For most bands, getting to play a national morning show like TODAY is a telling sign of sustained success. 5 Seconds of Summer, who performed on the show on Wednesday (Oct. 28), have been there before, almost a year ago to the day. That was when they were still introducing themselves to U.S. audiences; this year, the moment feels much bigger. It's a huge deal for them, now, as a band who've proven themselves to have real staying power. It's an even bigger deal for their young fans, and the dedicated masses showed that no one was going to keep them from enjoying it.
Prior to the scheduled 7:00 AM start time, 5SOS set forth on an epic sound-check, running through hits "She Looks So Perfect" and the Madden Brothers-penned "Amnesia." They work through "She's Kinda Hot" and "Hey Everybody!" the latter causes every older gent in Rockefeller Plaza to namecheck the Duran Duran "Hungry Like the Wolf" influence. It becomes clear that this is going to take a while, and that the crowd is in it for the long haul.
The media members are corralled onto a tiered platform stage left, bassist Calum Hood's side. Photographers are forced to bring their own step stools to ensure quality shots. You're fighting against giant, rotating cameras and the people who operate them.
In the first general admission section, girls who have been camping out since yesterday afternoon stand proudly. Their perfectly applied cat-eye mascara drips with excited tears. They know their determination and patience is about to pay off. When 5SOS emerge, they launch directly into "She Looks So Perfect." The screams of the girls and their moms in the audience rival the band's amplifiers. It's deafening and exciting--the fans know how to make a thin hallway at Rockefeller Center feel like an olympic-sized arena.
5SOS leaves the stage a few times, once to change guitars, another time to be interviewed by the hosts of the program, including Carson Daly. Watching the once-iconic TRL VJ chat with the one of the biggest bands in the world feels nostalgic and true. Was it really that long ago that naked Blink-182 was running across MTV and into our hearts?
Moments before 5SOS launch into "Amnesia," the photographer standing directly behind me inexplicably starts heckling. He decides to tarnish the importance of the band by calling them "One Direction's cash cow," and assigns the girls in the audience the title "groupies." When the band fiddles with covers of Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine" and a handful of AC/DC riffs, he seems to be filled with even more rage.
The photographer is especially invested into the queer female couple standing directly in front of me--or perhaps they're just close enough to hear the brunt of his remarks. Both are women of color and look as though they've been waiting for an eternity for 5SOS in person. In any sort of young-male-group fandom, this obviously puts them in the minority, and demonstrates that these silly Aussie boys are loved for more than their chiseled cheekbones and sharp jawlines. These girls just fucking love this band.
A few excruciating minutes go by, and I find myself unable to tolerate the photographer's insults. I turn and say, "You're being rude. You need to shut the fuck up. These girls have been waiting for days."
His response is immediate: "Where are you from?" It felt like a racial remark. Before I could answer, he added, "Well, I'm American, and you're violating my right to free speech. I was talking to my buddy, not you."
Not only did I find myself in a position where I had to stop a man who was literally—financially!—benefiting from this band to stop attacking young women, my intelligence and identity as an American was also being insulted. His heckling did not stop. If anything, he used my comment as fodder for more condescension. He spoke loudly and unapologetically, above the other members in the media area. He spoke loud enough to silence the girls in front of us.
This sort of behavior is commonplace in the music world that young, female fans operate in. Simply by being young and female, society dismisses your taste and appreciation, even though it's often more enthusiastic and pure than those of other demographics. Your tears are invalid, your obsessions futile. To this guy, this band was mediocre at best, because these girls were mediocre at best, simply because they were girls. People like this photo bro are effectively telling girls that their thoughts and feelings are irrelevant because they are female, young and excited. He is effectively tellings girls that their opinions don't matter.
The photographer behind me was too stupid to consider that, but luckily, he was behind me, and barricaded from the female couple enjoying the show. They could kiss, embrace and watch 5 Seconds of Summer without feeling harm, as they should. The man probably believes he affected them in some way, but I believe they left knowing what I know: His ignorance fuels their power. It fuels the power of young girls, who are fueling the success of inclusive new acts like 5 Seconds of Summer. A tune like "Amnesia" might not seem like much to most now, but it means the world to a select few. And what's more powerful than that?