At the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, the mostly teenage Australian band 5 Seconds of Summer took home the VMA for Song of the Summer with their My Chemical Romance–channeling single “She’s Kinda Hot.” The tune surfaced less than two months ago and received massive radio play, mostly in suburban neighborhoods. If you live and work in New York City proper, there’s a strong chance you’ve never heard it, and these boys taking home such an oddly coveted prize felt shocking, surprising. It was a fan-voted award, proving that the power of teens and their Twitter accounts can grossly outweigh the award show’s history of ignoring music for young people.
5 Seconds of Summer have spent the last two summers opening for One Direction on their mostly sold-out stadium world tour. Last night at Jones Beach, the group were given their own spotlight for the first of two sold-out shows. It’s evident that they’ve learned from the 1D boys, even if their band has yet to be given the critical nod of approval One Direction have found themselves enjoying. With Zayn Malik’s departure, it’s even realer: If you’re an adult, it’s definitely not cool, but it’s pretty acceptable to write, talk, even listen to One Direction and anticipate the former member’s impending solo career. 5 Seconds of Summer have yet to be given that luxury.
It’s a shame, and one that seems to be a modern trend in the world of teen pop. The best thing you can hope for is some level of legitimacy: You have to prove yourself, even outside of No. 1 records, massive radio play, hordes of fans in every country on the planet. You have to show your worth to an old guard of older folks, usually the first to dismiss something based on fan demographic alone. 5 Seconds of Summer, in their four years of being a band, have realized the power of that, and don’t really seem to give a flying fuck if the indie-rock crowd and its ilk find them cool.
Before they hit the stage on this Rock Out With Your Socks Off tour, their first headlining gig, retro-feeling tunes like “Stacy’s Mom,” “Teenage Dirtbag,” and Europe’s “The Final Countdown” fill the room. Some of these songs feel like they predate the median audience age, but it’s not a problem: The girls have memorized them for the boys, just like they would 5SOS originals. It’s a weirdly powerful thing to watch.
When they begin, they do so with “End Up Here,” a non-single from their 2014 self-titled debut. Because of the nature of their fans (they’re not “casual” in any sense of the word) their setlist can and does move from album cuts to old-school demos and EPs. One of the new songs came early on in the set: “Permanent Vacation,” a cut we have yet to hear an HQ version of — and yet everyone knows it from watching previous live performances on YouTube. The ladies might as well be digging for rarities in a used-record bin.
Even a year ago, the boys seemed to struggle to find their individual personalities. It mirrors the earliest days of 1D, when wardrobe acted as signifier: In 5SOS, Calum Hood is the serious, lovable bass player, the only one to wear a band shirt onstage (it was a ripped tee promoting Lip Cream, a fairly obscure Japanese hardcore band. In this writer’s mind, he’s forever branded as the cool one now). Guitarist Michael Clifford rocked a long-sleeve shirt under a DigiTour tee, à la Tom DeLonge. (If you’ve never heard of DigiTour, it’s literally a traveling tour where kids get to meet their favorite social-media stars from YouTube, Vine, Twitter, and Instagram. Yup, you’re old.) Drummer Ashton Irwin looked like he ripped his duds straight from the closet of Dave Grohl, and singer/frontman/heartthrob Luke Hemmings wore subtle black, a brilliant juxtaposition with those baby blues. The distinctive costuming only seems to make newcomers feel an easier familiarity with the band, a certain sense of who is who, and how.
After “End Up Here,” the guys launch into a mix of old and new, the vintage “Out of My Limit,” “Voodoo Doll,” and the oft-overlooked single “Don’t Stop.” The guys take breaks to mock one another with pseudo-vulgarity, but also let the crowd know that they’re noticed: “All the way in the back, we see you!” It’s a trick most definitely picked up from their spiritual sister Harry Styles, an unfailingly endearing thing to say.
Hemmings is a fairly quiet guy who sings under a furrowed brow, even at his most confident. He’s contemplative even when crooning “Hashtag I Don’t Know” in the social-media-inspired love ballad “Disconnected.” It never feels forced or ridiculous, a power he holds within himself. Irwin plays with the ferocity of Grohl in his punk and grunge prime — there’s a certain lack of humility to it, but it only seems to sharpen his precision. Hood’s voice has deepened in the span of a year, and his high notes in “Amnesia” felt somber and low — sultry and PG-13, even. Clifford has become the child Billie Joe Armstrong never knew about, and that extends beyond his verses in their regular cover of “American Idiot.” (It was a total crowdpleaser, for what it’s worth, a hit with daughters and their dad chaperones alike.)
The set ended with a cover of the Romantics’ power-pop anthem “What I Like About You,” a song about a decade older than the band’s eldest member. It’s a hit that’s had an interesting life, with endless covers and new people to find new affirmation within it. It echoes the power of 5 Seconds of Summer themselves: They’re not reinventing the wheel here, but they’re perfecting their own prototype. This show and this band will continue to serve as the first show and first favorite band for many, many people in the years to come. They’ll continue to lay a foundation for decades of music fandom and taste, and kids will remember these songs for the rest of their lives. Critical legitimacy? Who needs it when you’re helping kids find their passion with a single song?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 2, 2015