Matty Healy and the Allure of the British Bad Boy

Girls only want one thing, and it’s disgusting. I’m speaking, of course, about a cigarette-flavored, enthusiastically consensual snog with Matty Healy, the controversial 1975 front man Taylor Swift has all but dubbed her new “London Boy.” 

A wise woman once said nothing good starts in a getaway car. But for now they're enjoying patio season in New York City while Healy is on a brief hiatus from a sold-out global tour of his own. The show has been described as a reintroduction to The 1975 at their very best, with Healy at his absolute hottest. Horny clips of him grabbing his crotch, swiveling his hips, sucking thumbs, and unbuttoning his pants to a precarious degree—sometimes with a half-drunk bottle of wine or lit ciggy in hand—started going viral last year during the North American leg of the tour. And frankly, my For You page may never recover. This little bunny hop, below, was inescapable for weeks. I feel lucky to have survived.  

The sex symbol antics are a blend of comedic bit, rock-star archetype meta-commentary, and sincere displays of affection for his fandom, which is largely composed of young women who are much smarter than Healy himself. (And he knows that!) He may be the ultimate “I can fix him.” He spent most of his early 20s grappling with fame and addiction, then figuring out how to become truly dateable perhaps for the first time. Now in his early 30s, he’s California sober, and his dark curls are going gray in all the right places. He's still a rock star, but his rough edges have been sanded down a bit by rehab and therapy. What's left is a man desperately trying to enter his Nice Guy era. 

If he can manage to get out of his own way, that is. Healy recently put himself in hot water yet again when jokes he made on shock jock podcast The Adam Friedland Show were “misconstrued” (his word) as racist and sexist. He subsequently issued an apology to rapper Ice Spice, saying, “Ice Spice, I’m sorry. It’s not because I’m annoyed that me joking got misconstrued. It’s because I don’t want Ice Spice to think I’m a dick.”

Because of all this, it's surprising to some that Swift would align herself with someone so, well, messy. But Swift and Healy have dated before, a decade-old rumor that’s finally crystallizing into fact. Their “flirtation” was too brief to generate much gossip before fizzling out somewhere in between Swift’s confirmed relationships with Harry Styles and Calvin Harris. Back then, Healy winced at the notion of being best known as “Taylor Swift’s boyfriend.” Now he’s flying in from Manila to shake it off in the VIP section of her sold-out Nashville tour stop three nights in a row. On night two he was spotted swaying and singing along to “Lover” with a hand placed tenderly over his heart. At the final show of the weekend, he turned up in a 1989 ringer tee reminiscent of the one he used to sport onstage circa 2014. It was shameless fangirl behavior the likes of which I haven’t seen since Olivia Wilde did a backbend at Harry Styles’s Long Island Love on Tour stop. But I'm of the opinion that it’s romantic to debase yourself for love. Unless you’re Tom Hiddleston, I guess, in which case it’s irredeemably cringe to declare your devotion to Taylor Swift via tank top. 

The allure of the British bad boy, I'm convinced, is all about tension. The contrast of crooked teeth and stylish trousers, naughty behavior and unexpectedly good manners. The cultural friction between English stoicism and punk. The juxtaposition of a dirty joke told with an aristocratic-sounding accent. 

But what exactly is it about this pretentious, under-six-feet-tall man that makes fans want to hurl braspanties, and Plan B onto the stage to get his attention? Or beg to be the lucky guy or girl he plucks from the front row to kiss during “Robbers," the band’s Tumblr-defining ode to toxic love? 

“He may be one of the last true rock stars,” explains music marketing manager Rrita Hashani. “I think he's a fantastic lyricist, and many of us have been pining after him since the early Tumblr days. You have to remember that 1975 came out in, like, the mid-to-post-peak One Direction era. Liking The 1975 felt cooler than liking 1D.”

For aspiring Nashville pop star John Ly, the fantasy is predicated partly on believing anyone, under the right circumstances, might be able to bag him. “I think the appeal of Matt Healy is that he seems to not care,” Ly says. “Of course it helps that he is British, but it's the 'I don't give a fuck' attitude that is so attractive. He says what he wants, kisses whoever he wants, and does whatever he wants. He just seems so accessible too; he isn't a celebrity that will ignore his fans. He gives me hope, like if I went to his concert, he would kiss me because I'm hot…I am Pamela Anderson, and he is my Tommy.”

(Notably, Healy declined to do a “Robbers” kiss at the London show where Swift casually showed up in full “Mirrorball” regalia, took a sip of his abandoned cocktail, and performed a cover of The 1975’s “The City.” Per concertgoers, Healy later told the audience: “I’m not kissing anybody in front of Taylor Swift. Have some respect. In front of the queen? It’s not happening!” After the show, Healy’s mother took a picture with Swift backstage.)

Brooklyn comedian and socialite Moira Vaughn says she never liked the band’s music until she started paying attention to Healy's offstage persona. One of his greatest strengths—and weaknesses—as an artist is that he's chronically online. 

“That's when I started being like, ‘Oh, he’s the sexiest guy ever,’” she says. “He has the irony brain of a weird Twitter guy but all the charm and mannerisms and characteristics of a real rock star. His shows are even more bait because he knows how to sell sex in a way that is grimy and sort of punkish, which we are so diluted from that now and everyone is too busy trying to be smol beans for teenage girls. He's what Harry Styles wants to be when he goes onstage, but Harry is too commercial and doesn't have the same panache.”

It bears mentioning that in certain circles Healy has been “soft-canceled,” if not outright canceled, for a smattering of offenses: gaslighting former girlfriends, insensitive jokes, ham-fisted political messaging, and mostly, a moth-to-flame attraction to controversy. Although those dust-ups seem to have only drawn some fans closer to him. 

“As the band started to blow up, it led to more people being like, 'He's racist, sexist, etc. Look at all the hateful things he says,’” says tour marketing manager Bia Jaime. “The more he is misunderstood by the general public, the more connected to him I feel in a way. He's not so DGAF that he doesn't take responsibility when he does something actually wrong, which for a man is rare.”

What's kept Bia coming back all these years is that Healy makes an effort to acknowledge his most devoted fans by peppering his work with Easter eggs intended specifically for them. It's a love language, really—one Healy and Swift both use to build rich worlds for their respective fandoms. “I think being a Matty stan is one of those ‘the girls that get it, get it’ scenarios,” Bia says. 

How do you solve a problem like Matty Healy? That's easy—you don't. “Ultimately, if I were to date this man, I think he'd be great for a fun time but not a long time,” Hashani says. And therein lies the truth about the British bad boy: They'll make you question your morals. But I'm of the opinion that lusting after someone is not an unreserved endorsement. We're not talking about marriage; we're talking about the stuff of (wet) dreams. The man will always be imperfect, but the fantasy of him doesn’t have to be. 

Originally Appeared on Glamour