Pop Song Review: 5 Seconds of Summer – “Amnesia”

Today I’m reviewing “Amnesia” by 5 Seconds of Summer. If I give this a negative rating and then don’t post here for a while, contact the authorities.

First impressions: 5 Seconds of Summer are sad now, I guess. Maybe they’re still down from seeing that girl in her underwear?

The music: I’ve already had some words to say about 5 Seconds of Summer and their “pop-punk” sound here, so I won’t go over that again. Needless to say I don’t care for it (well, if it was actually needless to say I wouldn’t have had to say it just now, but whatever), but I will add this: if you remember that whole thing a few months back and were, at any point, tricked into thinking that this band might actually have elements of punk or rock or anything approaching rebelliousness in its sound, fear not because “Amnesia” is about as dangerous and threatening as an episode of Open All Hours.

For this song the band have gone for a softer, supposedly more mature approach, because the Seventh Law of Pop Music dictates that every second or third single from a pop artist has to be a ballad. If it isn’t, well, the consequences are far too disturbing to be listed here. I’d describe the sound as a thin layer of acoustic guitar supporting the vocal performances that dominate the melody. In fact, the instrumentation overall is pretty thin: some strings join the mix here and there, but the vocals are clearly the main focus here. Trouble is, they’re not very good. As in, these guys aren’t great singers – and we’re talking post-production here, so imagine how much work had to be done to get them to this. This is why there are Grammy awards for producers and engineers.

I’d like to say more, but this is another song where I’ve had to throw up my hands and admit that there’s really not a lot to say about the music. I wish I could because it reflects badly on my writing and my judgement when I skim over details, but come on, it’s a pop ballad: just think of any teeny breakup song with acoustic guitars and you’ll know what “Amnesia” sounds like without even having heard it. It wants to be sentimental and heartfelt but the whole thing feels too calculated and too perfect – the simple structure, the twee melody, the polished production work – to be the lovelorn musings of a desperate man deprived of his sweetheart. I get that they’re a boy band, so everything is going to be calculated and carefully managed about them, but…

Okay, I’m going to lay some truth on you guys here today: I have a huge soft spot for “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” by the Backstreet Boys and “Let’s Dance” by 5ive. I know it’s a bit of a false equivalency I’m working with here, because “Amnesia” is a ballad and those two songs aren’t, but there’s something so much better about those songs – a slicker groove, sharper hooks, a bit more snap to the beat… just a little something extra here and there that takes them beyond their cynical, money-making premise. They’re still calculated, contrived and uncomfortably dorky but they sound fresh and enjoyable because you can clearly hear the little bit of effort that went into making them stand out. It just proves that even though you don’t have to put much thought into writing pop songs, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. I have a hard time believing that anything approaching “unexpected effort” went into crafting “Amnesia” – the label needed a song about lost love, so it came into being.

The lyrics: 5 Seconds of Summer – or whichever member it is that’s singing at any given time – are directly addressing a girl they used to date who is no longer with them and is now far away with someone else. This other man is mean and says mean things to her to be all mean and stuff, which makes you wonder why she’s even with him at all, and although she’s not with our protagonist he still loves her and she still loves him. Probably. Maybe. I mean, he loves her… well, they love her, or… anyway, it’s a song about lost love that the protagonist wishes to forget – although if that is, in fact, his goal, maybe writing an entire song about this woman wasn’t such a great idea.

“Are you somewhere feeling lonely even though he’s right beside you? / When he says those words that hurt you, do you read the ones I wrote you?” So he’s a bit of a git, this other bloke, and–wait, how do they know what this guy says to her? They had to hear she was fine through her friends – what’s this other channel of information they have?

“I drove by all the places we used to hang out getting wasted.” Sorry, you guys are how old again? Okay, maybe they’re of legal age to both drive and “get wasted”, but they’re still writing music for teenagers who can’t. Who exactly is this song for: younger, less mature people who aren’t legally allowed to drink; or older, more experienced people who can but who really shouldn’t be listening to 5 Seconds of Summer? It doesn’t feel like they have the life experience to be singing about these big emotions – it feels more like a kid trying on his dad’s suit – and it feels even weirder when it’s mixed in with blatantly immature songs about girls in underwear. You know how we bash bands like Nickelback for mixing upbeat, raucous songs about sex and partying with softer, more emotional ballads about love and the strange, uneven concoction of emotions it creates? Why exactly do we not do the same with popstars?

“I remember the day you told me you were leaving / I remember the make-up running down your face / and the dreams you left behind, you didn’t need them.” That’s… a weirdly specific set of images to keep in mind. You know, the girl is pretty disempowered in this song, isn’t she? She’s miserable, stuck in an emotionally distant, even abusive relationship that she apparently abandoned her life ambitions to be part of, and all we hear is this guy moaning about how sad he feels that she’s gone. What a gent.

“It hurts to hear you’re happy / it hurts to hear that you’ve moved on.” Aw, you poor thi–wait, she actually is happy? I thought you were implying she was lonely and being called hurtful things. Fancy making up your mind, song? Also, like most bands of this teeny-charmer genre they use the second-person narrative to direct their lyrics to the listener, so it’s as if the singer’s pouring his lovelorn heart out to YOU, OMG LOLZ!!1!1 It couldn’t just be that he’s playing to your fantastical teenage notions about romance and love, right? (And by “he” I mean the five credited songwriters, none of whom are members of the band.)

“Sometimes I start to wonder, was it just a lie? / If what we had was real, how could you be fine?” Maybe because it wasn’t real? Maybe because you’re both teenagers who were simply infatuated with each other? I get this song is written for little girls to satiate their pre-adolescent fantasies about romance, but why does it keep tripping over its messages like this? Is the girl happy? Is she not happy? Were they in love? Weren’t they? It’s not like I’m asking you to pick a college, song, just a direction you can take for this to all make sense. No, stop looking at your phone while I’m talking to you – this is important. Are you even listening to me? You’re not, are you? Right, go to your room – no TV for a week.

“I wish I could wake up with amnesia / and forget about the stupid little things / like the way it felt to fall asleep next to you / and the memories I never can escape.” Also, your entire identity, including your name, your family, your friends and everything you’ve ever done or learned, because amnesia isn’t a selective process where you can just cherry-pick certain experiences to erase. Now you’re just being silly.

Verdict: If you aren’t a little girl with a crush on these guys, I couldn’t recommend this song to you as something you might enjoy: it’s cloying, sentimental, teenage gibberish set to dull, simplistic music taken straight out of Ballads for Dummies. Sorry lads, but it’s a 2 out of 5 from me: if you’d actually been through the experience you detail in the song I’m sure this’d be a lot to pile on, but since you clearly haven’t, take it mit gusto, Kinder.

Today’s double-up is Rainbow’s “Since You Been Gone”. Imagine “Amnesia” with a catchier melody, better vocals, better lyrics, stronger instrumentation… just an overall better song.

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