For four years, an old college editor of mine tried to convince me to listen to 5 Seconds of Summer.
It was 2014, and the band's debut was conquering the radio. "A new One Direction with a punk rock twist" is how they were being billed to non-believers like me. The only issue is that I despised One Direction: still do. "What Makes You Beautiful" was a poisonous earworm and "Story of My Life" was just a hollow Mumford & Sons wannabe. Needless to say, 5SOS's 1D comparisons and attempted revitalization of early 2000's pop-punk was not for me. Then, the band got my attention when they started to realize that it wasn't for them, either. "It's taken four years for any media outlet to come to us and say, 'Hey I'd like to talk about some real shit, instead of who our favorite Disney princesses are,'" they told The Guardian in 2015. Their pining for artistic legitimacy, rather than celebrity status, made me rethink my toxic relationship with a young band I actually knew nothing about.
I heard "Youngblood" for the first time at the gym—a deeply melodic and layered pop-rock track that was devoid of any pop-punk flavor. "5SOS really didn't need to go this route," wrote Stereogum of the band's third album. "Juvenile pop-punk bands have generally aged more gracefully–or at least more successfully–than acts from most youth-oriented genres." The group revealed that they had a Maroon 5-like pop sensibility and made a creative move that could have decimated the band's career if the result hadn't been so damn tasty. Youngblood's galavanting choruses and tight guitar riffs were impossible to ignore.
Yet, even with my growing interest in the album, something about me continued to resist caving into the obsession. Then came "Easier," the group's latest single, as well as their most "youth-oriented." If "youthful" implies near-perfect pop songs with charming and infectious sensibilities, then I don't want to grow old. Even for the fans who were able to lie to themselves and say they didn't enjoy Youngblood, it is impossible to disregard the fun of "Easier" unless your favorite band is Papa Roach. The melody's vibrant persona and charismatic vocals, that scrumptious little guitar riff, the autotuned breakdown at the bridge—all of it equates a delicious meal of a pop song that will nourish your brain whether you want it to or not. Just take these fans reactions into account. None of them are overreacting:
When we discuss bands "selling out," the connotation of the term is often negative. It pertains to an artist changing their sound, with a "sell out" becoming particularly unforgivable when the resulting sound is catchy: the catchier the song, the harder the band "sold out." But why has enjoying catchy music been labeled as taboo? Moby is an example of a literal sell out, considering every song on his most successful album was sold for use in commercials. Adam Levine is an example of a spiritual sell out, because, as shown by Red Blue Pill's Snapchat-inspired cover art and the band's shallow half-time performance at Super Bowl LIII, Levine chose to curate Maroon 5 to chase dated trends, rather than authenticity.
"Easier" is proof that a song's catchiness doesn't devoid it of maturity and vivacity. Unlike Diplo's clumsy shift into country music for the sake of popularity, 5SOS's shift into synth-pop has felt incredibly natural since the beginning. "Constrained by [the venue's] small stage, there's room only for four band members," writes The Guardian of a 2018 5SOS performance. "There they stand, amiably rocking out and occasionally hitting the sweet spot that suggests crossover appeal might yet be theirs." "Easier's" ability to be infectious without being annoying is proof that this is where the band was meant to be all along. The track's thematic material and corresponding NIN-inspired music video are genuine pleas to be taken seriously, and while the shift was jarring, it's impossible to dismiss "Easier's" charm. Whether you like it or not, Luke Hemmings is a snack, and everyone should give in to the power that is 5SOS 2019.