If you’ve ever watched Shark Week on Discovery Channel, you may have heard the phrase apex predator. That’s any animal like, say, a great white shark, at the top of the food chain. An animal that has no natural enemies, just lots of prey. An animal that biologists tell us is the best of its kind, a genetically perfect killing machine.
Listening to the debut release of 5 Seconds of Summer, I couldn’t help but think of that phrase … because these four guys from Australia represent, in many ways, a melding of the musical DNA of all their boy band progenitors into a predatory package engineered to devour pop radio. More so than any other group of this kind I can think of, 5 Seconds of Summer injects the genre’s established formula (dreamy looking guys, hypnotic harmonies, hysteria-inducing love songs) with an adrenalized infusion of guitar-engulfed, arena-rock machismo—as if ‘N Sync and Def Leppard had teamed up to do an album together.
The result? A 12-song collection of gang-vocal-filled, euphoria-inciting pop rock (for some teen girls, anyway) from the music world’s latest wannabe apex predator.
Album opener “She Looks So Perfect” fantasizes about getting married: “If I showed up with a plane ticket/And a shiny diamond ring with your name on it/Would you wanna run away too?” In “Everything I Didn’t Say,” a brokenhearted young man laments not doing romantic things that would have demonstrated to his ex “what you’re really worth.” We hear this romantic idyll in “Long Way Home”: “I wanna get lost and drive forever with you.” “Heartbreak Girl” finds a guy stuck in the dreaded “friend zone,” wishing that his secret crush would wake up to the fact that he wants to be so much more.
The good-looking woman on “She Looks So Perfect” has shed most of her own clothes and is wearing some of her boyfriend’s—including his underwear: “You look so perfect standing there/In my American Apparel underwear/ … I’ve got your ripped skinny jeans lying on the floor.” We also hear the album’s lone profanity, “d–n,” in this first of many songs suggesting that sex and love are completely interchangeable, not to mention unrelated to marriage or long-term commitment.
Next up, “Don’t Stop,” on which the 5 Second lads tell a girl what their endgame is: “I gotta let you know/That everybody wants to take you home tonight/But I’m gonna find a way to make you mine.” ” Good Girls” mocks parents who think their daughter is a conscientious scholar when in fact she’s lying to them, sneaking out to see her beau and making out with him whenever possible. “Kiss Me Kiss Me” asks a young woman to do just that, adding suggestively, “Let’s make tonight/The best night of our lives/ … Take a breath, no rest ’til sunrise/Heartbeat so sweet, when your lips touch mine/We don’t have to go home right now.” All that serves as a toast of sorts to the band’s vision of making the most of adolescence: “Here’s to teenage memories.”
On “18,” we hear about a younger teen pining to be that age so he can get into a bar (Australia’s legal drinking age is 18) and rendezvous with an older woman there. He’s managed to get a fake ID, but he laments that his youth will likely prevent him from exploring his would-be partner’s carnal secrets (“She’s got a naughty tattoo/In a place that I want to get to/But my mom still drives me to school”).
“Beside You” is written from the perspective of a musician on tour who longs to be at home in bed with his significant other, sans any reference to couple getting married. Cohabitation, then, is an assumed norm here. Likewise, sleeping together is the subject of “End Up Here,” where the “here” in question is next to hot girl the morning after a surprise tryst (“You’re telling me how you love that song/About living on a prayer/I’m pretty sure we’re halfway there/And when I wake up next to you I wonder how/How did we end up here?”). Meanwhile, more references to sleeping together (and presumably sex, too), turn up on “Amnesia,” where we hear someone wishing he could forget how great it felt to bed down with someone who’s left him (“I wish that I could wake up with amnesia/And forget about the stupid little things/Like the way it felt to fall asleep next to you”).
On “Long Way Home,” taking that route involves parking and more making out (“Hitting every stop light/Kissing at the stop signs, darling/Green Day’s on the radio/And everything is alright/Now we’re turning off the headlights, darling/We’re just taking it slow/Taking the long way home”). Things take a Mrs. Robinson-esque turn on “Mrs All American” as someone (possibly a teen, given these guys’ ages) is apparently having an affair with the married American woman who just moved in next door (“Not just a neighbor/Oh, hey there, I’ll ring your bell/And I’ll kiss you well/My lips are sealed/There’s nobody that I would tell/Your secret’s mine, close your eyes/And I’ll make you melt/ … Walk my way/Mrs. All American”). Elsewhere on the song we hear she’s got a minivan (“That minivan that you drive really gets me going”), arguably suggesting she’s a mother, too.
First things first: The four guys in 5 Seconds of Summer are young. Younger than Justin Bieber or the One Direction dudes, with whom they’re frequently compared. Three of them, in fact, are only 18 at the time of this album’s release, with the eldest of the bunch, Ashton Irwin, just having turned 20.
But that’s not stopping these lads (three of whom met at a Christian school) from singing about some decidedly adult stuff. Like having an affair with a married neighbor, for instance.
See what I mean about the whole apex predator thing?
We also get loads of references to falling asleep with and waking up next to someone, suggesting that’s just normal high school behavior. Throw in rebellious winking at “good girls” behaving much worse than their hoodwinked parents know, and the end result is a band (with a huge following of young fans) pushing a sexed-up worldview that’s anything but truly romantic.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.