If you know me, this article may confuse you. I don’t look like someone who would ever profess to at any time being a fan of 5 Seconds of Summer. If you don’t know me, then for context, I’m frequently seen wearing black band shirts, fishnet tights and dark eye makeup. I’ve seen Slipknot in concert, and I’m writing this article listening to the wonderful (to my ears anyway) metal band Loathe. In reality, however, I would not be doing any of these things if a group of beautiful Australian boys-to-men with guitars hadn’t wandered into my life and showed me that a) there’s nothing wrong with loving things in the most teenage way, and b) riffs are great.
I was thirteen when the obsession began. I was not a popular girl at school by any stretch. I studied perhaps harder than I needed to for a Year 8, and used words that my peers couldn’t understand (a particularly strong memory I have is explaining to a popular girl what the word ‘snide’ meant). I’d only just settled into a solid yet dependable friendship group, after spending the first year of secondary school wandering from clique to clique in the hope one would eventually accept me.
I escaped by writing. I decided when I was ten years old that the warm satisfaction that I found from creating stories was something I wanted to chase for the rest of my life, and something I hoped to earn a living from. I joined a website called Movellas (like Wattpad, but less mainstream, and in my experience substantially friendlier), and started publishing my work there in the hope of getting feedback on it. I wrote original fiction, but a large proportion of the Movellas community were fanfiction writers. The majority of fanfiction stories were about One Direction, but later, stories about the members of 5 Seconds of Summer began to trickle onto the front page. Their name was all over the site, names like ‘Calum Hood’ and ‘Michael Clifford’ peppering conversation between users. This was in the time before 5SOS (as they were known) had really begun to blow up in the UK, but were gaining traction abroad.
Eventually, because they were talked about so much, I decided to see for myself what all the fuss was about. This neatly coincided with the release of the video for their debut single, ‘She Looks So Perfect’. I went onto YouTube, hit play, and found something that made me feel genuinely excited in a way that music, for all that I loved it, hadn’t done to the same extent before. It was vibrant and full-bodied, fizzing with youthful energy. This is real music! I thought. It’s a statement that feels naïve and quite silly to me now, but in sympathy with my thirteen-year-old self, I had uncovered a glimmer of the sheer power rock instruments could possess that I hadn’t previously been exposed to, thanks to my musical diet of synthy chart pop.
Something bigger was happening to me at that moment. That excitement that 5SOS gave me, filling me up like sparkling water pouring into a glass, overflowing and threatening to have me squealing with joy, I would learn was fangirling. I was extremely late to the fangirling party. In fact, I almost resolutely refused to do it. I never fancied Zac Efron. I disliked One Direction with a passion. I was different, and that was how I had always felt. I developed something of a ‘not-like-other-girls’ complex, thinking I was embracing how I was different from my peers, when in hindsight, it was battle armour I was wearing to counter my woeful self-esteem. Of course, I also sorely needed feminism, and I refused to partake in the fangirling fun because I had internalised the idea that the simple notion of teenage girls loving things was shallow and vacuous. That was something other girls did but I didn’t, because in my mind I was ‘real’, a non-conformist, and somehow more authentic.
Becoming part of their fandom changed how I thought about the format of music. Every song mattered to 5SOS’s fans, not just the singles
Becoming a fan of 5 Seconds of Summer was the first step in helping me break down those ideas. I had my first proper celebrity crush on singer and rhythm guitarist Luke Hemmings, whose warm, gentle tenor, blue eyes, and edgy lip piercing made my thirteen-year-old self’s heart flutter unabashedly when the ‘She Looks So Perfect’ video came on the TV. After a particularly crushing heartbreak several months later, at the end of a rather toxic relationship, it felt safer to invest my love into beautiful men in bands who were too far away to do me any damage. Something as innocent, commonplace, and even natural as this isn’t worthy of being stigmatised. It is now even posited as a safe space for adolescents to deal with their emerging sexuality in a healthy way.
In addition, 5 Seconds of Summer offered me my first lesson in a formative musical education. Becoming part of their fandom changed how I thought about the format of music – every song mattered to 5SOS’s fans, not just the singles. In their early days, every single would be accompanied by a handful of B-sides that never found their way onto an album – there was more to get excited about every time they made another bid for the charts. It was an almost old-fashioned way of releasing music in a digital age, particularly for a band whose members weren’t even out of their teens (Luke Hemmings wasn’t even an adult when they began their rise to fame) – yet it worked. Their songs felt irresistibly collectable in a way I didn’t know music could be. It made loving them more fun.
They’re a ‘thank u next’ kind of band to me now, one whose brief presence in my life I am grateful for, for showing me a world of music that would transform me and give me a sense of place and purpose
A lot of people into rock and metal have a gateway band – something from their parents’ record collection, or an emo band from their teenage years they’re slightly embarrassed to say they ever liked. It seems unusual, but 5SOS was my gateway band, getting me invested in the sound of real instruments in an accessible way. Indeed, their early rock roots have never been fully appreciated. After attaining success by supporting One Direction on a stadium tour, they were wrongly relegated to the status of ‘boy bands’, irking rock music fans when their favourite magazines began to show an interest (they have twice graced the cover of Rock Sound, my personal favourite). ‘Are 5SOS really pop-punk?’ people asked. The answer to me was obvious, especially when compared to the new, greatly heralded wave of pop-punk emerging right now – songs like Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘good 4 u’ and Willow’s ‘Transparent Soul’ pack far less of a guitar crunch than some of 5SOS’s material. They introduced a new generation of fans to their influences like Green Day, Good Charlotte and All Time Low, and some of them, myself included, strayed further afield into the darker, heavier, yet adolescent-friendly sounds of Black Veil Brides and Pierce The Veil. As I approached my fourteenth birthday, I began to lose interest in pop and, craving something new to listen to, I went down the path of rock, even more so after my aforementioned heartbreak.
5 Seconds of Summer was a band I would eventually outgrow as I grew up and began to long for heavier, more mature sounds, while they went in the opposite direction and broke away from pop-punk with their third album Youngblood. Listening to them now, their lyrics seem puerile and saccharine in a way that only sweet, lovesick young boys are. Some have criticised the ‘entitled nice guy’ mentality of some of their songs, particularly ‘Heartbreak Girl’. They’re a ‘thank u next’ kind of band to me now, one whose brief presence in my life I am grateful for, for showing me a world of music that would transform me and give me a sense of place and purpose. In a way, I suppose, they made me who I am now.