5 Seconds of Summer were never any more of a boy band than their heroes in pop-punk staples Blink-182, Sum 41, and Good Charlotte. Yet early in their career, the Aussie quartet couldn't help but avoid that label as they rose from YouTube cover stars to readymade pop-punkers in skinny jeans, opening up for One Direction (who were definitely, certifiably a boy band, complicating things). The disconnect gnawed at them a bit.
"Seventy-five percent of our lives is proving we're a real band," drummer Ashton Irwin told Rolling Stone in 2015. "We're getting good at it now. We don't want to just be, like, for girls. We want to be for everyone."
While it's easy to see that quote being taken out of context, it was clear that Ashton — and guitarists Luke Hemmings and Michael Clifford and bassist Calum Hood — meant simply that they want to be huge and make massive music. That's why, in February, when 5SOS roared back with "Want You Back," it was easy to see the machinations at work: This is a pop song. These guys are, and have really always been, pop stars at heart. You just needed to know what to listen for.
Of course, you couldn't always tell by the crunching guitars and arena-sized drums. But going all the way back to 2014, the seeds for 5SOS's full pop crossover had been planted all along. And now, with the band's long-anticipated third album, Youngblood, dropping on Friday (June 15), it's time to take a look at exactly how. Here's the 5SOS pop evolution tracked in eight of their biggest songs.
"She Looks So Perfect" (2014)
The sound: '80s stadium rock for the Instagram generation
The story: If this nuclear chorus wasn't fans' first exposure to the band — they'd already been YouTube pros for years — it was certainly 5SOS's arrival announcement to the larger world. Stadium-influenced and youthful with traces of pop-punk, it revealed, in three-and-a-half minutes, everything you needed to know about the band up to that point... even if Michael wasn't sold at first. "It hit me straight away," Ashton told Rolling Stone. "I loved it because it was quirky. I knew it was gonna break us. Michael hated it."
"Don't Stop" (2014)
The sound: If One Direction were featured on the American Pie 2 soundtrack
The story: Making goofy music videos is a time-honored pop-punk tradition (much like shaving heads). Here, 5SOS become "superheroes" to show off their own daffy side for a scorching pop-punk cut straight out of 2001. Their early signature sound had come sharply into focus.
"She's Kinda Hot" (2015)
The sound: Good Charlotte-inspired frisky mall-punk
The story: Co-penned with the Madden Brothers themselves and Goldfinger's John Feldmann, "She's Kinda Hot" was, upon release, the latest entry in a storied rock lineage. "It's a variation on the 1950s rock and roll walking bass line, and this type of riff appears in countless well-known songs, including [The Beatles's] 'Day Tripper,'" musicologist Joe Bennett told MTV News in 2015. I hear a bit of The Offspring's "Why Don't You Get a Job?" in there too. The formula works!
"Hey Everybody!" (2015)
The sound: Sum 41 on TRL in 2001
The story: This fizzy shout-along anthem one always reminded me of Sum 41's "In Too Deep," and the video fits that description, too. Instead of high-diving ne'er-do-wells, 5SOS (appropriately) play youthful millionaires in a reference-packed visual that, of course, ultimately ends up in the pool. "We wanted to show that at the end of the day, the band wanted to just be themselves, but we see them walking away from this really rich lifestyle," director Isaac Rentz told MTV News in 2015. "They don't need it, it's fun, but it's almost like an amusement park rather than something they really want." Regardless, 5SOS were young, "rich," and ready to take on the world.
"Jet Black Heart" (2015)
The sound: The flipside of the stadium banger (a.k.a. the roof-raising power ballad)
The story: There's a reason the band has played this song live over 150 times in the past three years: It simply connects. You can see it in the fan-assisted music video; how the matured sound on Sounds Good Feels Good took 5SOS's spry vigor and amplified it into something supersonic. To do that, the band worked with former Evanescence member David Hodges and pointed the song directly at the sky, getting as large a sound as possible. It was only a matter of time until they did it again.
"Girls Talk Boys" (2016)
The sound: Glittery '80s pop splattered with delicious falsetto
The story: In hindsight, 5SOS gave us a blueprint for their Youngblood quantum leap back in 2016 via this neon gem from the revived Ghostbusters soundtrack. With songwriting assistance from a small crew of pros (including pop maven Teddy Geiger), "Girls Talk Boys" goes where most 5SOS tunes had not gone before: directly into a white-hot funky groove. "It's more like a cool step for us musically," Luke said at the time. And that step led directly to...
"Want You Back" (2018)
The sound: Super slick, heartfelt dance-pop à la The 1975
The story: With this, 5SOS have now reached a pop milestone also achieved by the Jackson 5 and NSYNC (and Haim, too): writing their own version of a rumbling song with this particular name. And what a rumble it is. The shout-along choruses have been swapped out for gooey falsetto — the handiwork of Steve Mac (who helped pen "Shape of You") and others. As Luke recently revealed, it was the end result of plenty of trial and error: "We've got to kind of do something that is way better and greater for us as people and for us as a band."
The sound: Bleachers, but heartbroken in the club
The story: On the forthcoming album of the same name, Youngblood is an unabashed mission statement for a new era of 5SOS. The electronic drums are louder. The guitars are supplementary instead of central. And the sense of heartache is crushing. For this one, the band wrote with a handful of pop wizards behind songs from Camila Cabello, Cardi B, Post Malone, and Justin Bieber. It's clear to see why — when you need a song that sounds so drastically different but also sounds like outrunning yourself, this is who it requires. "No one was expecting us to take this kind of route when it comes to what we could've evolved into musically," Michael said recently. To quote some very essential 5SOS forebears, I guess this is growing up.
5SOS recently unveiled the pumped-up live versions of some key Youngblood tracks at an Apple Music event in New York. Check out a clip of the title track below.