THE SYDNEY FOURSOME 5 Seconds of Summer aren’t just a boyband, they want us to know. Check the cover of their globally successful debut album: a punk-style red X has been sprayed across their bodies, and their credo — “Derping since 2011” – is emblazoned on the inner sleeve. Derping sounds like the kind of thing parents would rather not know about, but it’s just teen shorthand for a self-deprecating, outsiderish attitude inherited from skate-punk. The sleeve photos, showing the band pulling faces and refusing to look pretty, position them closer to a hosed-down Blink 182 than to One Direction.
On stage, guitarist Michael Clifford, bassist Calum Hood, drummer Ashton Irwin and singer Luke Hemmings continue to run with the idea that they’re more punk than pop. Mostly still teenagers themselves, they aim for punky derpitude by stripping their pleasantly rackety tunes to their guitar-bass-drums bones, and whizzing through them on a bare stage. Into the mix are stirred lyrics about girls wearing the band’s underwear (their No 1 single, ‘She Looks So Perfect’, namechecks the American Apparel brand, which caused a 10% spike in sales) and their desire to be old enough to “do all the things you read in a magazine”.
With that vein of suggestiveness bubbling under their propulsive delivery, they’re shaping up to be the sexting generation’s Stranglers — yet it’s tempered with resolutely non-flirtatious banter. It’s one thing for a boyband to refuse to capitalise on their young female fans’ ardour; quite another to tell them, as Calum does, “You’re all a bunch of lads, that’s what you are.” Rather than dwelling broodingly on being called “lads”, the girls shriek with joy, and Michael rewards them with his memory of having once seen Muse at this venue, “when I was drunk and underage”. Hemmings hisses: “Think of the children!” But the children are in on this very tame craic, and cheer lustily.
Most of these girls are so inexperienced at gig-going that they don’t demand an encore, but it’s their loyalty that will determine 5SoS’s future. In their own right, the band are enjoyable conduits of polished bubble-punk — the Green Dayish free-for-all of ‘End Up Here’ shows aspirations far beyond the teen circuit. And they’ve already won a Kerrang! award, though that may reflect the fact that the magazine’s readership is 51% young women. But, like Busted before them, playing their own instruments doesn’t make them any less a boyband.
© Caroline Sullivan, The Guardian, 5 September 2014