5SOS, “American Idiot” and the Pop-Punk Question

So there’s been a bit of a wind blowing about a cover of Green Day’s “American Idiot” that current pop wundertwerps 5 Seconds of Summer have recorded for a Kerrang! compilation. I’ve had a listen to the cover and, frankly, it’s fine enough. It doesn’t change a whole lot about the original song – not that there were that many elements to change around anyway – and will probably make a decent inclusion on this compilation.

So why the fuss? Well, for many people this is now enough to signify that 5 Seconds of Summer are, by all means, a punk rock band. Certainly a lot of their fans on Twitter seem to think so, and it’s even prompted Digital Spy to ask the question of whether or not they can be called one. People are calling 5 Seconds of Summer punk rock, which I guess means that punk is well and truly dead. I’m not even quoting the tweets – I just don’t have the heart.

5 Seconds of Summer are not punk. If you want to be extremely apologetic you could call them pop-punk, but even that would be incorrect. In my opinion, pop-punk does not, can not and should not exist. Punk was a reaction to the music scene, establishment and highly-conservative society of its day (even though the government at that time was a Labour one – weird). It was ugly, forceful and deliberately provocative, from the music to the lyrics to the aesthetic of its musicians and fans. It opened the floodgates for a generation of budding musicians, unable to keep up with the Gilmours and Blackmores of the day, to pick up their guitars and have a bash at rock ‘n’ roll.

But most of all, punk had something to say that 5 Seconds of Summer don’t and probably never will: it represented a section of society fed up with the way things were. It wanted to rattle cages because, well, how else were things going to change? Whether or not it actually did alter the system is questionable (the fact that a Conservative government, led by Britain’s most divisive prime minister to this day, entered power a few years later would suggest not), but at least they had a voice now. What do 5 Seconds of Summer have to say? “Girls are pretty”? Well garsh gee, I needed to be told that, didn’t I? Fight the Man!!!

I’m not a big fan of punk music myself but I respect what it did and what it stood for, and at least I have it to thank for inspiring the NWOBHM and thrash metal scenes of the Eighties. Something as rebellious, aggressive and anti-establishment as punk only gets connected to the calculated, polished, business-driven sound of pop music by businessmen wanting to give their product an “edge” to make them seem dangerous and sexy, but it’s an oxymoron. Pop and punk go together like rats and rat poison – all you get is a twitchy, depressing mess that needs to be put out of its misery. 5 Seconds of Summer are punk for boring people who think punk music starts and ends with fast guitars and a catchy melody. By that logic Deep Purple’s “Fireball” could be considered punk, or Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy“, and those songs came out several years before the punk explosion.

5 Seconds of Summer are, at best, college rock: pumped-up, heavily-melodic cheese for people who should know better. I suppose Green Day are the closest thing we have nowadays to a punk band in the mainstream, but I’d even go so far as to call them college rock, or at least the song “American Idiot”. What’s more college-y than someone ranting about the establishment? Simple riffs, bratty, nasally vocals and lyrics about “The Man” are punk simplified to an insultingly shallow degree.

What’s more, 5 Seconds of Summer didn’t even write one of these themselves – they just covered one. Every other thing they’ve written is the same three-chord, puppy-love nonsense you’d expect from a bunch of polished, grinning teen idols who wouldn’t know a proper riff if it slammed them into an American Apparel delivery van. Even Busted had more to say about the real world than these guys. Even McFly had more to say (and at least McFly wrote “Lies“. I don’t even feel guilty about liking that one). You want loud guitars, passionate vocals, killer melodies and lyrics that at least aspire to mean something from a modern band? Check out Heaven’s Basement or Million Dollar Reload, bands that could actually use your time and attention, not a group whose name sounds like an ad slogan for moisturiser.

If you do insist on listening to them, though, here’s the cover to judge for yourself. As for me, I have to go wash my ears out with some Kill ‘Em All.

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