Being the lead singer of arguably the world’s most popular band is hardly a suitable occupation for a man who cherishes his privacy, but Coldplay’s frontman Chris Martin has never been one to conform to stereotypes.
Described by some as moody, by others as aloof and by a few as downright rude, Martin is a long way from being the self-promoting egotist revelling in the spotlight that comes with the global success his band has generated.
That he is married to the Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow makes the mystique surrounding the 33-year-old lyrical genius even more intriguing, yet he offers barely a hint of a bite when he grants The National this rare interview.
As Martin and Coldplay prepare to return to Abu Dhabi for a New Year’s Eve gig that is certainly this season’s hottest ticket, he has been persuaded to become a reluctant participant in the publicity bandwagon promoting Coldplay’s addictive new record Mylo Xyloto.
It hardly bodes well when his advisers request that “certain questions” be avoided in our interview, before I am asked to remove my shoes to protect the newly polished wooden floors in Coldplay’s rented recording studio in north London.
“I have been told there are certain questions I’m not allowed to ask,” I inform Martin as we meet, to ascertain whether it is just his minders who are the protective ones, rather than the star himself.
“You can ask me what you want,” he responds. “I might not answer everything, but whatever you want to know, go for it.”
With that, the atmosphere in the room clears a little to allow room for a less formal chat. The character that emerges is one clearly concerned by his image as music’s “Mr Bland”, as he admits Coldplay’s many critics have a persistent habit of getting under his skin.
“There have been times when it felt as if we had become people’s worst enemies just for producing a song they don’t like,” says the singer, whose popularity in his own country is often shaded by a host of sceptics.
When your first five albums have topped the charts in the US, the UK and virtually every other music-buying nation in the western world, criticism should matter little. Yet Martin admits it unsettles him.
“It takes some getting used to, that kind of pressure, as well as the stories that our record company is relying on us to keep the share price up,” he says. “Then you feel the pressure, but you have to get over it. The positives outweigh the negatives in this job big time.”
Martin acknowledges that success does matter to him. “I worry about being successful, of course I do. I have two kids now who have made me more driven than ever to be successful, but then you get to the point where you have to give up worrying. There is enough in this world to be miserable about, so enjoy any success you can get.”
His mention of his two children, Apple and her little brother Moses, offers an opportunity to probe a subject that we have been told is off limits. While some interviewers find Martin’s evasiveness frustrating, his determination to keep his family life separate from his work could be viewed as admirable.
“I am famous for Coldplay and being married to someone who is more famous than I will ever be, but the truth is none of us in this band see ourselves as anything other than four guys trying to make music people might like,” says the singer, who has used his fame to promote a range of charity projects over the past decade.
“We don’t set our sights too high. It would be great if someone enjoyed our record while they are driving down the road. That is all we can ask for really, and if some people don’t like what we do, then I guess they won’t buy our record or come to watch us in concert.”
Speaking of, his band’s forthcoming return to Abu Dhabi prompts memories of their first appearance in 2009 at the Emirates Palace hotel, where the audience was drenched in a surprise downpour.
“I didn’t think I’d be doing a version of Singin’ in the Rain when we did a show in Abu Dhabi,” adds Martin, a smile breaking out across his face. “It was weird to be in the desert and the rain lashing down. Weird, but kinda cool I guess. Yeah, Abu Dhabi was cool.”
A dry sense of humour evident in quirky and nervy answers to the most polite of questions confirms Martin’s status as an icon still struggling to come to terms with the worldwide phenomenon he has become.
Young men hailing from his native UK county of Devon tend not to have dreams that end in music-industry domination. Martin and his bandmates have beaten the odds to achieve that and much more.
“Will Coldplay ever be cool? I don’t know,” he says.
“We still have a long way to go before we can be called the best band in the world or be compared to some of the greats of this business. Getting better is a good motivation for us.” [Source]