5SOS And Hilary Duff Are Leading Pop's Third Eye Blind Revival

Mainstream artists are finally catching up to the indie underground’s big influence

In 2017, four guys toured the United States performing Third Eye Blind's self-titled album in full, ripping through everlasting radio hits like "Semi-Charmed Life" and "Jumper" to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its release. But they were not 3EB, not anymore. They were XEB, a group staffed with prominent ex-band members whose musical contributions had helped define the sound of the band for a combined 17 years.

At the same time, the canonical Third Eye Blind made its way across the country, led by sole original member Stephan Jenkins and Brad Hargreaves, who's drummed with 3EB since '95. They were ostensibly promoting a 2016 EP called We Are Drugs. But the group was also simply doing what they've expertly done since even before I packed into a university gym to shout along to their songs with hundreds of other kids who couldn't legally drink yet at my first show in 2007: hitting college towns and casino stages with a career-spanning set of radio-dominant riffs and shit-talking, yet sensitive lyrics. It is the Third Eye Blind way.

That there could be two versions of 3EB touring simultaneously speaks to a larger truth — people love these songs. Their self-titled album has the hits, but subsequent drops like 1999's Blue, 2003's Out of the Vein, 2009's Ursa Major, and even 2015's Dopamine all have unsung bangers. The band's influence reaches well beyond those who bought the first CD at Media Play in 1997. In fact, over the past few years, an onslaught of young 3EB-inspired acts have brought their own heart-rending power-pop to the indie scene. Now the mainstream is having its turn.

Hilary Duff and her husband Matthew Koma have teamed up with electronic-minded producer RAC for a new Third Eye Blind cover, out today (February 12). Duff takes the high chorus of "Never Let You Go" the way Jenkins did, turning the title phrase into a desperate declaration, as RAC softens the song, turning it blissed out and festival ready. "To say that @matthewkoma and I are fans of 3EB is a massive understatement," Duff wrote to announce the single. "These records actually play a huge part in our love story." If the rest of the story involves putting "I Want You" on a romantically curated playlist or singing along to "Wounded" on a road trip, they likely share that tale with scores of 3EB-appreciating love-drunk millennials.

When marquee pop acts aren't straight-up covering Third Eye Blind, they're finding a lot to play with inside their sonic toolkit. Last week, 5 Seconds of Summer dropped "No Shame," a breezy departure from the gritty, industrial playground they reached into for 2019 singles "Easier" and "Teeth." While the latter explicitly draws from Nine Inch Nails and the former bordered on nu-metal, "No Shame" finds the quartet in the vicinity of 3EB's more contemporary work — vocalist Luke Hemmings's bouncy delivery of the chorus line, "I only light up when cameras are flashing," would fit nicely on 3EB's Screamer. When he later sings, "Go on and light me like a cigarette / Even if it might be something you'll regret," I hear shades of Jenkins's best trick: a minefield of sensitive diary lines ("I've never been so alone / And I've never been so alive") mingling with smart-aleck smack ("When you start talking I hear the Prozac").

"Somebody once described our music as pretty little songs with dirty little words, which I thought was great," Jenkins said in 2009. It was always a bit more complicated than that. By all accounts, the three ousted members who later formed XEB (Kevin Cadogan, Arion Salazar, and Tony Fredianelli) helped cement the cosmic identity of their original band, including in the songwriting, alongside everything Jenkins did as its face. But that duality has been and will likely always be a huge part of their legacy. So will the whooshing guitar swirls, crisp bass lines, and punchy, Eric Valentine-produced drums that make up the foundation on which Jenkins could smirk, "Doing crystal meth will lift you up until you break," on their most famous song.

You can find those musical cues all over the indie-rock landscape, particularly among the younger generation. A few years ago, arty band Crying released "There Was a Door," which sounded like 3EB's "Losing a Whole Year" if the half-raps were mumbled and the riffs got struck by lightning. The emo-leaning Future Teens injected "The Background," a Third Eye Blind crier rendering images of hospitals and numbness, with an adolescent fury missing from Jenkins's more mature telling. Chicago power-pop wiz Jupiter Styles made his very own "1000 Julys" on "Peace, Dog." "People always compare me to Third Eye Blind, and I always say that's probably accurate because I listened to a lot of Third Eye Blind growing up," Styles captain Sean Neumann told MTV News last year.

Once you start, it's easy to hear 3EB echoes everywhere. You tap play on I'll Show You Stronger, the warm 2019 debut from songwriter Alyse Vellturo's project Pronoun, and hear the twinkles of the Blue and Out of the Vein albums — an influence she freely admits. Her gauzy ode "Run" gathers its energy the same way eternal jams "Wounded" and "Blinded (When I See You)" do, with charging drums and galaxies of layered guitars. That's a similar trick pulled by Long Island emo and pop-punk master Jade Lilitri across his Oso Oso catalog, especially on last year's excellent Basking in the Glow. "We were goin for a mix of completely ripping off Third Eye Blind and [Brand New's Your Favorite Weapon] minus the being angry/ telling people to crash their car," he tweeted in 2017 about past releases. "Impossible Game" goes there, too.

A love for Third Eye Blind doesn't always materialize in a band's actual music. Sometimes it feels nice to listen to them in the van or to tune your guitar down to really nail the opening of "Narcolepsy." Sometimes it's just for fun.

On Halloween in 2018, Philadelphia sound experimenter (Sandy) Alex G played a messy, incredibly fun set of 3EB covers at a house show in Rochester, New York — my hometown, and where I saw my second-ever Third Eye Blind show. (I caught a guitar pick thrown by Stephan Jenkins, which I still have.) Alex's band's set was marked by regular pulls from a whiskey bottle, forgetting tons of lyrics, and incredibly tight harmonies on "Semi-Charmed Life"'s doot-doo-doos. Concurrent with all this chaos, Alex and his band summoned the requisite energy to bring those beloved songs to life; the crowd exploded at the opening drum fill of 3EB's biggest hit.

This time, none of the performers were ex-members of Third Eye Blind. But they certainly were fans.

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