How Coldplay Became Cool. Wait–What?

About ten years ago, someone asked me why Coldplay was so popular. “It’s simple,” I said, “No one really hates Coldplay. They either really like what they do or they’re, like, ‘meh.’ They’re innocuous. No one really hates Coldplay.”

But that was during the Rush of Blood to the Head days, before Coldplay became ubiquitous, Chris Martin’s uber-earnestness and the whole Gwyneth thing. Coldplay hate became common.

Take the fuss surrounding Coldplay’s performance at Super Bowl 50. “Nothing says ‘NFL football’ like Coldplay,” said more than one person. Martin himself admits that he really doesn’t get American football.

Yet there are those say that Coldplay is, in fact, quite cool. Let me point you to this article at Salon:

While Beyoncé’s presence is mollifying critics somewhat, many people are not pleased with the decision to feature Coldplay. A common complaint is that the band’s music is boring or sleepy. That’s not necessarily wrong: At their least successful, Coldplay are indeed soporific and mellow (see: 2014’s “Magic”), and coast on frothy falsetto and saccharine sentiments (e.g., “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall”) rather than structure. As Andy Gill wrote in 2008, “Their music sounds like Radiohead with all the spiky, difficult, interesting bits boiled out of it, resulting in something with the sonic consistency of wilted spinach; it retains the crowd-pleasing hooks and sing-along choruses while dispensing with the more challenging, dissonant aspects and sudden, 90-degree shifts in direction.”

However, the band’s certainly sensitive to such jabs. In 2005, the Associated Press noted that “when the New York Daily News panned its concert as dull because of a concentration of slow-moving songs, Coldplay changed its set.” More recently, the band’s moved to freshen up their sound: In a change from the muted approach of 2014’s “Ghost Stories,” their latest LP, “A Head Full of Dreams,” boasts both contemporary-sounding synthpop and brighter production from Norwegian producers Stargate. “We wanted to marry all the music that we love, from Drake to Oasis,” Chris Martin told Rolling Stone about the record. “There was a feeling that we don’t have anything to lose. We’re very comfortable now with the fact that we’re not for everybody.” Sure, the last statement is one only massive superstars have the luxury of saying—Coldplay’s not hurting for fans, so critical barbs don’t make a dent in their trajectory—but it does underscore that they’re self-aware about their place in music.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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