There are some standard signs that a rock band has made it: They go platinum, sell out stadiums, pair up with glamorous red-carpet beauties. So at what point did Coldplay, who have sold 40 million records worldwide and won seven Grammys, realize that they had reached that level? “Do you want the honest answer or the bulls--- answer?” Chris Martin asks amid the sturdy old-New York opulence of the Greenwich Hotel.
“The honest one is that I feel like the only people who refer to Coldplay as being huge are the people who don’t like us,” the 34-year-old explains, squirming slightly in his plush chair. “Like, ‘How the f--- did that band get so huge?’ When we’re playing big concerts, it’s a different thing. That’s when I feel very alive and very grateful. But for the other 22 hours of the day, I still feel like I felt when I was 17—like we’ve got everything to prove here. Just because you were successful yesterday, in 2011 that doesn’t mean s---. You’ve got to prove yourself all over again today.”
He never gets to the second answer, but the fact that Martin has both at the ready speaks to the media savvy he has developed over the past decade. He’s learned to protect both his private life—which includes wife Gwyneth Paltrow, 39, his two children, and famous friends such as Jay-Z and Beyoncé—and his public persona as the face of a band that is simultaneously adored and disdained, often for the same reasons.’
And though Coldplay’s fifth album, Mylo Xyloto (out Oct. 24), is by far their sunniest work yet, Martin still carries an overwhelming sense of melancholy—which birthed the band’s first hit single, “Yellow,” more than a decade ago—and a genuine unease with fame.
That restlessness informed the crafting of Xyloto. After experimenting with an overarching narrative on 2008’s bombastic Viva la Vida, the foursome—Martin, guitarist Jonny Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman, and drummer Will Champion—reteamed with producer Brian Eno intending to make a quiet, acoustic-based album, just for the sake of trying something different. “But we realized we were holding back a lot of songs that we really liked,” Buckland explains.
So they switched tactics and decided to reassess what it means to be Coldplay. “We’re as hated as a band van be,” Martin insist, “but we’re still best friends, and there’s still people at the concerts. So we thought, ‘Let’s just go for it.’ It’s an effort to redefine what a Coldplay record is. Who knows if anyone will like it? But we definitely can’t be accused of standing still and relying on the same formula.”
That meant recruiting Rihanna for a guest spot (“She’s a much, much better singer than me”), and crafting bubbly grooves that allow Martin to engage in his increasingly notorious dance style: “I own the gangly sort of one-legged hop leap with twist and fall, which is very popular,” he laughs. “I’m a big fan of the school of Mick Jagger and Bruce [Springsteen] and Beyoncé, where you physically give it everything you’ve got.” For all his internal struggles, Martin does enjoy a giddy pop moment. “Our whole household is pretty obsessed with Jay-Z,” he admits of life at home with Paltrow and their kids. “And I have a weakness for Katy Perry’s ‘Last Friday Night.’” He’d like Mylo Xyloto to make fans feel that same joy in turn: “Life sometimes seems quite scary,” he says. “But I would love to sort of reflect that there are still reasons for optimism. Because the last thing that anyone wants is another sad Coldplay album.”