Living out with friends demands a number of sacrifices: complying with the cleaning rota, avoiding the 4am door knock by remembering your keys, and showing restraint over the communal milk.
But perhaps the most frustrating sacrifice I’ve had to make is to curtail my shower playlist. It turns out that paying £140 weekly rent buys walls that are no better insulated than Bruce Willis’ head, and so the music one plays in the bathroom is readily broadcast throughout the house. Though any arbitration from housemates generally remains unspoken, we are all acutely aware of the judgement that is certainly taking place.
For this reason, I’m not convinced that my housemates are genuine in their shower-music selections. The number of times I’ve woken to the techno car-crash that is Travis Scott’s ‘Sicko Mode’ or, even worse, Katy B’s ‘On a Mission’, doesn’t bear thinking about. This is not to say that I myself haven’t been guilty of succumbing to musical peer pressure. I like the Arctic Monkeys but often find myself substituting them for the Coral to please my Liverpudlian friend on the top floor. I also have a soft spot for Maroon 5, but don’t want my edgier cohabiters to think I’m stuck in 2002.
However, the band that seems to be met with the most disdain is Coldplay.
Before coming to Oxford, I was blissfully unaware of the contempt that people seem to have for Coldplay’s music. Taking evidence from Oxfess, that well-reputed barometer of student public opinion, submission #27621 writes: “Imagine getting to uni and not being out of your Coldplay phase yet”. Meanwhile, the architect of #26221 listens to Coldplay when working “Not because they are any good, but because their lyrics are so meaningless”.
On the one occasion that I decided to face my musical demons this term – I’d had a tough day, so blasted ‘Fix You’ in the shower at full volume – my enjoyment was tempered by the knowledge that my housemates would be desperate to uncover the identity of the guilty party. Indeed, I was being lampooned before I’d even crossed the bathroom threshold. Letting Chris Martin’s dulcet tones drown my sorrows was apparently so embarrassing that it was worth telling mutual friends away from home, who duly succeeded in propelling their anti-Coldplay comedic ammunition my way in the coming days. No-one ever said it would be this hard (The Scientist, 2002).
But I am not willing to succumb to this (what I would call) quasi-blasphemy. I believe that, beneath the surface, people like Coldplay more than they are willing to admit to.
Albums like X&Y (2005), A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002) and Parachutes (2000) remain as iconic today as they did upon their release. They are filled with instantly recognisable tracks, all elegantly constructed to draw on a wide range of emotions. ‘Yellow’, ‘Fix You’ and ‘The Scientist’ tug at our heartstrings. ‘Viva La Vida’ and ‘Life in Technicolor’ give us new lease of life whilst ‘Don’t Panic’ and ‘Speed of Sound’ comfort us. Coldplay’s songs are played at funerals, in nightclubs, over YouTube montages, and in showers across the globe. Their omnipresence is a reminder of the band’s mastery, not their genericity.
Naturally, I’m prepared to concede some ground in the face of criticism. Coldplay’s last two albums – Ghost Stories (2014) and A Head Full of Dreams (2015) – were nothing short of dreadful, not to mention their ear-splitting collaboration with the Chainsmokers in 2017. For modern Coldplay, genericity has become the rule rather than the exception. But making mistakes is the essence of making art, and career missteps are made all the more likely with the promise of lucrative financial contracts. Take the Black Eyed Peas as an example. What started as a funky hip-hop band wholeheartedly lost its musical edge as it capitulated to fame and the pop industry. Godforsaken tracks like ‘Boom Boom Pow’ and ‘My Humps’ – in which Fergie raps passionately about her ‘lady lumps’ – are certainly hard to erase from the memory. But despite their contemporary decline, the ingenuity and excitement of the Black Eyed Peas’ earlier works remains no less apparent. If we can forgive the Peas for their foray into the world of pop, we can forgive Coldplay; we should continue to revel in the excellence of their former albums without embarrassment. Chris Martin himself gave a worryingly accurate prediction of the future of his band back in 2002 (in ‘A Rush of Blood to the Head’: “I know the mistakes that I’ve made”.
Of course, one’s taste in music is subjective. But Coldplay, more than many bands, have been successful in blurring the line between the subjective and the objective. Their music is not ‘cringeworthy’ or ‘meaningless’. It is emotive and, dare I say it, timeless. I am pleased to disclose that ‘Fix You’ is now regularly features on the shower playlists of my housemates.