February 29, 2024

Three months after he kissed the 1975 bassist Ross MacDonald onstage in Malaysia and slammed the country’s anti-LGBTQ laws, Matty Healy has addressed the controversial incident that led to the cancelation of the Good Vibes Festival and apparently left the band “briefly imprisoned.”

During the 1975’s headlining performance at the Kuala Lumpur festival in July, Healy said before kissing MacDonald on the mouth: “I don’t see the fucking point… of inviting the 1975 to a country and then telling us who we can have sex with… I’m sorry if that offends you, and you’re religious… but your government are a bunch of fucking r——.” The Malaysian government canceled the remaining two days of the Good Vibes Festival, as fest organizers demanded that the British band pay $2.6 million in damages.

During a 1975 performance in Fort Worth, Texas, Healy delivered a 10-minute pre-written speech about the incident, alleging that “the Malaysian authorities… briefly imprisoned us” and blasting the backlash against the band.

“It was the liberal outrage against our band for remaining consistent with our pro-LGBTQ stage show which was the most puzzling thing,” Healy said in Fort Worth on Monday night (via Pitchfork). “Lots of people, who appear to be liberal people, contended that the performance was an insensitive display of hostility against the cultural customs of the Malaysian government and that the kiss was a performative gesture of allyship.”

In response to those calling the kiss “performative,” Healy said, “The idea of calling out a performer for being performative is mind-numbingly redundant as an exercise. Performing is a performer’s job.” And to those who claimed the action was “a form of colonialism,” Healy contended: “To call the 1975’s performance colonialism is a complete inversion of the word’s meaning… We have no [power] at all to enforce will on anyone in Malaysia. In fact, it was the Malaysian authorities who briefly imprisoned us.”

While many 1975 fans lauded the band for protesting oppressive legislation in Malaysia, others — including Julian Casablancas, who was scheduled to perform at the Good Vibes Festival with the Strokes — criticized Healy for not respecting the country’s customs and expressed concern over who would face consequences for his actions.

“For performers like Julian Casablancas, who took to Twitter to criticize us, this bizarre mangling of colonial identity politics merely served as an expedient way to express their own disappointment with the festival’s cancellation,” Healy said. “These are the kind of mental gymnastics that are employed by celebrities to save face with their liberal-appearing audience, who delight in having their favorite academic catchphrases parroted at them… Leveling accusations of colonialism against Western critics is by now a standard PR procedure in the authoritarian theocracy playbook.”

Healy also clarified that the smooch was “not a stunt simply meant to provoke the government.” In fact, Healy had kissed MacDonald during many of the 1975’s American concerts.

“We chose to not change our set that night to play pro-freedom of speech, pro-gay songs,” Healy said. “To eliminate any routine part of the show in an effort to appease the Malaysian authorities’ bigoted views of LGBTQ people would be a passive endorsement of those politics. As liberals are so fond of saying, ‘Silence equals violence. Use your platform.’ So we did that. And that’s where things got complicated.”

Healy continued, “Naturally, the Malaysian authorities were irate, because homosexuality is criminalized and punishable by death in their authoritarian theocracy. That is the violent reality obscured by the more friendly term of ‘cultural customs.’”

Immediately following the Good Vibes Festival incident, a representative for the 1975 told Variety, “Matty has a long-time record of advocating for the LGBTQ+ community, and the band wanted to stand up for their LGBTQ+ fans and community.”

In 2019, Healy pulled a similar stunt in Dubai, kissing a male fan onstage to protest the United Arab Emirates’ legislative attacks against queer people. Being gay in the UAE can land residents up to 15 years in prison. Healy wrote on Twitter at the time: “I don’t think we’ll be allowed back [in the UAE] due to my ‘behaviour’ but know that I love you and I wouldn’t have done anything differently given the chance again.”

Healy said on Monday: “If you truly believe that artists have a responsibility to uphold their liberal virtues by using their massive platforms, then those artists should be judged by the danger and inconvenience that they face for doing so, not by the rewards they receive for parroting consensus. There’s nothing particularly stunning or brave about changing your fucking profile picture whilst your sat in your house in Los Angeles.”

Toward the end of his speech, Healy compared “Malaysia’s militarized enforcement of laws” to other politicized issues in the U.S. “Even here in America, there’s loads of states which uphold illiberal laws that restrict people’s bodily autonomy and gender expression,” Healy said. “But I suspect, I’ve got an inkling, that those who took to Twitter to voice their outrage over the 1975’s unwillingness to cater to Malaysian customs would find it abhorrent if the 1975 were to acquiesce to, let’s say, Mississippi’s perspective on abortion or trans rights.”

He concluded: “It should be expected that if you invite dozens of Western performers into your country, they’ll bring their Western values with them. If the very same things which made you aware of them could land them in jail in your country, you’re not actually inviting them to perform. You’re indirectly commanding them to reflect your country’s policies by omission.”

Variety has reached out to a representative of the band and the Malaysia Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture for comment.

Watch Healy’s full speech below.

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