When I was in high school, I had a crush on Billy Corgan (yes, the guy who now dons a pinstripe suit and yells corny shit at wrestlers). I dreamed that all of the romantic Smashing Pumpkins songs — "Luna," "By Starlight" and "Medellia of the Gray Skies" were particulars — had been written for me. I consider those times, along with my forever-broken teenage heart that longed for Kurt Cobain — or someone like him — my boy-band days. New Kids on the Block never resonated with me, and while I loved *NSYNC (mostly Lance,) the group's late-'90s entrance to pop was past my impressionable prime for crushing; I'd moved on to the Mike Dirnts and Gavin Rossdales of the alternaworld.
Last night's 5 Seconds of Summer show at the Pepsi Center brought back all of these feelings, seeing gaggles of girls totally crushed out on these dudes while simultaneously being enraptured by their music. While 5SOS was good enough, the group's fans were more interesting. It was like looking into the future of the music world: musicians, booking agents, managers, sound people, venue owners — the majority of the people I encounter in the adult music business world were and still are devout music fans. An arena full of mostly young women who were really, really excited about a band are exactly who I hope runs the music biz in the future. By all accounts, the devotedness of 5SOS fans could translate into just that.
But before 5SOS took the stage, Roy English started the show off. He had this sort of electro-sexy Iggy Pop-dude thing going on that was whatever. Awkward, mostly. Following him, Hey Violet came out to warm things up. It's hard not to look at a band with three young women in it and just be excited that they exist. Representations matter, so when there's an arena full of thousands of young women watching other young women play music on stage, I can't help but smile for the coming decades.
Although Hey Violet is a relatively young band age-wise, the majority of its members have been playing together since middle school. Songs like "Guys My Age" and "Fuqboi" were catchy, but probably in what some adults call a "guilty pleasure" way, because it's the kind of music we listen to in the shower, at the gym or when we're alone in our cars. Frontperson Rena Lovelis was relatively apathetic on stage, but I enjoyed the silliness of her songs. My 21-year-old sister was less impressed, remarking that Hey Violet's songs sounded like they were written by a trying-to-be-hip 35-year-old who loves hashtags — which made sense as to why I liked it. I'm a 35-year-old who loves hashtags.
Just before 9 p.m., 5 Seconds of Summer appeared for a show that would go on for more than ninety minutes — roughly twice the length of most pop shows. This was a rock show, yes, but it was still a pop show. Big screens behind the band showed us multiple angles of Luke, Calum, Mikey and Ashton's handsome faces throughout the show, barely taking the cameras off each dreamboat's twinkling eyes for more than a second. "Outer Space/Carry On" cracked open the extended set, eventually rolling into "Hey Everybody," (which, for my fellow olds, is a rather glorious reworking of Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf." )
The majority of the evening was dominated by guitarist Mikey Clifford's banter, with help from drummer Ashton Irwin and bassist Calum Hood. Surprisingly, lead singer and main grinner Luke Hemmings seemed to stare out into the crowd awkwardly and without much to say as his face was the most focused on by roving cameras and flashing across the giant screens flanking the stage. It almost felt as if he needed a little of the Julian Casablancas-sunglasses courage.
Regardless, 5SOS fans kept the screaming at a maximum for the band as it played tracks like "Money," "Vapor" and "Amnesia." There were lots of distracting guitar changes throughout the set, which seemed extra-unnecessary considering that the group's guitar tones and overall sound stayed exactly the same throughout almost every song. There were other pointless dramatic moments, too: At a certain break in the set, the whole band left the stage except Mikey, who stood silently at his microphone for a good five minutes while the crowd screamed in his honor. Later on, Ashton would basically make the audience beg for an encore — two songs before the set had even ended.
Between the melodramatic breaks, 5SOS plowed through "Jet Black Heart," "End Up Here" and "Good Girls," upping the snark and wanky playing for "Permanent Vacation" and a closing cover of the Romantics' "What I Like About You." Then, as the dudes had promised an audience they had made beg for an encore of two songs, they delivered with "She's Kinda Hot" and "She Looks So Perfect." 5SOS made the fans happy, and that's what mattered most.
Speaking of the fans — when I see shows like 5 Seconds of Summer, I can't help but think a lot about writer and critic Maria Sherman's work around the power of the "fan girl." As I scanned the crowd of mostly young women between the ages of fouteen and twenty at the 5SOS show, I saw a whole lot of people who were very excited about music. I also saw music and merchandise consumers and ticket-buyers — and that's the part of this equation that never seems to get any credit. The Beatles wouldn't have been shit without legions of young women — often labeled as the hysterics of "Beatlemania" — as fans. Young people (especially women) are purchasers of music culture, devotees of the art form and dedicated lovers, documentarians and collectors of musical output.
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SHOW ME HOW
5SOS exists and the Beatles existed because of young women. 5SOS seems to not only understand this, but also embrace it. I was once was a teenager who drooled over a stable of Alternative Nation superstar band dudes who I thought made great music and were super-cute. I eventually grew into an adult who plays music, writes about music and goes to shows. The impact of 5SOS will be felt for a long time after they fade, and it will be in the women who came out of fandom and into a music industry that still desperately needs more input, ideas and critical action from women. Women who love 5 Seconds of Summer.