5 Seconds of Summer's Derp Con: Navigating A Pop-Punk Boy Band Fan Convention
Screaming teens, candy-coated pizza, mariachi bands and grateful moms: inside 5SOS's weekend fan meetup.
Upon entering 5 Seconds of Summer's world, one must come prepared. You need the uniform of knee-high socks and punk rock t-shirts, the earplugs to muffle teen girls’ nearly volcanic wails. You need to let yourself become part of that community and accept the fact that everyone around you is having a ridiculously good time. There’s a high probability that you will, too.
The concept for the Australian pop-punk group’s Derp Con (named such as the 5SOS boys consider themselves awkward, always “derping” around) was lofty. Kids from all around the world would enter contests in their native country through radio and other media platforms, and if they won, they would be flown them out to Los Angeles, put up in a nice hotel and given passes to attend one of the band’s two headlining gigs at the famous Forum. In between: a promised day of debauchery at a mysterious location.
For a band often chased around hotels and airports by ravenous fans — that’s what happens when you open for One Direction, score a No. 1 album debut and become one of the breakout stars of the year as good-looking teenage boys — 5SOS managed to keep Derp Con a secluded event. Billboard and other attendees were told to meet in the lobby of the Andaz Hotel on Sunset Boulevard at 8:45 in the morning on Sunday (Nov. 16), where we'd hitch a ride to... well... somewhere. Below is a minute-by-minute recap of 5 Seconds of Summer’s enthralling fan convention:
8:45 AM - A series of hop-on, hop-off sightseeing buses pull up to the hotel. Apparently, we’ll be riding in style today.
9:00 AM - It takes a few minutes to get everyone on the bus, mostly due to the contest winners' unrivaled enthusiasm — it's like attempting to hurdle a group of squirrels. Each bus reflects a variety of countries, and apparently we're the "Good Girls, Bad Girls" team representing the United States and Australia/New Zealand. I'm told there are 32 countries present and two or three people with each present contest winner, typically a chaperone and a friend.
9:03 AM - When the bus starts moving, it becomes evident that our tour guide was going to show us the 5 Seconds of Summer version of Los Angeles. "'Pizza' was performed at the House of Blues, one of 5SOS first shows," he announces. A girl asks if it is the same venue as the one featured in the Lindsay Lohan version of Freaky Friday. Spending an hour on the bus with this guy proved he didn't really know how to handle teen girls, as he made quips like "You might be a little young for this, but have you ever heard of a musician called Sheryl Crow?” and "The only time L.A. is empty is now, on a Sunday morning. All the rock-and-rollers are sleeping off last night's party."
9:19 AM - The tour guide makes a James Dean joke. The girls do not know who James Dean is.
9:23 AM - The tour guide makes a Ketchup joke, referring to the dog toy the band had while recording their debut album. He wins them over again.
9:34 AM - The girls gasp and take pictures of a Panda Express. 5 Seconds of Summer loves Panda Express.
10:00 AM - We arrive at our destination: Paramount Pictures. The bus is too tall to fit through the studio's iconic gate, so we're forced to circle the grounds.
10:12 AM - As the bus continues taxiing, a group of girls start reworking the lyrics to "English Love Affair" to be about going to Los Angeles and meeting the 5SOS family. One girl, dressed in a fleece penguin costume in 80-degree heat, pulls out a ukelele and starts playing "She Looks So Perfect." In the crew, there's a gaggle of Pikachus, skunks, kimonos and kids in school uniforms, vis-a-vis the "Good Girls" music video. There are flags from all over the world being worn as capes. This is the Teen Girl Olympics.
11:12 AM - After a prolonged security wait, we finally enter Paramount, where there's a red carpet and fake paparazzi cameras flashing around us. A few more steps and the place looks like Comic-Con: there's a dude in a Spider-Man suit and a mariachi band covering "Don't Stop." There's a DJ competing with him, spinning pop-punk and pop-rock jams from the early 00’s. Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" is played more than once.
11:18 AM - The first destination is check-in, where each attendee is handed a map, a schedule and a fake Australian passport. There are six stations in total that the girls are designated to swing by. Little information is given out about each one. Inside, "Derp Rock City," and various 5SOS-doctored classic rock posters litter the walls.
11:20 AM - Our first station is "Awkward Family Photos," where the girls get the meet the band. This information isn't told explicitly — just “Remain calm, one at the time." The girls figure it out instantaneously and appear as if a fuse has been lit inside their souls.
11:30 AM - They seat us in a room with folding chairs, facing an exposed window. The girls are quiet and confused and then loud. The Australian girl slated to go first starts hyperventilating. Another girl starts crying because she can hear the boys' muffled laughs in the background.
11:52 AM - They spot the boys in the distance, and explode. Those muffled laughs were just employees.
12:00 PM - Two girls and their mom filter into the room with the band. The mom is now feeding off their energy, shrieking and crying along with them. Luke Hemmings, the heartthrob of the band, tells them they smell nice. He might as well have just given them a million dollars.
12:03 PM - After the girls meet the band and get a photo, the mom comes up to me to tell me her daughter's fifteenth birthday is in two weeks, and that her family cannot afford a quinceañera. Winning the contest, then, was a godsend. "You probably don't have kids, but when you do, they become everything," she starts. "When they're sad, you're sad. When they're happy, you're happy. I'm just a mom, an average joe. I could never provide this for her. And she's happy."
12:18 PM - The next station is called "Virtual 5SOS," where fans get to experience recording with the boys. A group of girls puts on virtual reality goggles and massive noise-canceling headphones to watch a short clip of the dudes rehearsing their song “End Up Here." When they're done, the girls turn around and see the same instruments the boys used in the segment. One girl cries, “My butt is where Ashton's butt was!”
12:23 PM - The Ashton-butt girl declares that she wants to start a band.
12:28 PM - It’s Graffiti Wall time. Much like the ladies of the "Good Girls" video, here the kids get to experience the art of spray paint… virtually, of course. There are screens and can-snapped remotes to direct their hands, and when the attendees are done writing "Michael Marry Me," they add 5SOS-themed emojis like tongues and logos. At one point I think a girl is trying to be particularly badass and write "hate," but she was scripting "Haley." That's kind of the beauty of this place--it's all positivity, all of the time. The strong emphasis on technology here really makes it feel like a convention.
1:00 PM - Lunch break. I help myself to a "Don't Stop the Derp" adult beverage. At one point, a guy in a Teen Mutant Ninja Turtles costume grabs a drink with me. The food options are pretty teen-friendly: there are two pizza stations, with toppings hand-selected by the boys, and a few of the pizzas have M&M’s, gummy bears and gummy worms on them. I try the vegemite one. It's not terrible.
1:13 PM - A DJ starts entertaining us with even more 5SOS-picked jams like Foo Fighters' "Hero" and Green Day's "Jesus of Suburbia.” Meanwhile, girls are excitedly exchanging Instagram and Twitter handles with each other.
2:00 PM - We walk into a cool dark room with two vintage Capcom arcade games and 5SOS-themed Pac-Man game called "Hungry 5SOS." A group of girls play on a large LED screen while a crowd watches below.
2:12 PM - The girl who wins “Hungry 5SOS” tells me that she gave guitarist Michael Clifford a Game Boy when she met them — specifically, a Game Boy Advance SP, which was released in 2003 and is now vintage. She represents the generation that entered Green Day’s music at American Idiot and made 5SOS superstars.
2:18 PM - The next station is "Da Green Screen," where fans get to take props like comically oversized sunglasses and bassist Calum Hood’s signature sombrero and recreate some of their album covers. It's a sweet idea, but the girls are mostly still discussing the fact that they met the band just two hours earlier.
2:23 PM - We reach what should be our final destination constructed within the confines of the Paramount grounds, the "Hi Or Hey Record Store," named after the band’s new label Hi Or Hey Records. Upon entering, the girls are handed an exclusive Derp Con EP signed by the band.
2:30 PM - At this point in the afternoon, everyone is exhausted and waiting around, wondering why we're supposed to stay here until 5:00 PM.
4:00 PM - Another surprise! 5 Seconds of Summer take to a small outdoor stage within Paramount, performing hits like "Out of My Limit," "Good Girls," "Amnesia" and "She Looks So Perfect" acoustically for a special set before their Forum gig later that evening. Between the tracks, the boys answer questions written questions submitted by fans. Calum pulls out a card, begins cackling and says, "Is this from my mum? 'What's your mum's favorite food?'" Out of a few hundred questions, the bassist apparently found his mom's entry. It feels like a fitting metaphor for the band: they're still kids, after all.