Pop Song Review: 5 Seconds of Summer – “Good Girls”

There’s probably a crack I could make about 5 Seconds of Summer releasing a new song in autumn, but I’m sure someone somewhere has already made it. Today’s review is the new 5 Seconds of Summer single “Good Girls,” another song about young women from a band people actually think to call “punk,” “rock,” “credible” and “good”. It is at this point that I would like to remind the reader that The Treatment exist and are really rather good.

The music: I’ve already had my mini-rant about people considering this band pop-punk, so instead can I have another mini-rant where I suggest that we stop eulogising punk as some sort of sacred art form? I’mma lay some unpopular opinion on you lot out there: for the most part, at least, punk blew. The vast majority of the genre was occupied by boring, arrogant, three-chord pub rock from people who couldn’t be bothered learning how to write actual music. I always thought progressive rock was far more interesting and had way more to offer despite its pretensions; I also kinda resent that it’s still treated as some sort of boogieman of popular music thanks to the effect of a short-lived movement on an establishment that eventually became infested by all these old punks and their stubborn, misguided, misty-eyed assertion that the punk movement was more than just the bloated marketing fad that it really was. It is at this point that I would like to remind the reader that Jethro Tull exist (or rather existed) and are (or were) ruddy brilliant.

Anyway, the verses to “Good Girls” are built on tiptoeing staccato guitar flicks set to a mid-tempo pulse, switching to louder, more distorted guitars and a leaden, plodding chord sequence for the chorus, with a heavy emphasis on loud-quiet dynamics. Nirvana incorporated this technique quite extensively into their music. However, Nirvana also incorporated original songwriting, catchy melodies, world-weary lyrics of personal pain and the powerful, harsh and emotive vocals of Kurt Cobain. 5 Seconds of Summer have one Blink-182 album they’ve been playing on repeat for the last three years.

It’s rock in the sense that there are loud guitars and rebellious themes, but the chords, the vocals, the lyrics and pretty much everything else are set to a pop agenda. Good rock music doesn’t even need guitars – 99% of Morphine’s back catalogue uses a saxophone instead, and those guys could still rock harder than 5 Seconds of Summer. What good rock music does need, though, is a sense of freshness, passion, urgency and aggression that the pop-by-numbers composition and slick, polished production don’t add to “Good Girls”. It feels more like the result of a GCSE songwriting exercise than an attempt to bring something meaningful into the world. Sure, it’s catchy, but that’s a prerequisite for getting into the pop charts. I’m not giving these lads a pass for doing the bare minimum required of them.

The verse vocal structure gets astonishingly irritating in very little time as it alternates between sung vocals and spoken word. The American accent has pretty much become the standard for popular music these days and it’s often jarring to hear an artist that doesn’t use it (listen to Twin Atlantic, for example, where the singer’s thick Scottish drawl frequently distracts the ear from the performance), so I don’t want to rag on 5 Seconds of Summer’s vocalist (whichever one he is) too much for affecting that twang. For some reason it feels particularly forced here, though, as if they’re only doing it to sound more like Sum-41.

Then again, I shouldn’t be surprised because everything is forced about these guys: the very fact they exist is due to some evil git forcing them on to an unsuspecting and upsettingly-willing public. If 5 Seconds of Summer were any more heavily marketed their songs would be about Cheerios and the benefits of a 24-month contract with AT&T; but the target audience here is middle-school girls not yet emotionally mature enough to enjoy Iron Maiden music, so of course they’re singing about school, boyfriends and truancy.

The lyrics: Let me sum up the lyrical subject of “Good Girls” for you right here: “She’s good, she’s good, but oh she’s bad, she’s very bad indeed, heh heh.” It’s all about a young girl who, in public at least, behaves herself, is committed to her education and is supposedly quite intelligent. Ah, but she also has a rebellious side, you see. “She sneaks out the window to meet with her boyfriend / here’s what she told me the time that I caught them”. As you can see, she–wait, the time he caught them? What is he, the neighbourhood watch or something? What exactly was this brat up to when he “caught” this girl sneaking out to meet her boyfriend? He’s not the boyfriend, either, so this is all sorts of weird I didn’t need today.

“In the back of the room where nobody looks / she’ll be with her boyfriend  / she’s not reading books.” Yeah, so? That’s the strange and unsettling thing about these lyrics: what is the narrator’s fascination with this random girl in his class? She has a boyfriend, which he seems fine about, and is therefore unavailable to him, so why does he have such a vested interest in her “naughty” side?

Or maybe – maybe – it’s him (and whenever I use the pronoun I mean whoever’s singing at any given moment, because I haven’t got a clue who’s who in this band and I haven’t got the time, energy or interest to start finding out) using this song to openly fantasise about what he thinks the prim, educated girls in his classroom REALLY get up to behind closed doors (I’m putting my money on backgammon and Irish whiskey. Dunno why, I just am), sung to and for an audience of young girls who, as evidenced by their enjoyment of 5 Seconds of Summer’s music, are possibly too bland to actually get up to such shenanigans themselves. So it’s a shared teenage fantasy. Double weird.

Apart from these few lines the lyrics are mostly a series of clichéd “she does but she doesn’t” schoolgirl contrasts: she studies in her room but really she’s sneaking out; she says she’s at the library but really she’s not reading books, or something; she cleans her room every evening but really she’s harvesting corpses from the nearby graveyard and stitching them together at night in the hopes of running an electrical current through the resultant golem and creating artificial life (I may have made one of those up).

“Good girls are bad girls that haven’t been caught.” Well gee, what an original observation you have there. Did these idiots just watch “Bart’s Girlfriend” for the first time the other week? And what about good girls who actually are principled and actually do behave themselves? Are they not conventionally attractive or desirable enough for the band to project their fantasies on to? Or do they just avoid guys like this so much the band have no idea what they’d look like enough to write a song about them? Funnily enough the boys only give two examples of what makes this good girl so secretly bad – sneaking out at night and hanging out with her boyfriend in class – and those activities are only considered shocking and subversive if you live in a Coronet short from the Fifties. Not only are 5 Seconds of Summer probably the most boring young men to have ever existed, they’re about to get the shock of their lives when they find out about camgirls.

Verdict: It’s not terrible, I guess, but it’s certainly not anything approaching good either. It’s just there: another forgettable juvenile fantasy for young girls who (I can only hope) will eventually know better. Then again, you could make the argument that rock ‘n’ roll is an immature fantasy of sex, drugs and rebellion and that 5 Seconds of Summer are simply rendering it through a different prism for a different audience focus. Then again, shut your hole. 2 out of 5.

Today’s double-up is “Girl Gone Bad” by Van Halen. Alternately you can have “The Doctor” by The Treatment, “Rainbow Blues” by Jethro Tull, “Aneurysm” by Nirvana, “Potion” by Morphine and/or “2 Minutes to Midnight” by Iron Maiden. Really, whatever it takes to wash “Good Girls” out of your system.

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