How Do You Solve A Problem Called 5 Seconds Of Summer?

Do we have to?
5 Seconds Of Summer

Without wanting to sound like someone’s clueless dad – to be fair, I am a dad, but not as clueless as my progeny almost certainly think – I pay very little attention to what’s hitting the utmost heights of the top 40. The days of me caring about what position the latest single by a favourite band peaked at come the end of any given week pretty much ended when I discovered that pubs would serve me delicious beer. Sundays were a time for rest and recuperation – even at ten to seven in the evening, there were better, more pain-relieving ways to spend one’s time than tuned into the Official Chart on Radio 1. (The Pepsi Chart? Oh, come on now.)

So, until just recently, the noise surrounding Australian foursome 5 Days… sorry, 5 Seconds Of Summer (I keep on writing 5 Days Of Summer, and anyone with a mild interest in movies can connect the dots as to why) had bypassed me entirely, despite their ‘She Looks So Perfect’ song topping the chart earlier this year. But then came the social media poking and prodding, the Twitter temptation to click through, the name appearing in my feed of specially selected industry folk – those who, for my money, are good eggs and unlikely to ever be swept up in any PR-led swell of hype backed by an enormous marketing budget. My peers were writing about this apparent phenomenon, a band that I’d been oblivious to. Time to see what the fuss is about.


5 Seconds Of Summer, ‘She Looks So Perfect’

But first, just what are these most exemplary critics and commentators saying of 5 Seconds Of Summer, to arouse my own interest? Only this morning, I was directed to an article on the Guardian’s website, penned by Harriet Gibsone, asking: “5 Da… Seconds Of Summer: punks or boyband?” From my cursory glace about the web, it’d appear that they’re the latter – for they are boys, in a band, much like Kasabian or Coldplay or Westlife or U2.

Now, obviously, the boyband banner’s not so prosaic, so clear-cut, as to exclusively refer to pop groups comprised entirely of males. It’s long come to imply a certain, shall we say, lack of authenticity. Which rankles me tremendously, anyway. I don’t hear Take That as being any the less ‘authentic’ than Shellac – it’s just different strokes for different folks, isn’t it. The effort that goes into the making of these acts’ material might differ, the workload might be less equally distributed, but ultimately songwriters write songs, right? How is Jake Bugg’s method – him being the “self-appointed saviour of real music”, apparently – worth celebrating above the measures taken to guarantee Miley Cyrus another hit single?

5 Seconds Of Summer’s eponymous debut album – just recently released in the UK, where it went to number two (which I looked up – like I said, this sort of thing rarely registers these days) – features credits for the four band members beside a cavalcade of co-writer acknowledgments. Songs written by the foursome and the foursome only – them being Michael Clifford, Luke Hemmings, Calum Hood and Ashton Irwin – number zero; at every turn, they are aided and abetted by experienced industry professionals.

There’s Michael Busbee, a native of California, whose past work encompasses contributions to the catalogues of Backstreet Boys, Boyzone, Shakira and Kelly Clarkson. Roy Stride, the main man of abhorrent English outfit Scouting For Girls, features; as, too, does Sam Watters, once of ‘I Wanna Sex You Up’ crew Color Me Badd and since a writer/producer on hits for Jessica Simpson and Natasha Bedingfield. So far, so very not punk.

But then the water, seemingly running so clearly towards that boyband status, muddies rapidly. Alex Gaskarth weighs in with a credit on the track ‘Kiss Me Kiss Me’ – he’s the frontman for All Time Low, a generally critically approved pop-punk band from Baltimore (ish), whose 2012 LP ‘Don’t Panic’ reeled in a raft of high-scoring reviews. The twin Madden brothers, Joel and Benji, best known for Good Charlotte, come in swinging on ‘Amnesia’, a standard-album closing number that will be released next week (July 15th, says Wikipedia).


5 Seconds Of Summer, ‘Amnesia’

So you can begin to see why a publication like Rock Sound – which not so long ago had F*cked Up, The Bronx and Rolo Tomassi, together, on its cover, and would feature bands like Isis, The Dillinger Escape Plan and High On Fire at length – has gone with a 5 Seconds Of Summer lead feature this month, released four ways so as to star each member on their own cover. The issue is out next week, just in time for the chart impact of ‘Amnesia’, the song with perhaps the most palpable punk credentials of any on 5 Seconds’ album.

But while Rock Sound’s onside with 5 Seconds, another prominent member of rock’s critical fraternity, Scuzz TV’s Terry Bezer, isn’t – at least not in the same way. He’s been highlighting the band’s various acts of absolutely-not-punk behaviour to his 17,200 Twitter followers, and went to YouTube to really stick the knife into the Australians.


Beez Says: 5 Seconds Of Summer Are Not Pop-Punk

“They’re a pop band, that’s what they are,” says Bezer. He refers, at the very beginning, to Busted, and how they were never considered to be a ‘proper’ rock band 10 years and more ago – but they represented a valuable gateway for young kids to begin taking their first steps towards bands of, I suppose, more substance. Bezer cites My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and Jimmy Eat World as acts that these Busted kids soon grew into. And he’s not wrong – this sort of progress through music’s many wonderful layers of accessibility and ingenuity has been playing out forever.

I can remember loving ‘Dookie’, by Green Day, for a while – but then abandoning it when I felt that it was somehow less of a legitimate punk document than a lot of the music I discovered after it. (I could say the same of The Offspring’s ‘Smash’, too.) Which was, of course, nonsense. Again, one band’s music is no more ‘authentic’ than another’s – it’s merely down to how you perceive its morals and methodologies that manifests these dividing lines, beyond basic genre codes. As Bezer says: “Nobody’s first band was Napalm Death.” Everybody’s got to learn sometime – but rarely at the very beginning.

The difference as I see – as I hear – things right now, though, is that 5 Seconds Of Summer are nowhere near the league that Busted were, which presents the question of whether or not their fans will ‘graduate’, if you will, to anything ‘more’. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if they don’t – if 5 Seconds are your favourite band in the entire world and they’re still holding onto that heart of yours five years from now, cool. Look at the longevity of a band like Take That, of McFly, of McBusted. What 5 Seconds Of Summer are lacking, for me, is anything to elevate their material – call it straight pop or punk-inflected pop or pop-punk or whatever – above the slop of glossy production-line that typically comprises contemporary chart fare.

Bezer draws a line in the proverbial sand between what 5 Seconds offer and the media’s backing of them compared with the desire to find the next Nirvana or Slipknot. I’ll draw another, and put everything that I have heard from 5 Seconds on one side, and Busted’s 2003 hit ‘Year 3000’ on the other. ‘She Looks So Perfect’ is pretty catchy, I’ll give it that – but it lacks any sort of wit, any intelligence. “You looks so perfect standing there / In my WELL-KNOWN BRAND OF PANTS underwear” – sure, it gently stirs the mind’s eye, I guess. ‘Year 3000’, on the other hand: a wicked work of pop writing genius that, with just one line, expands the song’s narrative to immeasurable proportions of possibility. The second line of the chorus – “Not much has changed, but they lived underwater” – how great is that? It’s the hit-single equivalent of seeing the Statue Of Liberty buried in the sand at the end of Planet Of The Apes: a terrific plot twist in half a breath. What disaster led to this situation? Charlie, Matt, James? Anyone?

(Perhaps there’s more to come from 5 Seconds Of Summer in this regard, though, as they have been working with Steve Robson, the British writer and producer behind ‘Year 3000’. Hey Steve, what’s that underwater stuff about? I need closure.)


Busted, ‘Year 3000’

Gibsone’s Guardian feature runs the numbers – the Twitter followers, YouTube views, Facebook likes and so on – and works out that, yep, 5 Seconds Of Summer are pretty popular. What’s been as much of a factor in their rise as the music is their relationship with the all-conquering One Direction, the reality show-formed boyband whose hysterical fans will blindly back next to anything their idols lend their own support to. 1D had 5 Seconds support them on a series of massive shows, so naturally their own fans have gravitated to the Australian newcomers, too. That the bands share management is almost beside the point, as many an acolyte of these acts won’t see the support from one to the other as any sort of cynical move to maximise revenues, using established fame to springboard a new acquisition into the spotlight.

Perhaps those at the Kerrang! Awards, where 5 Seconds won in the Best International Newcomer category, felt differently – boos, apparently, rang out. But if you will let the public vote, and one band’s public adds up to over three and a half million Twitter followers and over five million Facebook likes, well. What did you expect?

The suggestion, as Gibsone posits, that 5 Seconds are “the future” for pop is perhaps a bit scary – this sort of anodyne, sterile, plastic rock is just fine in the short term, operating as it surely will as a platform for fans (and the musicians themselves) to expand their horizons and embrace further potential. But at a time when absolute plonkers in charge of major radio station playlists are tweeting stupid shit about albums being dead and playlists being the only sensible way to “consume” music (and, oh my sweet WELL-KNOWN BRAND OF PANTS underwear, how I loathe that expression, like we don’t all experience music the same way: into our ears and through our bodies as dancing and loving or rejecting and running the hell away from it), it’s easy to conclude that a band like 5 Seconds – social-media savvy and basically four faces for a carefully pieced-together team of programmers, pressing buttons and pulling strings behind the scenes – is a model for success worth exploring further.

It’s always been that way, though. So what’s the problem? Ultimately, there isn’t one, is there? Band performs music that isn’t totally written by the people on stage alone, and other people like it. Those people might continue to like it, or move on to something else. One day, they might live underwater. World turns, Charlton Heston died a gun-loving dickhead, and well done you for getting this far into an article which, essentially, tells you nothing you didn’t know already. This is the 5 Seconds Of Summer model of music journalism in the 21st century: take a load of stuff that others have done and mould it into something that just about looks new. We’re all at it, all of the time. So we’re in no position, really, to name-call when what we cover does it, too. Pop-punk or simply pop, boyband or not, who cares? But do come and read our words, as we have bills to pay. 

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5 Seconds Of Summer is a band that is on the internet here. Listen to '5 Seconds Of Summer' in full via Deezer, below.

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