Since their career took off, almost every news outlet has had trouble labeling Australian band “5 Seconds of Summer”. Most took to throwing the infamous “boyband” label around, but that didn’t seem to quite sit well with fans who considered the band to be a bit more grunge than what a boyband insinuates. Many have even pointed out that, besides just the stark deviation from a pop sound, the band members all individually play their own instruments on stage. While they all contribute vocally on occasion, Luke Hemmings takes on the lead singer role.
The part that really skews everyone’s perspective isn’t even their sound necessarily. Rather, its how they were discovered. 5 Seconds of Summer gained massive traction when One Direction member Louis Tomlinson, tweeted about them, linking fans to their music. After that, the boyband took 5 Seconds of Summer on two consecutive worldwide tours as their sole opening act.
Before being discovered, though, the band uploaded covers to Youtube that highlighted a diverse mixture of music genres. These included “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus and “Year 3000” by Busted. Their first few originals (like “Try Hard” or “Heartbreak Girl”) carried over some elements and themes of pop punk like being young, broke, and heartbroken. While those themes prevail in a multitude of pop hits, in this case, 5 Seconds of Summer emulates it in a very ‘emo’ way by talking about tattoos, pierced lips, and the “friend zone”.
Their music videos showed them jamming out in a traditional rock band sort of way in front of a pit full of fans. In many ways, they weren’t portraying themselves as auto-tuned pop artists but were staying true to their rock roots and influences. In their songs, they even pay tribute to musicians such as Kurt Cobain.
When “She Looks So Perfect” became the song to truly define their career, people started really taking notice to them and tried to place them into a genre. With slightly less edge, the song made it onto mainstream radio a little which contributed to the band’s major success. However, the song still held true to classic and stereotypical themes of pop punk, including the infamous “leaving this town trope”.
Style-wise, fans often praise the boys for their old “emo fringe” phase where they rocked a mixture of soft punk (stereotypical band tees and skinny jeans) and surfer vibe clothes (tanks and distressed jeans). At this point, they were young and still in school. Now, they haven’t deviated much from this look. Michael Clifford still rocks his dyed hair and most of the time the band members can be seen in skinny jeans and t-shirts. The only real difference is now the boys can afford some higher quality and more expensive pieces, but what true rock stars don’t take advantage of this?
Yet, despite all of this, so many music fans are still reluctant to allow them entrance into the “pop punk” genre. Many won’t even allow them to claim “alternative rock” as a possibility. Many point out that their second album doesn’t quite meet the standards of the rock world. Rock enthusiasts push even further saying that none of their music is quite right to fit the mold.
I’ve always been one to question our delicate walls of “genre”, especially when labels are wielded as weapons against each other.
So, is it their sound or their fan base that the media and most of the world uses to determine their genre and role in the music industry?
Their fans are largely teenage girls who also identify with bands such as One Direction and Why Don’t We, which are clearly boy bands. I wonder if many allow their perception of the fanbases to shield their judgment of genre? Since the “5sos Fam” idolizes boy bands, it’s easy to lump the band into that category but doesn’t truly make a whole lot of sense.
In fact, our whole perception of boy bands is cloudy as new single definition really exists. In 5 Seconds of Summer, they all play their own instruments. However, in One Direction lead guitar is often played by Niall Horan and in Why Don’t We, Daniel Seavey tends to play guitar, cello, or piano whenever needed.
5 Seconds of Summer doesn’t do choreographed dances at all. Then again, One Direction rarely did, either, since it wasn’t really their style. 5SOS is comprised of a group of men, but so is Guns N’ Roses and I never see anyone bother to call them a boy band. The difference is really the fan base in that case… 5SOS’s being teenage girls and GNR’s being middle-aged men.
What I’m saying is our perception is skewed either way. Nothing is ever quite black and white. To discredit a band like 5 Seconds of Summer (or even to discredit a more textbook boyband) just because of some label you’d like to place on them isn’t what the purpose of music is. We need to stop stressing out so much about defining music and instead focus on embracing it. If you like the sound, admit it and have a good time. Who says music needs to follow a textbook?