading man of The 1975. Credit: Kristy Sparow/Getty Images


Recently, Malaysian concert-goers were left disappointed when they came to witness their favorite band perform but received an unexpected lecture laden with profanities instead.

The white savior rant by Matty Healy, the lead singer for The 1975, attempted to espouse lofty values such as human rights, inclusivity, and respect for all. But in doing so, he breached their performance contract, deliberately disregarded the law, showed no concern for their fans and gravely disrespected Malaysians in many aspects.

Ironically, Healy has had a history of making offensive remarks about women and people of other races. For example, when he was a guest host in the podcast “The Adam Friedland Show”, Healy called Ice Spice, an American female rapper, “dumb”.

Later in the episode, Healy joined the hosts to mimic a Japanese accent and acted how it would be like working as a Japanese in concentration camps. The episode that has caused an uproar among listeners and was subsequently removed.

In addition, Healy has also angered Muslim communities in other countries such as the United Arab Emirates for similar acts done in Malaysia.

The Imposition of a Singular Worldview

Looking at his previous behavior, should we really be surprised by the irresponsible actions of a man who appears to enjoy provoking people on sensitive issues and exhibits symptoms of white supremacy? The more important question is, what drives such misbehavior?

The fundamental problem lies in the popular belief that only one worldview is deemed legitimate.

Ironically, the enforcement of “universal” human rights operates on the premise that it should not be questioned, which results in the neglect of other moral and cultural values different from the dominant worldview.

This conception of rights is being actively promoted by certain powerful countries, such as former colonial masters, that have a different worldview, who therefore feel entitled to dictate what the entire world should believe in and practice.

Healy’s stunt was an attempt to “educate” Malaysians and the Government that he knew better, his way of life is superior – therefore others who do not follow suit are automatically in the wrong.

Although Britain has officially ended their legacy of colonialism, the spirit of white supremacy is very much alive and continues to be practiced. Post-colonial theorists’ have elaborated on the colonialist production of knowledge, whereby Ania Loomba said “It included a clash with and a marginalization of the knowledge and belief systems of those who were conquered.”

Vinay Lal added that non-Western conceptions of knowledge are often dismissed as being in conflict with the “accepted” notions of the dominant West: the problem of knowledge – the manner in which it is embedded in systems of thought that have monopolized our capacity to comprehend the world, narrowed our options of resistance, assaulted the dignity of particular histories and cultures, demeaned the faculties of the imagination, and compromised the futures of people around the world – will haunt us in the 21st century.

Edward Said, Frantz Fanon and Syed Hussein Al-Attas also elaborated that anything falling within the Western framework is deemed to be valid and legitimate, and all else is generally brushed aside as primitive, regressive, irrational, superstitious, extreme, and various other negative categorizations. The dominant Western narrative on “modernity” usually does not take heed of diversity of cultural values, which is used to legitimize the creation of boundaries and justify the exploitation of others.

In addition, scholars who have studied Islamophobia describe this common phenomenon as a discriminatory practice against what is perceived as “civilizational backwardness” which is “amplified and strengthened by the constant humiliation of Muslims and Muslim lifestyle in the media and social media in Muslim countries.”

False Heroism

Here, the act of The 1975 went beyond the humiliation of Muslims to include gross disregard for local norms and blatant disrespect of all Malaysians regardless of races or religions.

As Malaysians with own belief system, we need to be weary when faced with attempts to erase our cultural, ethical and moral values for a worldview deemed more superior. The political stunt that Healy pulled may have been done under the pretext of freedom of expression, but his purpose and act were not aligned with the true meaning of freedom.

Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas offers his take on what true freedom means: “Freedom is to act as one’s real and true nature demands – that is, as one’s haqq and one’s fitrah demands – and so only the exercise of that choice of which is good can properly be called ‘free choice’. A choice for the better is therefore an act of freedom and it is also known as an act of justice (‘adl) done to oneself.”

In the Malaysian context, the conception of freedom should be to achieve justice and the framework of human rights should be based on the similarities of cultural, ethical, and moral values that exist between and practiced by the different races in this country. All religions espouse values and virtues such as honesty, respecting others, upholding justice, equality among people and many more.

Healy’s actions certainly did not result in justice or benefit of any kind to anyone. In fact, he has caused more tension and discord by amplifying perceptions that “they” are not compatible with “us”. The Malaysian stage only served as a platform for grandeur acts of “heroism” when in fact, it is indicative of his state of mind that is far from being truly inclusive of belief systems different to his own. Therefore, we must refrain from falling into these traps and avoid blindly adopting a way of life that may not be aligned with our worldview because what we believe is legitimate, too.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of STRAT.O.SPHERE CONSULTING PTE LTD.

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  • Dr Murni Wan Mohd Nor is a senior lecturer at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and a research associate at the Institute for Social Science (IPSAS, UPM). Her research interests are on issues of hate speech, Islamophobia, and media representation on racial and religious issues. She is passionate about preventing hate speech and extremism through a holistic framework involving a multi-stakeholder approach. Dr Murni is also active in training and advocacy programs on anti-racism education. Her upcoming children's book entitled "When Love Heals Hate" highlights that hatred CAN be overcome through kindness and compassion.

  • Sofiya Wan Mohd Nor has a Bachelor's degree in international studies and global security with a focus in the Middle East from the UW-Madison. She also obtained a Master of Arts in Strategic and Defense Studies from the University of Malaya. Currently, she is a PhD student majoring in Educational Psychology at Universiti Putra Malaysia. Her research interests include the impact of social media on young adults, and youth resilience.