Music News & Reviews

For 5 Seconds of Summer, the clock is ticking on teen-idol years

Michael Clifford of Australian pop band 5 Seconds of Summer performs in the middle of Hollywood & Highland Center on Oct. 23 in Hollywood, Calif.
Michael Clifford of Australian pop band 5 Seconds of Summer performs in the middle of Hollywood & Highland Center on Oct. 23 in Hollywood, Calif. TNS

Guided by a crew of handlers and bodyguards, the members of 5 Seconds of Summer navigated their way through the retail maze at Hollywood & Highland in Los Angeles to an outdoor performance area, where a noisy crowd of mostly preteen girls packed three levels surrounding the stage.

The musicians, all between ages 19 and 21, banged out five songs, then headed upstairs to a Hot Topic store to find a folding table stocked with permanent markers and bottles of hand sanitizer. Five hundred excited fans waited outside, eager for the album signing to start.

Oct. 23 marked the release of 5 Seconds of Summer’s second album, “Sounds Good Feels Good,” and the day began with a numbing succession of television interviews in which the band – singer-guitarists Luke Hemmings and Michael Clifford, singer-bassist Calum Hood and drummer Ashton Irwin – were asked whether they have girlfriends and who they think will win at next month’s American Music Awards.

Typical teen-idol stuff, down to the slightly glazed look that entered each guy’s (super-dreamy) eyes as the afternoon wore on.

But when they woke that morning, they were only dimly aware of what the day would hold.

They knew there was a concert in the works, and they assumed they’d probably be answering ample interview questions from reporters. But the specifics were a blur for these four young Australians, whose pop-punk band might be the world’s biggest new rock group – if only the grown-ups would take them seriously.

“It’s kind of a weird thought, isn’t it?” said Hood. “Back at the start, before we’d released any music and we were just doing, like, a radio show a day, it was easy to keep on top of everything. Now we’re doing so much that it’s impossible. I kind of just let it happen.”

5 Seconds of Summer, known to its faithful as 5SOS, formed near Sydney in 2011 and almost instantly ascended to pin-up status after opening several tours for the mega-popular British boy band One Direction. (The two acts share a management firm.)

Professional songwriters familiar with the territory have helped along the way. Joel and Benji Madden, who in the early 2000s fronted the pop-punk band Good Charlotte, penned “Amnesia,” a hit ballad from 5SOS’s self-titled 2014 debut. They also co-wrote four tracks on “Sounds Good Feels Good.”

“It’s a wild ride,” Joel said. “I’ve told them to enjoy it.”

That’s been easy. But now comes the inevitable inflection point: If Hood is resigned to relinquishing control of his minute-to-minute movement, he and his bandmates are trying to take more control of their future with the new album. Louder and a bit darker than the band’s debut, it’s a play for life after teen idol-dom.

“These guys wanted to make a statement with this record,” said John Feldmann, a veteran of the pop-punk scene who produced “Sounds Good Feels Good.” “It’s a rock record with guitars and drums and an actual orchestra. We kept everything as real as possible – playing everything, not drawing the sounds on a screen.”

For a generation of fans raised on Auto-Tune, that may be a minor distinction. But 5SOS also expands its subject matter this time, with songs about depression and rejection. Even the title of the album’s lead single, “She’s Kinda Hot,” hints at the flicker of ambivalence that’s crept into the group’s music.

In a warm review, Rolling Stone said the album shows that “these boys have more guts than some bands twice their age.”

Hood attributed the development to the period they spent living together in a house in Los Angeles while writing the songs. “It didn’t feel forced” like the band’s first go-around, he said, back when they were racing to capitalize on the buzz produced by their link to One Direction.

“There was time for us to just hang out as teenagers, which is essentially what we are,” the singer went on. “And that kind of gave us the freedom to delve into subjects that require a bit more thought.”

The challenge, of course, will be keeping in touch with that complexity on the road, which is where 5SOS will be for the next year, signing T-shirts and triggering shrieks with every toss of their perfectly imperfect hair.

At Hollywood & Highland, the musicians seemed plenty happy as they charged through “She’s Kinda Hot” and their first big hit, “She Looks So Perfect,” which Hemmings described to the crowd as “the song that let us make the second record.”

But they seemed even happier backstage, cracking jokes in a tiny makeshift green room, an AC/DC song blaring over loudspeakers to announce their entrance.

“I don’t even know what we’re playing,” one of them admitted. Nobody was worried, though. Surely someone would be along soon to tell them.

5 Seconds of Summer

7:30 p.m. Aug. 27, 2016, Taco Bell Arena, 1401 Bronco Lane, Boise. $25-$79.95. Ticketmaster.

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