"I Used to Ruuuule the World"--The Surprising Cultural Dominance and Irrelevance of Coldplay
Last week we posted “Everything Wrong with Coldplay’s Paradise”, which turned out to be a little controversial. Viewers tended to be polarized between staunch defense of their favorite band or open contempt of this disgusting product that was presented to them. Not to get into the EWW video itself (which we have not and will never do), but it provoked some more thought and discussion about Coldplay.
Whether we all like it or not, we’re living in an era where the most popular rock bands are, in some order, Maroon 5, Imagine Dragons, and Coldplay (still!). Foo Fighters may have been in the conversation a few years ago, but they never translated to modern pop radio after 1997’s The Colour and the Shape. Coldplay’s “most popular rock band” dominance since the early to mid-2000s has been almost unmatched in recent history; for example, U2 had their ups and downs over the years, with many challengers both nipping at their heels and eventually overtaking them. I’ll get into other examples of this in a future post.
So why the hate for Chris Martin and Co? They’ve released solid albums, remained likable in public forums, toured extensively, and changed up their collective look for each era (a la the Beatles - starting with the preppy look, then the Sgt. Pepper costumes, then… whatever happened to them after the India trip). I still remember seeing the “Yellow” video for the first time around 2000 (at a sandwich shop in Bloomington, IN… Dagwoods! You should totally try it out if you’re ever, you know, in Bloomington) and thinking “Ah, ok, this looks kind of like Radiohead-lite”, which it was, but, after the decline of Radiohead’s output quality after 2000’s Kid A, was that such a bad thing? Coldplay has ripped off a lot of previous bands, but at least they were generally the right ones.
To get into a little more detail, let’s play a game, ranking all the Coldplay albums on a homemade scale of 1-5 “Bemused Gwyneth Paltrows”. The rating from Pitchfork.com are included to give us some context, and to remind us that those guys hate everything unless it’s produced by Brian Eno.
Parachutes (2000) Pitchfork Score (5.3/10) – There were 3 EPs released prior to this, but Parachutes was essentially the starting line for Coldplay. This gave us “Yellow” “Shiver” and “Trouble” as the hits, although the former was the only one that really translated in the US. Generally innocuous, this is the record that your hipster friends were still ok with in 2000. They preferred Modest Mouse or Bright Eyes, but were ok with Parachutes.
Rating: 3.5 Bemused Gwyneth Paltrows
A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002) Pitchfork Score (5.1/10) – Well, this is where sh*t started getting real. This is in the running for the biggest album of the last 15 years, up there with any Taylor Swift, Eminem, Adele, or Andrea Bocelli drop. Everyone had this record, and the songs were ubiquitous. It came out when the Alternative radio channels were still popular, and Sirius/XM was just starting to get legs, so the distribution pathways were numerous. Not to mention the songs were epic, not only in quality, but in scope. “The Scientist”, “Clocks”, “In My Place” were all gigantic hits, and Coldplay became a legitimate arena rock band, not just a curiosity.
Rating: 5 Totally Bemused Gwyneth Paltrows
X&Y (2005) Pitchfork Score (4.9/10) – Pardon the blasphemy, but X&Y was Coldplay’s Houses of the Holy, with A Rush of Blood to the Head as their Zeppelin IV. By this I mean the single “Fix You” was their “Over the Hills and Far Away” and the rest of the album is essentially… well, Houses of the Holy. Contrasted with albums yet to come, this is the least amount of growth/change between two projects, with most of the hits (“Speed of Sound”, “Talk”, “The Hardest Part”) sounding like outtakes from the previous record. Although, “Fix You” did inspire the best “Old-people-covering-a-song-that-will-make-you-tear-up-a-bit-unless-you’re-a-heartless-bastard” video.
Rating: Gwyneth Paltrow at the 2014 Golden Globes
Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (2008) Pitchfork Score (6.9/10) – We’ve reached the point when Coldplay threw all their hoodies and ripped jeans in the garbage disposal and got a new look. The updated aesthetic ran between “dumpster dive chic” to “military garb purchased at the Army Surplus shop”. Nevertheless, the music graduated from the by-now-typical mid-tempo ballad structure to a more complex presentation, no doubt largely influenced by the producer, Brian Eno. Buoyed by prominent placement on an iTunes commercial (which will be a funny thing to remember about the 2000s), the big hit off of this was “Viva la Vida”, which ascended (or descended, depending on your point of view) to heavy play on pop radio, easy listening, rock, alternative, and every other genre station. Otherwise, the songs were very good (“Lost!”, despite its audaciously punctuated title, is the closest thing to an old Coldplay song… a good old Coldplay song, and “Violet Hill” probably should have been another hit), but didn’t translate into the popular zeitgeist.
Rating: 4 Bemused, but Befuddled Gwyneth Paltrows
Mylo Xyloto (2011) Pitchfork Score (7/10) – Continuing with the theme of progress and change, the band adopted a neon look that could best be described as “enthusiastic rave gear”. Again produced by Eno, this album was a rock opera, which was lost on most of the public, since by 2011 no one purchased albums or gave a sh*t about concept records. But seriously, this was the background:
“Mylo Xyloto is a concept album and a thematic rock opera. The album tells the story of a war against sound and colour by a supremeist government, set in the world of Silencia, an Orwellian society. Silencia has been taken over by a supremacist government, led by Major Minus, who controls the population through media and propaganda. His aim is to take sound and colour off the streets in hope to draw away "feeders", creatures that use such energy to hunt its prey. The album follows Mylo, a "silencer", who is one of an army tasked to hunt and track down "sparkers", people who harness light and energy and use it to create sparks, comparable to graffiti in real life. He comes across Xyloto, a sparker who is the most wanted by Major Minus. Through Xyloto, Mylo discovers his sparker abilities and his affiliation with the Car Kids, a major sparker faction founded by Mylo's parents Aiko and Lela. Drummer Will Champion has noted that the album is a story of the characters "falling in love and trying to escape together", with a general theme of "love conquering all".” – (Wikipedia)
Did you know that? I didn’t know that. Anyway, this is where we get “Paradise”, which was the highest charting single and second weirdest video behind the Rihanna-assisted “Princess of China”. That actually happened.
Rating: Gwyneth Paltrow in Shallow Hal
Ghost Stories (2014) Pitchfork Score (4.4/10) – After years of moving away from their central thesis as a band, Ghost Stories feels like a return to Ol’ Coldplay, or at least an amalgam of the previous 5 albums. Despite the fact that the single “Magic” is essentially a repurposing of Muse’s “Madness” with a sillier video, the record was generally well received.
Rating: 3 Bemused and Consciously Separated Gwyneth Paltrows
So now, after looking closely and not finding any huge stinkers, it really looks like Coldplay has always been and will continue to be the most generally inoffensive “biggest band in the world”. That is, until 5 Seconds of Summer decide to stop covering the Romantics and start writing some f*cking pop ballads.
You can give Barrett a good talking-to on the Music Video Sins Twitter page, if you like.