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WINDBACK WEDNESDAY - WHEN NICE GUYS FINISH FIRST. AND AREN'T SURE WHY.

December 13, 2016

 

When he formed Coldplay Chris Martin wanted to be known but not necessarily famous. Famous was for better looking or faster talking, more tabloid-ready types like Bono of U2, either of the Gallaghers in Oasis or those hip hop stars who seemed built for it. Not for someone who even today, as a 35-year-old man, declares to me that “we feel so grateful and happy to have our job and when lots of people are there we feel even more grateful and even more happy”. 

 

Yes, he has that self deprecating thing down but it’s hard to see the disingenuousness. Twelve years ago he was already saying of the four men in Coldplay, "as albatrosses go, I suppose it's a minor one, but it does get a bit tiring reading that we are such nice, humble chaps all the time" but he’s never really provided a reason to think otherwise.

 

He wanted to get the girl but never seriously entertained any notion of getting one of the most recognisable girls in the world, as he did in 2003 with his wife, the actor Gwyneth Paltrow. After all he was a virgin at 22 (“Well, I used to walk funny and, to be quite honest, I was a bit of a knobhead - I wouldn't have liked me either," he said of his teenage self) and once explained the limited ambitions at the beginning of his career, only semi jokingly, as “basically, we set out with two goals: to either make it big in America or sleep with the sisters from the Corrs”.

 

He wanted his band to be pretty big but not necessarily massive. They weren’t afraid of success or doubting they could do it – “I sometimes think people don't appreciate just how actually good we think we are. We are good,” Martin said after their first album, Parachutes – but they saw themselves as quite properly in the shadow of U2, R.E.M. and Jay-Z. As drummer Will Champion said a few years back, his frontman "requires a lot of reassurance" and readily admits to taking lessons in fame-craft from the never knowingly undersold Egos Who Walk, Jay-Z and Kanye West.

 

Yet for all that, Chris Martin and Coldplay are well past famous and one of the biggest bands in the world. The kind of famous that comes with 55 million albums sales, seven Grammys, three times best British band at the Brit Awards and concerts now being staged in football stadiums to accommodate the widescreen songs of last year’s Mylo Xyloto album.

 

Famous enough to be publicly pilloried and openly hated as a matter of course by some critics and many an online blogger. The kind of abuse which had a slightly bruised but apparently genuine Martin asking a journalist last year, "Do you think it's normal for big artists to have haters and ups-and-downs?"

I tell him that I’ve occasionally found commentary about me online which is pretty confronting and I’m only known by about five people, not 55 million. How does he deal with it?

 

"I've been working really hard on this recently with a friend of mine. I think it's to do with the power of your own conviction,” Martin says. “You know deep down if what you've done is to the best of your ability and if it is then you can't worry. But I was most worried about what anyone thought around [the 2005 album] X&Y and that was because deep down I wasn't completely satisfied with it. Since then, if someone says ‘you know that song Paradise is fucking awful’, I don't necessarily ask that person out to dinner but I don't really mind that they feel that way because I did my best on it and I like it ... . it shouldn't matter that flangemonkey76 says this is a load of bullshit."

 

Martin’s answer makes sense, to a point. But even if you know that what critics, or flamers, are saying is complete rubbish, the soft point which the abuse targets is that insecurity about yourself or your work, that voice in the back of your mind that says of course you're not as good as Jay-Z.

 

"I don't mean that to be arrogant,” Martin insists. “I just mean you can only try your best and the only thing you can be guilty of is not trying your best."

 

The downsides of fame and a public profile get plenty of airings these days, even if they get little sympathy, But we don’t often hear about what’s good about being someone big enough to make those judgement calls when you want them, who is able to dream a show and then make that show, who can befriend the kind of powerful people who the rest of us would never meet on equal terms.

 

"You’re right, everyone focuses on the negatives. I spend most of the day at the moment feeling incredibly grateful and blessed. I’ve had things given to me, talent or whatever and opportunities that are so jammy, that are so unlikely to happen to a person and the only way to deal with it is to work as hard as possible. But what's it like? It's fucking awesome.

“Okay so someone on a blog says you're a dick, but then you get to go out in a stadium and everybody claps. That fucking incredible," he laughs. "But you can very easily become infected by the minority negative opinion. I was talking to my dad yesterday about Manchester United, the most popular soccer team in the world, and when they show up in West Ham, they get booed. I was thinking, well it's the same for us. But when everybody is singing Paradise [at shows] at the moment it makes me feel so alive and happy. I can't explain it really, it's hyper real."

 

Much as once he would happily quote advice given to him by Bono, these days Martin is tapping into another giant who knows a thing or two about stepping up to fame, stadiums and expectations. In an online chat with fans this year, when asked about their motivation each time they stepped on stage, especially stages like the stadiums we'll see them in on this tour, Martin typed in that Coldplay had to work to each corner every night because “as Bruce Springsteen said it could be someone's first concert or it could be someone's last concert".

 

He returns to that source when I ask if, given there seem few limits to them any more on stage, if there are limits for them musically. Martin said he went to see Springsteen who talked about the importance of dynamics over the course of a long career.

"I was saying I'd really like us to make something completely the opposite end of the spectrum next time and he said that would be cool. So if we do what Bruce says then there's no limits,” Martin says. “I think for the most part there isn't anything we’re not allowed to do. There comes a point where you just accept that whatever you do someone will like or hate it so it's extremely liberating. We are incredibly blessed that we are, 12 years in, allowed to make whatever we want to make. That's extraordinary. Even in the film world you can't do that. Only a few people can do that."

 

So there isn't an end to this band just yet?

 

"No. There might be an end to our popularity but I think that there won’t be an end to our teamness or gangship, camaraderie. We love each other,” Martin says unabashedly. “Also I’m always looking at Kanye West and he’s moving so fast and doing such amazing work that I want to keep chasing him for a while. I don't want to give up just yet."

Just don't get on twitter like he does.

 

"No, I’m not a tweeter I must admit. But he’s every entertaining,” Martin chuckles. “We do it through a guy who works for us. In our case there are things that we would tweet and we send it to our tweet man and he says, ‘you sure you want to say that?’ and we think, probably not."

 

There is the ultimate mark of success: a tweetman. What is the best thing about being at this level of success? To have your own tweet wallah.

 

"Exactly," this wealthy man, famous husband and instantly recognisable artist laughs. “Your own tweet wallah.”

 

'I SING LIKE A GIRL BUT, YOU KNOW,,,,,,'

 

Eight years ago Chris Martin gave the song Gravity to the now already forgotten band, Embrace which did rather well but he hasn't done it again. Could he be a writer for hire or a writer on loan?

 

“I don't think I can do that. Unless it's something completely different to what we could possibly get away with. We have one song that we wrote for Alicia Keys that I don't think we could ever do because it's all about being a girl and that kind of thing. I sing like a girl I admit, but you know ....”

 

If they can go as far as essentially writing a Rihanna song, as they did with Princess Of China from Mylo Xyloto, why couldn't Coldplay do the song meant for Alicia Keys?

"That particular song has the word superfly in it and it's very hard for an English person to sing that word without looking like an idiot."

 

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