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[The Guardian] Chris Martin: the rock god who thrives in the face of critical sneers


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Chris Martin: the rock god who thrives in the face of critical sneers

Coldplay’s frontman has never been much loved by critics and yet his band, with a new album, still prosper, now being picked as the prestigious Super Bowl act. No wonder he likes being himself


Chris Martin: ‘I don’t want to change places with any person in history.’


In a 2002 interview, Chris Martin was asked whether he believed in himself. At the time, his band, Coldplay, were accelerating to escape velocity. He had just met Gwyneth Paltrow, with whom he would have two children and a 10-year marriage. Jack Nicholson and Minnie Driver had begun to appear at the band’s gigs.


“I had this argument with a friend,” he replied. “This is going to sound really arrogant, but I was trying to say that I was really happy. I said that I don’t want to change places with any person in history, ever. I mean that. I’m petrified of reincarnation because, you know, I like being me.”


Being Chris Martin has continued to prove a successful policy. The Super Bowl turns 50 next year, the biggest show on Earth’s golden jubilee, and all eyes will be on the half-time show. Glastonbury might have more street cred, but for sheer numbers of eyeballs American football is unbeatable. Last year, 118.5 million people watched Katy Perry and Missy Elliott, and for many international viewers the final of the NFL season is little more than a pop concert with a tedious sports event tacked on either side.


Performers are invariably pop aristocracy and treat it with appropriate reverence. In 2013, Beyoncé reunited with Destiny’s Child for the crucial five minutes. In 2014, Red Hot Chili Peppers’s lacklustre set was saved by Bruno Mars. Other recent acts include Prince, the Rolling Stones, the Who and Paul McCartney.


Given this illustrious history, whom would the organisers choose to play in 2016, the grandest spectacle’s grandest year? Coldplay, of course. The biggest band in the world that the British have never entirely taken to heart. On Friday, they announced via Twitter that they had been selected for February’s event in San Francisco. Frontman Chris Martin said it was the highlight of their career, adding that he was “excited and honoured and thrilled”.


The response was mixed. A mob formed on social media, asking whether they were the most appropriate option. One comedian wondered if the music selectors, not the players, should be checked for concussion.


None of which will faze Martin in the slightest. Conveniently, his band also has a new album out this week, A Head Full of Dreams, which they have said may be their last. Reaction has been lukewarm. Pitchfork, a respected music website, gave it 4.8 out of 10, writing that “the band’s relentless campaign to raise our spirits is liable to induce altitude sickness”.


Super Bowl gig can be seen as a final vindication of a career that has always progressed despite – rather than because of – what has been written about him. For critics, he offered a free hit: a public-school boy who writes melodic songs with inclusive lyrics that he sings to enormous crowds the world over. You can hate Martin all you like; he’s still playing Wembley Stadium three times next summer. In 15 years, Coldplay have sold 80m albums.


All four of the band’s members are among the UK’s richest musicians, without any of them ever doing anything more offensive than spending too much time with their preferred charities. If they’re not the biggest band in the world, they’re in the play-offs. They should be heroes and yet something just refuses to click.


Martin’s original misfortune is to be a nice boy from a nice family who makes nice music. The inverted snobbery of the music world means we can take our musicians posh only if they have the good grace to sound a bit rude: Jagger, Strummer, Doherty.


Martin grew up in Whitestone, Devon, in a house with a tennis court and a paddock. His father, an accountant and magistrate, also ran the family caravan business, which he sold in 1999 for nearly £9m. His mother is a teacher, and on her side the Martins are related by marriage to Churchill. He has two brothers and two sisters.


In contrast to other titans of rock, Martin’s childhood seems to have had little visible angst. After prep school in Exeter, he boarded at Sherborne. He was president of a Sting fan club and featured in school bands that played Pet Shop Boys-esque pop and Billy Joel-style honky-tonk piano.


After school, he went to University College London to read ancient world studies and got a first. In his early days at college, he met Jonny Buckland and they decided to form a band, recruiting Guy Berryman on bass and Will Champion on drums. They brought more conventional teen tastes: Radiohead, Echo and the Bunnymen. But goofy, ruthless Martin always had the final say, once even trying – and failing – to sack Champion.


Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin at gala function in Beverly Hills.

Noel Gallagher once said that his songs for Oasis were in part an attempt to recapture the atmosphere of the Maine Road terraces as he grew up. You could argue that early Coldplay sounds like an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of a British boarding school. Their breakthrough hit Shiver is a dorm-room guitar strumathon. In the famous video for

, Martin walks along the beach at Studland Bay, Dorset, in an anorak, like an unusually handsome GCSE student who has slipped his teachers on a geography trip. On the second album, A Rush of Blood to the Head, they went even further: organ-drenched Fix You and Clocks might have been played in chapel. Martin has said that he believes in God and once apologised for taking his name in vain on stage.


The other trappings of newfound stardom barely seemed to register. Martin was a virgin until he was 22, and in the early days of Coldplay allegedly pursued fellow pop stars Nelly Furtado and Natalie Imbruglia, with unconfirmed rates of success. He rarely drinks and doesn’t smoke or take drugs because he doesn’t like being out of control. Fame and money were interesting to him only in the sense that they served the bigger project: becoming the biggest band in the world. “Being nice is a lot easier when you’re loaded,” he said in an early interview. Hardly driving a Roller into the pool.


In 2005, he said that “our [Coldplay’s] goal is to take over from U2. I don’t mean ‘take over’ in a commercial or careerist sense, but in writing songs that move people in a big way.”


Listening again to Coldplay’s albums, you can hear this take form. Each album has gone in a different direction, but the old familiar elements are always in place: intimate lyrics that embrace the transcendental; big choruses; an earnest sense of purpose, through their albums X&Y, Death and All His Friends, Mylo Xyloto. Each time, Martin’s ambition grew larger and the songs expanded to fill his purpose, with ever-more epic pretensions. There was no difficult second or third or fourth or fifth album.


Seemingly diffident, Martin rules the studio with a close eye: against the backdrop of this constant drive to glory, he managed one of the more intriguing, if superficially plain, celebrity relationships of the time. He, the driven but earnest public-school boy, Paltrow, the health-conscious actress. (Paltrow and Martin eventually split, an event forever to be associated with the unforgettable euphemism “conscious uncoupling”, a phrase Paltrow later denied ever having said.)


Martin’s engaging, unashamedly emotional style was hard to hate but hard, truly, to love, except if you were famous: other high-profile friends flocked to them like seagulls. The likes of Jay Z and Beyoncé appeared at concerts. At Glastonbury 2011, Coldplay were set to headline on the Saturday after U2 played on Friday. Martin watched from the sound desk, working out what parts of the Irish band’s stagecraft he could try to ape the following evening.


The band is said to have a checklist on a wall in the studio, in order to ensure quality control as they write material. Groupies and roadies are said to love working with them: they turn up on time and do their jobs. Fans love them: each album has reached number one in the UK and each has created an anthem.


More than a decade on, the description from that interview still fits. Chris Martin believes in himself and the world, it seems, apart from a few remaining sarcastic commentators, believes in him. The tunes are melodic and expansive. There goes the 21st-century British rock star: wildly ambitious, monstrously successful, square as a chessboard.



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final summary from the article (posted separately because too long to post together)




Born Christopher Anthony John Martin in Whitestone, Devon. The eldest of five children, his father is a retired accountant and his mother is a music therapy teacher. Studied ancient world studies at University College London. Separated from Gwyneth Paltrow, with whom he has two children.


Best of times Achieving global domination. Coldplay’s 2005 album, X&Y, and their 2008 album Viva la Vida, were both best-selling albums worldwide.


Worst of times Mocked for making “music for bedwetters” by former Oasis label boss, Alan McGee. The band has struggled to shrug off complaints that it’s too boring to rock.


What he says “People who don’t like you talk about you like you’re the Third Reich. People who do like you will really defend you. So it’s a mixture of extreme excitement and extreme, er, panic.”


What others say “Chris Martin looks like a geography teacher. What’s all that with writing messages about free trade? If he wants to write things down, I’ll give him a pen and a pad of paper. Bunch of students.” Liam Gallagher.

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yes, so many editorial errors. and i was thinking about how frustrating it must be to be defined by your class, upbringing as a grown man and constantly be sneered for it. in many people's eyes, chris is a "public school boy" and that will never change, no matter what he makes of his life. the british musical snobbery is indeed very harsh.

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