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Meaning of the song ‘It’s Not Living’ by ‘The 1975’

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Released: 2023

Alright pop aficionados, let’s break down this performance of “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” by The 1975, straight from the heart of New York’s Madison Square Garden. This track is colored by a blend of raw emotion and a piercing look into dependence and longing, expressed through the lens of pop music’s timeless ability to create anthems out of emotional turmoil.

Let’s start with the first verse where we meet “Danny,” who the lead singer, Matty Healy, uses as a character proxy to talk about substance addiction and the void it creates. ‘Falling asleep during conversations’, ‘searching the street’, all symbols of a life lived under the shadow of an unseen puppeteer, the substance addiction.

The chorus is where Healy lays it all bare. “And all I do is sit and think about you / If I knew what you’d do / Collapse my veins, wearing beautiful shoes / It’s not living, if it’s not with you.” The “You” here is a stand-in for the substance, underscoring the depth of the addiction. It’s an intimate picture of the hold that substances can have, likened to a destructive love affair. “Collapse my veins, wearing beautiful shoes” – that’s a gut-wrenching paradox that illustrates the duality of addiction; the allure and the destruction.

Further, in the lyrics “All I do is sit and drink without you / If I choose, then I’ll lose / Distract my brain from the terrible news” we see Healy expressing his struggle to abstain from use. He’s caught in a vicious cycle; the only way he knows to distract himself from bad news and problematic situations is through substance use, yet he also recognises that this choice only leads him further into the trap.

Moving on to “I can’t stop sweating or control my feet / Got a twenty-stone monkey that I just can’t beat” – the ‘twenty-stone monkey’ here is symbolic of the weight of addiction, the hassle, the struggle that can’t be shook off easily. The inability to control his physical reactions symbolize withdrawal symptoms, the inevitable side effect of trying to pull away from the substance.

Lastly, the line “And Johnny got a job in a bank, I think / And he spent the time trying to pack in the drinks for me / I feel sick, and I know that I’ll lose but”. Here Healy contrasts a picture of normalcy – Johnny working a regular job with his own struggle, the context being substance recovery is not a straight path, it’s filled with slips, backslides and relapses.

Layered with earnest emotion, tumultuous metaphors and catchy rhythms, “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” serves as The 1975’s exploration of dependency and its corresponding mental health implications, delivered through a crowd-thrilling performance that only this iconic band could pull off.

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