Music

Chartbreaker: Knox Is ‘Not The 1975’ — But He Has a Hit of the Band’s Caliber

While visiting Los Angeles in 2022, 26-year-old pop artist Knox was telling a friend that he had recently scored a major-label deal with Atlantic Records. “That’s cool, but you’ll never be Matty Healy,” the friend quipped.

Instead of dwelling on the snide comparison to the frontman of The 1975, Knox remembers thinking, “This could be fun,” and went into the studio with songwriter Spencer Jordan. After recording several versions of what would become his breakout track, the indie rock-tinged “Not The 1975” was released in July 2023 — and has since become Knox’s introduction to the Billboard charts.

Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Knox (born Knox Morris) showed off his alternative-influenced vocal range at local open mics during his teenage years. Following high school, he attended Ohio University with plans to become a teacher, but his passion for music won out — and by early 2019, he dropped out and moved to Nashville.

Soon after, Redline Entertainment’s Larry Blackford discovered Knox on Instagram and reached out to the singer for a meeting, along with the company’s Wes Mayers. The three of them instantly hit it off, and Knox signed a co-management deal in 2020. “When he sings, his voice is reverberating. I’ve never heard anything like it,” Blackford says. Adds Mayers, “Knox has one of the best work ethics of any artist I’ve met. He has high energy, high drive and that real competitive streak.”

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Chartbreaker, Knox
Chartbreaker, Knox

That drive was quickly put to the test when the pandemic forced Knox to get creative with his promotional strategy while building a fan base on social media. He first experienced some significant traction with his 2022 single “Sneakers” before trying the same strategy of consistently posting teasers for “Not The 1975” — particularly leaning into videos about the cheeky chorus.

The rallying track draws in listeners thanks to Knox’s witty songwriting: He references The 1975 hits “Chocolate” and “Oh Caroline” in his verses, then spins that pivotal L.A. conversation into the chorus. (“I said, ‘Girl, I might not be famous yet, but I’m gonna put you in a song that I write’/Then she said, ‘I like your confidence but you’re not The 1975.’ ”) The music video, which arrived the day of the song’s release, plays even further into the bit: Knox dresses in a Healy-inspired black-tie get-up and smokes a cigarette throughout. “I don’t think people understand how many cigarettes I had to smoke,” Knox recalls, laughing. “At first, they were herbal cigarettes, but I could already [imagine] the comments calling me out.”

Despite the catchy hook, Knox admits that “Not The 1975” was more of a “slow burn” in comparison to “Sneakers,” despite the acclaim he was getting from those around him in the weeks following the former’s release. “Everyone was saying that it’s an amazing song, but the streaming numbers weren’t translating yet,” he says. But after a late 2023 tour, where Knox says the song was “clearly a fan favorite,” it began to take a hold at radio and on digital service providers. “Not The 1975” debuted on Pop Airplay and Adult Pop Airplay in late January, and it reaches new highs of No. 26 and No. 15, respectively, on the March 16-dated charts. Additionally, the hit has 8.5 million total on-demand official U.S. streams through March 7, according to Luminate.

Neither of Knox’s managers are surprised to see the singer-songwriter now experiencing multi-format success. “With lyrics like ‘Vodka soda and baggy jeans/Using none of that art degree,’ how could [radio] not love it?” Blackford asks, with Mayers adding that he often sees a “waterfall effect” for an artist following a tour. “People will be like, ‘I like this guy, let’s check out the rest of his catalog.’ We’re mindful of that.”

Chartbreaker, Knox
Chartbreaker, Knox, Larry Blackford, Wes Mayers
From left: Larry Blackford, Knox and Wes Mayers at The Foundry in Philadelphia on Feb. 3, 2024.

Knox will go back on the road for a headlining tour across the West Coast beginning in April, hopeful that other songs from his discography will get similar love. “I’m most confident in my live shows,” he says. “Whenever I make a song, I ask, ‘Would this sound sick live?’”

Already this year he has released two new singles, first with the unifying “Here’s to Us” in January, followed by the atmospheric, swoon-worthy track “Me, Myself & Your Eyes” in February. And despite his higher profile, he’s trusting the same approach that has brought him to this point while attempting to follow up his breakout hit.

“There is pressure, of course. At the same time, if I put out music that I love, if it gets a million streams, great; and if it doesn’t, that’s OK,” he says. “I have the coolest job in the world. No matter what happens, I’m going to be fine.”

A version of this story originally appeared in the March 9, 2024, issue of Billboard.

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