"We wanted to stay under the radar for as long as we could — now is the time for us to really show the world what we’re about," says Ashton Irwin, the 19-year-old drummer of Australian pop-rock band 5 Seconds of Summer, which released its stateside debut EP, "She Looks So Perfect," April 1 on Capitol Records.
Mission accomplished. The group has received little radio play (it just debuted at No. 40 on the Mainstream Top 40 chart dated April 12) and even less media exposure in the United States, but industry forecasters expect the EP to sell between 140,000 and 160,000 in the week ending April 6 — which could place it at or near No. 1 on the Billboard 200 dated April 12. The coup was boosted by the EP’s $3.99 price tag and weeks of impressive preorders, but the group’s rabid fan base isn’t just reflected on the charts: 5 Seconds of Summer’s first U.S. headlining tour, which will begin April 11 in San Francisco, sold out all 10 dates in less than five minutes in March. In the week of April 5, the band debuted on Billboard’s Social 50 chart (which ranks the most popular artists on YouTube, Vevo, Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, Wikipedia, Myspace and Instagram) at No. 25. All told, 5 Seconds of Summer look set to be the next big boy-band phenomenon.
Indeed, its out-of-nowhere success recalls One Direction’s stateside takeover in 2012, and there are key links between the groups: They’re both represented by Modest! Management, and Capitol chairman/CEO Steve Barnett oversaw One Direction’s U.S. rollout when he headed Columbia. And 5 Seconds opened for One Direction on the latter’s mammoth, 100-plus-date Take Me Home world tour in 2013.
Accordingly, the 5 Seconds craze has gone global: Its new single “She Looks So Perfect” — a guitar-driven blast of punchy pop-rock featuring the hook “She looks so perfect standing there in my American Apparel underwear” — hit No. 1 on the Official U.K. Chart dated April 5. And since preorders launched on Feb. 24 (Feb. 25 in the United States), the EP has topped the iTunes album chart in over 50 countries, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Finland, and Venezuela, according to Capitol.
"Some of those countries we didn’t even know existed," says Calum Hood, 18, the group’s affable bassist. "It’s crazy. We could never dream of this in a million years."
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On this day, Irwin and Hood are sitting next to the band’s chiseled frontman, Luke Hemmings, 17, and guitarist Michael Clifford, 18, whose spikey, dyed red-and-blue hairstyle, ripped jeans and Sex Pistols T-shirt are defiantly at odds with the stately, marble-lined surroundings of London’s Australian High Commission, where the group is being photographed and interviewed. But it’s a suitably impressive setting for an act poised for global stardom: The last pop group that was photographed in the grandiose 100-year-old building, typically off-limits for all except high-ranking government officials, was The Beatles.
At one point during the shoot, the four members — whom Hemmings calls “a band of brothers” — huddle around a phone streaming a live playback of “She Looks So Perfect” on BBC Radio 1. DJ Scott Mills tells millions of listeners that 5 Seconds of Summer “looks set to be massive,” much to the band’s delight.
"We have definitely been influenced by punk and rock bands, but we’re not ashamed to say that we want to get our music to as many people as possible," says Clifford.
Five Seconds of Summer are a long way from their humble beginnings in the West Sydney suburb of Riverstone. “We’re not from a very nice area,” says Irwin. “None of us came from a lot of money.”
The band started out as just Hemmings, Clifford and Hood, who performed covers that they posted to YouTube, including a home-shot acoustic version of Chris Brown and Justin Bieber’s “Next 2 You.” Irwin joined in late 2011, when Clifford sent him a Facebook message inviting him to play a gig at Sydney’s Annandale Hotel “to 200 screaming fans.” Instead, there were just 12 people - one of which was Irwin’s mom.
"We totally sucked," says Hood, "but it just felt right between the four of us onstage."
The band landed an opening slot on a five-date Australian tour supporting Hot Chelle Rae in October 2012, swiftly followed by its own headlining run. But the real break came when 5 Seconds’ manager Matt Emsell alerted Modest! Management to the band’s fast-growing online profile around the same time. After Modest! signed on to co-manage 5 Seconds, One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson tweeted his 15 million followers that he had “been a fan of this band for a while,” posting a link to the group performing “Gotta Get Out,” from its self-released Unplugged EP. One Direction’s Niall Horan (17 million followers) also tweeted a link to the video for “Out of My Limit,” from the band’s Somewhere New EP, released in December 2012. Shortly after, Emsell informed the band that it had been invited to support One Direction on its Take Me Home world tour.
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"I was like, ‘Is this a joke?!’ " recalls Hood, looking every bit like an awe-struck teen who has just been handed the keys to the kingdom.
"We were a bit worried at first," says Hemmings. "People were already calling us the new One Direction in Australia, but in our minds we’re a lot different from them. We play guitars. We’re rockier. But we thought that if you put us right next to each other, it would actually show people how different we are."
"We’re not a boy band — we’re a band," adds Irwin. "We don’t want to be called the next One Direction. That’s not us."
This summer, after another world tour opening for One Direction, 5 Seconds will release its as-yet-untitled debut, recorded during the past 18 months in Los Angeles and London. Reflecting the band’s love for U.S. punk-pop, studio guests included Good Charlotte’s Joel and Benji Madden and All Time Low’s Alex Gaskarth - whom Clifford calls “basically my idol”- to help the band develop its slick one-two punch of catchy guitar rock and big pop hooks.
"A lot of bands have to change what they sound like, but we are exactly the band that we want to be: a pop band, definitely, but we’ve got a rock and punk edge," says Hemmings. "We’re not trying to be anything that we’re not. We’re not the new anything. We’re the first 5 Seconds of Summer."