It’s been a tough 24 hours to be Chris Martin. Well, when I say tough, I mean as tough as life gets when you’re stupendously wealthy via royalties from a seemingly unending arsenal of hummable pop hits, are in peak physical shape and maintain friendly terms with your A-list film star ex‑spouse. That sort of tough.
But what the Coldplay singer doesn’t have right now – which all of us dearly want – is respect. In fact, after his band’s performance at the Super Bowl this weekend, he will be in no doubt of his status as a man who draws sneers and splutters from the good and the worthy.
Martin “broke the internet” this weekend purely through showing his cheery face on the same stage as pixie-sized Bruno Mars and Beyoncé, who was pant-free (albeit tune-light) and flanked by a marvellous gang of high-kicking, stocking-clad Black Panthers. Martin, the big buzz-kill, spoiled it all by just being there. Twitter was ablaze with churlish remarks asking how he’d ever been invited at all.
I am fascinated by “virtue signalling”: the very modern phenomenon of using people, places and concepts as shorthand for one’s saintliness. How do these things come about? Martin’s downfall began some time ago when he called his daughter Apple, but, come on, he’s hardly the worst offender in these stakes. The parks I walk my dog in seem forever cluttered by children with names that are, strictly speaking, nouns or modal verbs.
There was also the folly of his ex-wife, who started putting out a newsletter which was a blend of adverts for £1,500 culotes and vegan recipes involving grated bark. But that wasn’t his fault. Martin always had the air, to me, of a man going through the motions of clean living to please “her indoors” but who popped out now and again to “the tip” and snuck to the McDonald’s Drive-thru. His greatest crime, at one point, appeared to be scuffling with photographers. But then who wouldn’t feel like tangling with someone camped out on your doorstep? It’s not as if Martin went the full Hugh Grant and wanted laws changed on his behalf.
If there was a specific turning point for Martin in the public eye, it may have been the release of Coldplay’s single “Fix You”, with its infantile but wholly tear-making lyrics pledging to make his girlfriend happy. It was a song which made women all over the world glance sadly at their own man picking crisps from his teeth and find their lives lacking. Music mogul Alan McGee had earlier called Coldplay “music to wet the bed to”, which had seemed harsh; by “Fix You”, even I thought that Goody Two-Shoes was pushing his luck.
And this weekend the knee-jerk anti-Coldplay movement has reached its glorious pinnacle. Beside Beyoncé channelling Malcolm X, and Bruno harnessing the power of 1980s Jacko, here was Martin bobbing about behind them in a wholesome manner looking like he smelled of fabric conditioner and had just come from a pilates class. Suddenly the axis of world hate shifted and Martin became the new Bono. A phrase to be used as a punch-line, accompanied with stark denials that you ever bought one of his albums.
He’s Jeremy Clarkson in a nicer leather jacket. He’s the all-new Top Gear team squished into one naff, neatly hateworthy body. Simply wrinkle your nose and say “Ugh, Coldplay” and voila: you’re a bigger, better soul. Social media, in some ways, has made us cleverer – but at times like this it turns us into one big honking herd.
For what it’s worth, Coldplay’s performance at the Super Bowl (from what I watched at home in the UK) was thoroughly typical of their stadium schtick, which I’ve witnessed a few times at Wembley and always find curiously moving. On Sunday night they banged through “Viva la Vida” in that hopeful, ebullient manner they’ve perfected for a football crowd or family TV audience. It is a hard heart that doesn’t like “Viva la Vida”.
And here were Coldplay performing it in the way that has earned them millions globally in ticket revenues, of which they’ve doled out millions to charities. Coldplay are indeed the affable men of pop. So affable, for example, that they tossed umpteen million of pounds at Camila Batmanghelidjh’s Kids Company and didn’t question her hole-filled spiel. Lynn Alleway’s BBC1 documentary on the charity’s demise, broadcast last week, was a tiny insight into Martin’s non-quibbling generosity.
A less nice person than him, like me, would not have dug so deep in their pockets. A less nice person, like me, always thought Camila could save on her chauffeur bill and use an Oyster card like every other busy person in London, if only she wasn’t so obese that – as the show proved – she could barely waddle 100 consecutive metres.
I’m not as nice as Chris Martin, and he’s been trending on Twitter for 48 hours while the world hates him. God help me.
So I am leading the fight-back. We should not mock or deride the man. He’s a good egg. He wrote all his songs and he plays them live too. He gave the world “Yellow”, “God Put A Smile Upon Your Face”, “Trouble” and “The Scientist”. He’s getting better-looking with age, which gives hope to all fortysomethings. If his live vocal is slightly off-key, that’s because it’s the seldom-heard sound of a modern artist not miming.
The big beasts of entertainment aren’t beyond reproach, but slaughtering them for fun just isn’t sporting.