The Week In Pop: 5 Seconds Of Summer And The Evolution Of Pop-Punk Boy Bands
“She looks so perfect standing there/ In my American Apparel underwear” is the new “I like girls who wear Abercrombie & Fitch.” Fifteen years ago, at the height of boy-band mania, America was bombarded by LFO’s “Summer Girls,” in which bros with magnificently sculpted haircuts and bodacious bods sing-rapped clumsy couplets between harmonious refrains about the reigning prep attire of the day. These days it’s marvelously coifed Aussie mall punks 5 Seconds Of Summer serving up choruses about lovely ladies wearing name-brand garments — or, in the case of breakthrough single “She Looks So Perfect,” undergarments. 5 Seconds Of Summer presents as a rock band, but they register as a boy band. They are teen idols no different from the NKOTBs and 98 Degrees of yesteryear but for a Stratocaster in hand and their logo emblazoned on a kick drum.
This isn’t a new phenomenon; fresh-faced lads with guitars and big haircuts have been making teenagers swoon since the Beatles, and they’ve come prepackaged since the Monkees. Since then the Bay City Rollers, Duran Duran, Poison and many more have offered a pretty-boy alternative to rock’s down-and-dirty side, often offending rock purists but just as often serving as a gateway to grittier fare. Even today, we have bands like British pin-ups the 1975 sending young fans aflutter at Coachella, although in this climate they’re finally free to admit they’re more influenced by Whitney Houston than the Smiths. These bands are not pop-rock so much as pop dressed up as rock, teen idols wearing rock star costumes. That’s not a value judgment, just an anthropological observation. 5 Seconds Of Summer and their ancestors are a way for innocent listeners to get the illusion of danger while remaining safe from any real threat except the unshakable scent of hair product. They’ve always been a part of the pop music ecosystem, but over the past decade and a half there’s been an abundance of them popping up under the guise of pop-punk. How did we get from LFO to 5 Seconds Of Summer? It all starts with blink-182.
The same summer LFO was wooing Abercrombie girls, Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge, and Travis Barker were making pop-punk palatable for those same ladies. As it evolved from Buzzcocks to Descendents to NOFX, the genre had become predominantly the province of mischievous males — class clowns, skaters, prank-callers and the like. It was music to blast after leaving flaming bags of dog shit on your neighbor’s porch or to match with footage of rail slides and varial kickflips. Green Day and the Offspring took this sound to the preps and jocks, but blink-182 were the ones who opened the door to their cheerleader girlfriends. What began with the inclusion of “Dammit” on the Can’t Hardly Wait soundtrack in 1998 got going in earnest with 1999’s Enema Of The State, which smoothed pop-punk’s fury into warm tones just friendly enough to make the dick jokes seem cute rather than crass. It was truly an enema of the state of pop-punk. Blink bridged the TRL-era gap between knuckle-dragging nu-metal and immaculately styled pop idols. They polarized punk fans, but everybody in the mainstream could agree on them.
That made pop-punk and its weird cousin emo an exceptionally profitable venture. I was finishing up my freshman year of high school when Enema Of The State came out; by the time I graduated, pop-punks like Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba were becoming teen idols and teen idols like Avril Lavigne were dressing like pop-punks. Dashboard’s “Screaming Infidelities” and Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi” were game-changers, especially “Sk8er Boi,” which cemented the concept of the punk rocker as a manchild worth squealing over. And let’s not underestimate the influence of Christian pop-punk acts like Relient K; youth group kids are always in search of sheepish music in wolf’s clothing. Together, these defanged hit-makers signified a new world order. Pop-punk was now the premier venue for rock ‘n’ roll teeny-boppers. It probably didn’t hurt that the previous wave of teen pop stars — your Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake types — was moving on to more grown-up material like “Toxic” and “Cry Me A River” by then.
What followed was what today’s emo revivalists refer to as pop-punk’s “hair metal” phase. The Warped Tour and Hot Topic became the breeding ground for scenecore, where even the most abrasive bands posted individual glamor shots on MySpace. Fall Out Boy rose from Chicago’s hardcore underground to become top 40 hitmakers as Pete Wentz hooked up with pop singer Ashlee Simpson. Something Corporate released a song called “Punk Rock Princess.” Shit, one band openly called itself Cute Is What We Aim For. Leading lights in that scene such as Fall Out Boy and Paramore progressively nudged their sounds closer to hip-hop, R&B, and electronic dance-pop. Meanwhile, the Disney Channel’s wholesome youth entertainment factory cranked out the Jonas Brothers, whose debut single, “Mandy,” could have passed for a preteen blink-182. By 2011, Hot Chelle Rae were dressing like Russell Brand caricatures and kicking out effervescent singles with only a token connection to rock ‘n’ roll. Which brings us to One Direction, the reigning boy band of our time, who recorded their own guitar-pop anthem last year, albeit one that resembles Big Star more than blink-182. 1D discovered 5 Seconds Of Summer and took them on tour last year, paving the way for the She Looks So Perfect EP to debut at #2 (behind only the ever-resilient Frozen soundtrack) on the US album chart.
5 Seconds Of Summer is maybe the exact center between Chris Carrabba and Avril Lavigne, the logical culmination of the pop-punk teeny bopper movement that sprung up in the wake of Enema Of The State. Take their instruments away and try to spot the difference between anything on their EP and 1D’s “Story Of My Life.” Alternately, let them keep the instruments but put the music on mute — can you tell them apart from half the groups on this year’s Warped Tour? By completing the circuit, singing about tattoos and “ripped skinny jeans” over pristine productions while flashing Hollywood smiles, they underline what a Tigerbeat operation post-blink-182 pop-punk has been all along. The clothes change, but the hormones stay the same.
HEY, CHECK OUT THIS EP
Last week we brought you “Sophie K” from Florida synth-pop act X priest X in the singles section. This week the group’s full Samurai EP is streaming, and it’s a gorgeously wispy bit of post-Chvrches power-pop.
The morning after I got back to Ohio from Coachella I awoke to find multiple inches of snow on the ground — halfway through April! The only reasonable explanation for this (besides Ohio’s unfortunate tendency to skip past temperate spring and fall weather and get right to the extreme temperatures) is the Frozen soundtrack’s continued domination of the Billboard 200. The album logged its tenth nonconsecutive week at #1 last week with 149,000 in sales, pushing its overall total above 2 million. Per Billboard, it’s only the eleventh album of the SoundScan era to pull off 10 weeks on top. Three other soundtracks are among those ranks: The Bodyguard, Titanic, and The Lion King.
The rest of the album chart is downright pathetic; Pharrell’s G I R L only had to sell 29,000 copies to finish #2, the lowest-selling #2 in SoundScan history. G I R L sold 353 percent less than Frozen; the last time there was such a disparity percentage-wise between the #1 and #2 albums was September 2007, when the High School Musical soundtrack sold 507 percent more than Talib Kweli’s Eardrum. 5 Seconds Of Summer’s She Looks So Perfect EP is at #3 with 26,000. Christian worship band MercyMe manages to debut at #4 with only about 26,000 as well, and on the other end of the spiritual spectrum, Black Label Society’s Catacombs Of The Black Vatican debuts at #5 just short of 26,000 in sales. R&B singer SoMo’s self-titled album debuts at #6 with 20,000 in sales, and country singer Martina McBride’s Everlasting debuts at #7 with a mere 21,000. These should not be top 10 numbers! Luke Bryan, Shakira, and Florida Georgia Line round out the top 10.
Hey, more stasis on the Hot 100 too! Billboard reports that the top 7 has been the same for three consecutive weeks for the first time in the chart’s 55-year history. That means Pharrell’s “Happy” is #1 again (for an eighth straight week), followed by John Legend, Katy Perry, Jason DeRulo, Idina Menzel, Bastille, and Lorde. It’s not like DJ Snake & Lil Jon, Aloe Blacc, and OneRepublic represent any kind of real movement either. The closest thing to a shakeup near the top of the charts is Ed Sheeran’s “Sing,” which debuts at #15. Is this stagnant field a result of the new chart rules, a natural effect of this niche-oriented generation, or what?
Interestingly, although the top 7 has never repeated exactly for three straight weeks, it did happen for just two weeks in 1982. Billboard listed those songs: Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”; John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good”; Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra”; Fleetwood Mac’s “Hold Me”; Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”; Air Supply’s “Even the Nights Are Better”; and REO Speedwagon’s “Keep the Fire Burnin’.”
John Mayer – “XO” (Beyoncé Cover)
John Mayer’s breathy balladry is mostly tepid, but he tends to knock his covers out of the park (remember his “Kid A”?), and he’s applied those skills to a recent romantic Beyoncé hit. Thankfully, instead of joining the already crowded field of “Drunk In Love” covers, he opted to do justice to the very pretty “XO.” Or maybe you consider this a desecration of the original?
MNEK – “Every Little Word”
“Do you fuck to this shit?” Not yet, but I do fuck with it.
Lee Brice – “I Don’t Dance”
In which the country singer behind “I Drive Your Truck,” the country tearjerker that cracked our 50 favorite songs of 2013, successfully swings for the emotional fences again.
Wiz Khalifa – “We Dem Boyz”
Getting a distinct “Worst Behavior” vibe from this one, but with Wiz’s own special brand of insufferable charisma subbed in for Drake’s. Can imagine this coming on at barbecues all summer and not being mad.
Jhené Aiko – “Comfort Inn Ending”
Perhaps she indeed should not have fucked him on a boat for his birthday, but it certainly resulted in an enjoyable treatise on post-fling regret. Finally starting to understand what Drake sees in this lady.
SoMo – “Ride”
This one’s been out there for a few months now, but considering SoMo’s self-titled debut just landed in the (admittedly feeble) Billboard 200 top 10 and is the #1 album on iTunes right now, it probably merits some attention. Other than a few post-40 production floruishes, there’s not really anything zeitgeisty about it; “Ride” is the sort of back-to-basics sex-you-up slow jam that could’ve been on the charts any time in the past 30 years. I can’t imagine actively choosing to listen to it, but I wouldn’t turn it off if it came on the radio either.
Sigma – “Nobody To Love”
London duo Sigma sampled Charlie Wilson’s “Bound 2″ chorus and turned it into an uptempo dance-pop track with drum ‘n’ bass vibes. It’s now the #1 song in the UK. Proceed with caution.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Taylor Swift crashed a bridal shower in my very own hometown, then video-blogged about it. [Taylor Swift]
- I was hating on Ed Sheeran last week, but I can’t front: I’m curious to hear what he recorded with Jessie Ware. [Twitter]
- Who’s up for some new ABBA? The members of ABBA might be. [The Guardian]
- One Direction fans under 12 — in all seriousness, surely one of the most fervent demographics in their fan base — might not be allowed into the standing general admission section of an upcoming Sunderland stadium show. [BBC]
- Speaking of stadium shows, who’s on board for the rumored Jay Z/Beyoncé summer stadium tour? [The New York Post]
- Not that he needs it, but Sean Combs is finally getting a college degree, albeit an honorary one. [Billboard]
- Lily Allen has dedicated Sheezus to Amy Winehouse. [Telegraph]