From the time of British-bred sensation Coldplay's first major-label release in the summer of 2000, music journalists have written that the band doesn't quite fit in with the current popular-music landscape. Their soulful, haunting, intelligent songs have set them apart from bubblegum pop stars, aggressive rap artists, and what Tom Sinclair of Entertainment Weekly described as "the hordes of thuggish, blustering nu-metal bands or Identikit junior-league punk outfits." Much has been made in Britain's music press of lead singer Chris Martin's clean-living ways and general distaste for alcohol—a far cry from the lifestyle of a stereotypical rock star. The band has shied away from corporate endorsements, choosing to promote causes that address world poverty or environmental issues rather than lending their music to commercials selling cars or sneakers or computer software. In spite of—or perhaps because of—the ways in which they differ from their peers, Coldplay has become a sensation, selling millions of records, earning numerous major awards, and garnering praise from music critics all over the
The birth of a sensation
The members of Coldplay met and became friends while living in the same dormitory at the University College of London (UCL) in the mid-1990s. They formed a band, originally naming themselves Starfish. When friends of theirs who were playing in a band called Coldplay no longer wanted to use the name, Starfish officially became Coldplay. The name was taken from a book of poetry called Child's Reflections, Cold Play. The group comprises bassist Guy Berryman, guitarist Buckland, drummer Will Champion, and lead singer, guitarist, and pianist Martin. Martin had wanted to be a musician since the age of eleven. He explained to Katherine Turman of Mother Jones that when he began attending UCL, he was more interested in finding bandmates than in studying his major, ancient history. Asked by Turman whether he started his education thinking he would become an ancient history teacher, Martin jokingly responded, "That was my real dream, but then Coldplay came about!" Three of the four members did complete their university education (Berryman dropped out partway through), with much of their free time spent writing music and rehearsing.
"Our sound will change, but all we care about is melody and emotion."
Chris Martin, Coldplay e-zine, www.coldplay.com, November 2003.
In April of 1998 Coldplay went into the recording studio with the intention of recording a demo CD to use as a calling card for introducing the band to record labels. The recording session went so well that the band decided to release the three songs as an EP—a recording of a few songs, shorter in duration than a regular full-length album—that was titled Safety. They made five hundred copies, most of which were given to radio stations, newspapers, music magazines, family members, and friends. In the audience at one of Coldplay's live shows in a London club was Simon Williams, a music journalist and the founder of independent record label Fierce Panda. Williams was so impressed by the band that he signed them to his label. With the label's financial backing, Coldplay returned to the studio in February of 1999 to record the EP Brothers and Sisters. With this release, Coldplay began earning the attention of England's music reviewers and radio hosts. In 1999 the influential British magazine New Musical Express ( NME ) labeled Coldplay the new band to watch, and Steve Lamacq of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Radio 1 gave Coldplay's music plenty of airtime, helping the song "Brothers and Sisters" enter Britain's pop music charts at number ninety-two.
Making a Difference
While many of Coldplay's songs concern personal subjects like love, heartbreak, and insecurity, Martin and the rest of the band have also focused on global issues, particularly speaking out for fair trade as part of Oxfam's Make Trade Fair campaign (www.maketradefair.com). Oxfam is a collection of non-governmental organizations working all over the world to reduce poverty and improve lives.
During 2002 Oxfam invited Coldplay to tour Haiti and see firsthand the problems experienced by farmers in a developing nation, and to learn about the impact the World Trade Organization (WTO) has had on these farmers. In an interview with Mother Jones, Martin confessed that he and the other members of Coldplay knew almost nothing about world trade issues before their visit to Haiti: "We hadn't any idea about it. But you go on a trip and learn how the importing and exporting of goods around the world works, and you realize it's a huge crisis." Appalled by the dire poverty in Haiti and convinced that social activism, particularly when practiced by a world-famous band, could make a difference, Coldplay began discussing world trade and promoting Make Trade Fair whenever possible. The band members have explained to anyone who will listen that WTO rules allow inexpensive American and European crops, grown by farmers who receive financial help from their governments, to flood the markets in poor nations, making it much harder for farmers in places like Haiti and Mexico to sell their own crops.
The members of Coldplay have also supported environmental causes. At their Web site, Coldplay has asked fans who wish to write them letters to send emails, in part because such transmissions are "easier on the environment" than traditional paper letters. In addition, the band has joined with a United Kingdom company called Future Forests to plant ten thousand mango trees in India. As explained on the Future Forests Web site, "the trees provide fruit for trade and local consumption and over their lifetime will soak up the carbon dioxide emitted by the production and distribution of Coldplay's best-selling album A Rush of Blood to the Head. " Numerous environmental experts believe that harmful carbon dioxide emissions coming from sources such as factories, cars, and furnaces have begun to change Earth's climate and, if not curbed, will lead to devastating consequences produced by global warming.
At the band's Web site, bassist Guy Berryman explained why he and his bandmates feel compelled to promote these causes: "Anyone in our position has a certain responsibility. Odd though it may seem to us, a lot of people ... read what we're saying, see us on TV, buy our records and read the sleeves, and that can be a great platform. You can make people aware of issues. It isn't very much effort for us at all, but if it can help people, then we want to do it."
Brothers and Sisters made an impression not only on radio listeners and music critics but also on Dan Keeling of Parlophone Records. Keeling signed Coldplay to the label in 1999, and the band went into the studio to record their first major-label effort. This EP, The Blue Room, was released in the autumn of 1999. Thanks to an intense touring schedule, continued support from Radio 1, and the band's ongoing polishing of their musical skills, Coldplay's fan base widened. Parlophone felt the band was ready for a higher profile, and the group began to record their first full-length CD, Parachutes.
Coldplay gets hot
In March of 2000 Coldplay released "Shiver," the first single from Parachutes. "Shiver" made a splash, reaching number thirty-five on England's music charts, but it was the second single from Parachutes that catapulted Coldplay to stardom. "Yellow," released in June of 2000, became a genuine hit in both England and the United States, where it came to the attention of the public as a video on MTV and then went into heavy rotation at radio stations all across the country. Thrilled with their newfound international success, the band nonetheless worried about overexposure. During their 2001 visit to Live 105, an alternative rock radio station in San Francisco, a station employee showed Buckland the station's current playlist, with "Yellow" in the number-one spot. In the week prior, the station had played "Yellow" fifty-one times. Buckland remarked to Entertainment Weekly in March of 2001, "It's cool. But fifty-one times? That's, like, seven times a day. Even I'd get sick of it."
Far from getting sick of Coldplay's music, however, critics and fans celebrated the arrival of a band with a seemingly endless supply of soaring melodies, emotional outpourings, and pensive but ultimately upbeat lyrics. Parachutes was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize in 2000, and in 2001 the album earned two BRIT Awards (similar to the Grammy Awards in the United States) for best British group and best British album. The following year Parachutes won the Grammy Award for best alternative music album. In the band's biography on the Coldplay Web site, Champion explained that their success has been "all on our own terms. We have 100 percent control over any aspect of whatever we do, and that's really important to who we are and the music we make." All band members share in the songwriting credits, co-produce their recordings, and oversee production of their videos and the selection of artwork for their CDs. Even the photograph on the cover of Parachutes, of a spinning globe lit from within, is credited to Coldplay.
Following the album's release in the summer of 2000, Coldplay hit the road, touring the United Kingdom, Europe, and the United States. The tour proved exhausting, with the 2001 U.S. tour plagued by bad weather and illness among band members. Several cancelled shows inspired rumors that the band was on the verge of a breakup, but such gossip was unfounded. By the end of the tour, Coldplay's members were in dire need of a long rest, but they had accomplished their mission: they had brought their music to the masses, and the masses were happily singing along.
What a Rush
Emotionally and physically drained from the long months of touring, Coldplay returned home for a respite before beginning work on their second album. Amid speculation that their second album could not meet the expectations generated by the first, band members made statements to the press that they would rather release no album at all than release a substandard recording. According to the Coldplay Web site, after a few months of recording, "Everyone was happy—except the band." Buckland recalled in the band's online biography: "We were pleased with it, but then we took a step back and realised that it wasn't right. It would have been easy to say we'd done enough, to release an album to keep up the momentum, but we didn't." They went back to a small studio in Liverpool where much of Parachutes had been recorded, and took another stab at it. This time, they found exactly what they were looking for. "Songs like 'Daylight,' 'The Whisper,' and 'The Scientist' splurged out over two weeks, and we recorded them very quickly," Martin remembered. "We just felt completely inspired, and felt we could do anything we liked."
The extra effort paid off, and A Rush of Blood to the Head was released in the summer of 2002 to a chorus of positive reviews. Hollywood Reporter summed up the feelings of many: "It's an even better album than the first, a superb collection of sonically and lyrically adventurous songs that have the kind of hooks that burrow into your brain on a first hearing and a depth that resonates long afterward."
Mary Kaye Schilling wrote in Entertainment Weekly about the nearly constant radio play of A Rush of Blood to the Head, and described it as being "stalked by Coldplay—in restaurants, yoga class, even the toilet at the gas station, for crying out loud." Even in the midst of international success and abundant media coverage, however, Coldplay managed to keep a relatively low profile, and band members could still go about their daily lives without worrying about being recognized and swarmed by fans. Their anonymity was threatened, however, when frontman Martin began dating American actress Gwyneth Paltrow (1973–) in the summer of 2002, bringing the singer a new level of celebrity. In December of 2003, the couple announced Paltrow's pregnancy and, soon after, their marriage. Their daughter, Apple Blythe Alison Martin, was born in May of 2004.
After another intense round of touring to support the release of A Rush of Blood to the Head, Coldplay attempted to take a break from the spotlight, returning to England and the recording studio to create their third album. In the meantime they released Live 2003, a CD and DVD package chronicling a concert performed in Sydney, Australia, with the DVD featuring additional behind-the-scenes coverage of the tour. MacKenzie Wilson of the All Music Guide Web site described the release as "a resilient, bright package of glorious rock & roll."
For More Information
Browne, David. "Uncommon Coldplay." Entertainment Weekly (March 16, 2001): p. 32.
Deziel, Shanda. "Music: Hot and Cold." Maclean's (October 7, 2002): p. 62.
Diehl, Matt. "Matt Diehl Talks to the Rest of the Band." Interview (August 2003): p. 119.
Scheck, Frank. "Coldplay." Hollywood Reporter (August 14, 2002): p. 12.
Schilling, Mary Kaye. "Coldplay: The New Romantics." Entertainment Weekly (December 26, 2003): p. 36.
Sinclair, Tom. "Even Better Cold." Entertainment Weekly (October 25, 2002): p. L2T5.
Turman, Katherine. "Chris Martin: Fair Trade's Charm Offensive." Mother Jones (January-February 2004): p. 78.
Coldplay Official Web site. http://www.coldplay.com (accessed on May 7, 2004).
"Coldplay: Bio." MTV.com. http://www.mtv.com/bands/az/coldplay/bio.jhtml (accessed on May 3, 2004).
"Coldplay's Forest: Tree Tubes." Future Forests. http://www.futureforests.com/acatalog/Future_Forests_Coldplay_s_Forest__Tree_Tubes_151.html (accessed on May 7, 2004).
Wilson, MacKenzie. "Coldplay." All Music Guide. http://www.allmusic.com (accessed on May 7, 2004).