Upon listening to “If I Believe You” by The 1975, I was able to mine a vast sense of depth out of it after some quality solo time with the song. When listening to a section that resonates with me, I started to understand a more intricate meaning based on the icons and motifs presented throughout the song. The band spares no time at all as the acute intentionality of the song begins within a “prologue” of sorts followed by its first few bars. However, to understand the full three-dimensionality of the song, the message of the chorus must be interpreted, thus greatly rewarding those who really listen to the song more than once.
The song employs the use of an organ and backup choir in the chorus to serve as an icon for religion, whereas the semantics of the lyrics discuss atheism. The music completely juxtaposes the lyrical message being presented in the song, as the song discusses themes of atheism and the social burdens that come along with it. This in conjunction with a build up of icons evoking certain emotions or ideas help to directly convey the pain felt by the lead singer, Matt Healy. To deeper understand what Matt Healy intends for his audience, one must examine the song further than the chorus.
There are a plethora of icons used to convey Healy’s sense of isolation in the song. For example, the song begins with the low sound of an organ, then continues to include the sound of children laughing and playing. The sound of children is used as an icon for innocence, and how Healy lost his with his “revelation” which is later addressed in the song.
Furthermore, when the “revelation” comes up in the song, it is followed by adults screaming— maybe as if they were losing their innocence. This is followed by the main point of the song, which directly addresses the artist’s atheism.
“And then I had a revelation. / OhhhOh / I mean if it was you that made my body, you probably shouldn’t have made me atheist.”
These points are accompanied by a smooth transition into the juxtaposing chorus of the church choir accompanying the chorus, while the lyrics express pain and frustration with religion.
“And if I believe you / would that make it stop? / If I told you I need you, / is that what you want?”
The chorus of the song opens with a smooth beat from an organ followed with Healy uttering the above lyrics. The message presented in the semantics of the song discusses Healy’s atheist questions toward “‘You’ [God, (or just the idea of some type of higher power)]”. However, the organ/choir icon serves as a vehicle to suggest religion, which directly juxtaposes the lyrics. These lines in conjunction with the choir and organ serve as a motif reminding the listeners that the idea of religion, and notion of his belief, are causing great cognitive dissonance inside his head.
The message and emotion felt by Healy is mainly conveyed through the use of musical icons. The icons help with the chronological story telling within the song. It starts with children and as the idea of atheism is abstractly discussed before the “revelation,” when the semantic message of the song seems to be indecisive.
However, after the “revelation,” atheism is directly discussed after being prefaced by the interjection of the adult choir. Following, the message clearly being stated, the song segues into the chorus again which further solidifies his internal conflict with religion.
This clash is perfectly represented through the musical icon standing for religion playing under the semantic message of atheism. Using all of these techniques in “If I Believe You,” The 1975 creates a song that can speak through its lyricism or musicality individually, if scrutinized in that way. However, examining these facets in the context of a symbiotic relationship, a perfect a sonic representation of the internal conflict of social isolation felt in one’s relationship or lack thereof to religion, is expertly depicted.
Below are two links to the song to check it out yourself. One is a live version to see how they perform the song, and the other is the original studio version