Holiday week was something of a roller coaster ride for fans of 5 Seconds of Summer.
On Christmas afternoon, an image of Rolling Stone's January cover--a photo of 5SOS, fully nude, with hands over their genitals--hit the Web. The quartet's bodies were covered in red and black text, with each message one of their own lyrics or song titles. Questions debating its authenticity surfaced, but mostly, there was excitement. Finally, this don't-call-them-a-boy-band pop-punk act was being viewed as credible in a critical sphere. What's a bigger milestone than landing a RS cover? Let's remember that the band responsible for much of their early success, One Direction, was never given such an honor.
The next day, the full story ran on RollingStone.com. It quickly eclipsed the nude photograph on the controversy scale.
The profile is the most in-depth 5SOS feature to date, and examines the Aussie lads over the course of a jam-packed week: a Good Charlotte reunion show they partially inspired, the American Music Awards and its Justin Bieber after-parties, guitarist Michael Clifford's 20th birthday, a taping of Ryan Seacrest's New Year's Rockin' Eve, and more.
The story begins at the $100 million Bel Air mansion that Capitol Records sponsored for the band. It's the evening after the AMAs, and the guys are asleep--their day doesn't begin until 5 P.M. when bassist Calum Hood emerges for a cigarette and bourbon-coke. There's a glimpse of Luke Hemmings earlier on, but he's half-dressed and hungover. It's the aftermath of a night-well-partied, a much more adult scenario of the guys than ever illustrated before. It's jarring, but understandable. They're young, famous dudes who are living like young, famous dudes.
The scene has proven to be more unsettling to their diehard fans: 5 Seconds of Summer's penchant for beer and a good time is well-documented, but never with such detail. A couple hundred words of an Los Angeles setting reveals a past of blurry Snapchats.
The next moment in the piece that enrages fans, perhaps with the most ferocity, is the mention of Luke's girlfriend, Arzaylea. She's given a few paragraphs in the story, in which we learn she professionally identifies as an "internet influencer," and lives a glamorous life due to a trust fund. She's been villainized in the 5SOS community for a while now, but this moment solidifies her Cruella De Vil status: She's unintentionally painted herself an opportunist. Most fans were upset that she was mentioned at all. Soon after the story's publication, she defended herself in a now-deleted series of Tweets, here are skeletal remnants:
Why would an author spend time documenting the love interest of a band member? The reason is simple. She was present during the week, she spoke on record and she became part of the narrative. One of the greatest lessons from one of the greatest profile writers of our time, Gay Talese, is to talk to the people around your subject. They're usually the most illuminating.
The next and probably the most damning bit of the story (at least, to fans) is Luke's take on the earliest days of the band:
"When you put four young dudes on a tour bus, playing theaters, then arenas, you're going to have sex with a lot of girls, I guess," says Hemmings. "We had a good time." Multiple girls in one night? "I feel like I shouldn't say," he says with a smirk. "You could say the possibility of that is high." Multiple girls at the same time? "The possibility is high," he says again. He cracks a devilish grin. "The possibilities are endless."
When most of your fan base is young and female, this is pretty much the worst secret you could let them in on, save for the drug use and prostitution in Almost Famous, the cult movie the piece feels inspired by. The real reason is this: Young women are smarter now than they've ever been, and they took this to mean a devaluation of their fandom and their gender. If 5SOS slept with groupies in the past, does that mean they're only viewed as bodies?
The short answer is no, but cause of concern is understandable. As a friend of mine put it, this 5SOS story--one filled with girls and booze--can be likened to Justin Timberlake's first solo profile in the mag. He was no longer the innocent golden boy of childhood; he was the delinquent experimenting with adulthood. The 5SOS fantasy, for many girls, was gone, or at the very least, tainted. Let's also hope fans recognize the difference between groupies and fans: Where groupies can be fans of the band, the two aren't mutually inclusive. Additionally, groupie-dom does not connote objectification. Both parties must be willing to participate.
Hemmings isn't the only one on the receiving end of criticism. Hood, too, makes a questionable joke when asked about the now-infamous Snapchat vid of 2014 in which his penis is exposed:
In 2014, a video that Hood had Snapchatted to a girl – in which he filmed himself looking in the mirror with his penis out – surfaced online. It had actually happened a while beforehand – he could tell from his lack of tattoos. "It was kind of a blessing, in a way, because nothing that bad could actually happen to me again," he says, smoking on the porch at the band's house. "If another photo of my dick came out, it will just be, like, 'Oh! It's his dick again.'"
Plus, the video earned the band a lot of publicity. "Now, I'm just working on the sex tape," Hood says. "I'll call Pamela up, like, 'Hey, it's been a while. We really need to hype this band up!'"
It's in poor taste, but it's a joke nonetheless. The fans are right to be upset--once again, their worldview of the boys' lives has been challenged. It's a hard pill to swallow, but what if it's a necessary one? What if this is 5 Seconds of Summer's "Kill Yr Idols" moment?
While the entire profile is an extensive, in-depth look into the celebrity lives of four famous Australians, the only truly unsettling part of the piece comes near the beginning, out of the mouth of drummer Ashton Irwin:
"Seventy-five percent of our lives is proving we're a real band," says Irwin. "We're getting good at it now. We don't want to just be, like, for girls. We want to be for everyone. That's the great mission that we have. I'm already seeing a few male fans start to pop up, and that's cool. If the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and all those guys can do it, we can do it, too."
It's uncharacteristically clumsy. Here, Irwin is stressing universal fandom, that he wants to be liked by all, but by pointing that he doesn't want to be "for girls," he's dismissing girls, too. Girls might not be the reason this band exists, but they're the reason they thrive. The lesson here is that words must be chosen with delicacy.
If anything, the Rolling Stone cover gives 5 Seconds of Summer what they always wanted: A real rock and roll story. (Let's stress this: It's more classic rock than pop-punk. Pop-punk has always been a place of girl-worship and hatred, a binary that doesn't allow for this sort of honesty.) What it didn't do, and what the band didn't do, was prepare their fans for it.
It's not an excuse, and it's totally okay that fangirl hearts are hurting right now--the truth stings--but the only real reason for critique is that there's no mention of the sheer size and dedication of their #5SOSfam and no mention of their actual music, which sets them apart from countless other male rock groups (this makes the piece a bit more Spinal Tap than Almost Famous.) As for the other stuff--young people will be young people? It's easy to be incredulous, but this isn't fabrication. If you're not a fan of this glimpse into their lives, I urge you to write your own.