5 Seconds of Summer Break Down No. 1 Hit 'Youngblood' & How It Fits Into a 'Hip-Hop Kind of World'
The guys tell the Pop Shop Podcast that their latest album's title track -- their first Pop Songs chart-topper -- has opened a “thousand doors for us.”
5 Seconds of Summer were already a chart-topping band at the start of 2018, but this year brought them a new level of success thanks to their smash hit single “Youngblood.”
The tune -- which is the title track and second single from their third No. 1 Billboard 200 album -- became the band’s first top 10 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart and their first No. 1 on the Pop Songs airplay chart. The latter list measures the week’s most-played songs at mainstream top 40-formatted radio stations in the U.S.
“It felt fantastic,” 5 Seconds of Summer’s Ashton Irwin tells Billboard’s Pop Shop Podcast of how it felt to hit No. 1. “We've worked very, very hard to create a record that could come across as genuine -- musically and lyrically -- whilst also putting us in a good place for our live performances. And a song like ‘Youngblood’ has articulated all of those things. It’s taken us a lot of years to make something like that and to make a record that is slightly more mature than our past records.
“It was a great feeling. For the whole team, it was many, many years of trying to get a song in the top 10 at radio.”
Perhaps surprisingly, considering mainstream top 40 stations are the band’s core format of radio, “Youngblood” was both their first No. 1 and their first top 10 on the Pop Songs chart. In the quartet’s six previous visits to the tally, dating back to 2014, the highest they had gone was with 2015’s No. 15-peaking “She’s Kinda Hot.” The Youngblood album’s lead single, “Want You Back,” topped out at No. 23 in May.
What was it about “Youngblood” where they knew it was something special?
“I feel like especially on this last album, we were searching for that staple sound,” says the band's Calum Hood, “and a collection of influence and individuality that created an identity for this band. I feel like that's what ‘Youngblood’ essentially did for us."
The 5SOS guys (Michael Clifford, Luke Hemmings, Hood and Irwin) note that in the making of the “Youngblood” song, they were conscious of the “attention span of people these days and how they listen to music, and how they flick over songs as fast as anything else,” says Irwin. Effectively, they were trying to craft a song with an “element of surprise” in the song’s punchy, layered and constantly building chorus, but which also evoked “a lot of emotion.”
“I don’t think people had heard Luke’s vocal recorded like that before,” Irwin says of Hemmings’ lead vocals on the track. “It was a different approach to how we were singing. The dynamic progression of the instrumentation in that song was on purpose as well, because we were easing people into using live drums and guitars.”
“Yeah, the live drums come in the second half of the second chorus,” adds Hemmings.
“And also there’s new instrumentation in the band now,” says Irwin. “Like Calum plays keys now, and so does Luke. We’re just trying to ease people into what we’re doing now musically as well.”
The band was also aware of how “Youngblood” would potentially be mingling with hip-hop and R&B-leaning tracks on the radio.
“Obviously we’re pop songwriters,” Hemmings says, “…and fitting in to what really is -- it feels like to us -- a hip-hop kind of world… trying to fit us into that world… it was difficult.”
“There was definitely a hip-hop reference tossed around when we were writing the song,” says Hood.
“Oh yeah, with the tempo,” agrees Irwin.
“It makes it so it’s not so alien when it’s being played against other urban records on the radio,” says Hood.
“We came up with the Andy Summers [guitarist of The Police] style riff over the top of a hip-hop track,” says Irwin. “I forget which one it was. Because we were referencing the tempo and the groove of it for the verses. Those are just things we were thinking about whilst writing the song.”
The hip-hop and rhythmic influences on the track become more clear when noting who the band worked with in writing and producing the song. Hemmings, Hood and Irwin co-wrote the tune with Alexandra “Ali” Tamposi, Andrew “Watt” Wotman and Louis Bell, while it was produced by Wotman and Bell.
Bell, Tamposi and Wotman co-wrote Camila Cabello’s No. 1 Hot 100 hit “Havana,” while Bell has written and produced a bevy of Post Malone hits, including the Hot 100 leaders “Rockstar,” featuring 21 Savage, and “Psycho.”
While “Youngblood” is the only track on the album that Bell produced, “We look forward to doing more” with him, says Irwin. “I think that was a brilliant collaboration.”
“It was interesting because we took the demo we made and we gave it to Louis Bell, and he took it and what he essentially did was he looked at a band like ours, a four-piece kind of rock band, and he modernized it in a way that we wouldn't have thought to. He took all of the dynamic in the song and he focused in on the organic elements of the song, and he turned it into something that kind of has opened a thousand doors for us, which is fantastic. That's what every great producer should do, you know. It's a fantastic thing he did.”
“I listened to the demo the other day,” says Hemmings, “but it didn't have as much of a punch in that bass in the chorus and that surprise in the way the 808 builds through the pre-chorus. He definitely added his touch on it. He's awesome.”
The success of “Youngblood” has also brought the band new fans -- more than just what was previously their core audience of young women -- which isn’t lost on the guys.
“There's a new determination in this band to feed this new audience and create something that we can keep doing for an even longer time, and keep upping the bar, and keep kind of confusing people that 5SOS are still kicking ass,” says Irwin.
As for what’s next after “Youngblood,” the album’s third single, “Valentine,” is waiting in the wings. The tune’s music video was released on Sept. 13.
“I think ‘Valentine,’ for us, is one of the most interesting pieces of music we've ever released,” says Clifford. “I'd say it's not something you would have ever expected from us. It's probably one of my favorite 5 Seconds of Summer songs. It's just so different. It ticks so many boxes in different ways. Especially in the world we're living in right now where urban records are so popular. It fits in this little pocket that's not quite urban, but was produced by one of the most prestigious hip-hop producers of all time [Mike Elizondo, who has written and/or produced songs with 50 Cent, Eminem and twenty one pilots]. For me, it fits in such an interesting place, and I think it's the perfect way to follow ‘Youngblood,’ in my opinion.”
5 Seconds of Summer have been touring in support of the Youngblood album through the summer and just wrapped the North American leg of the Meet You There Tour on Oct. 12 in Los Angeles. The trek has since moved on to Europe, where the group is scheduled to conclude the tour on Nov. 19 in Madrid. The act will return to the U.S. for a handful of performances in December during the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball Tour.
Also on the Pop Shop Podcast -- a special fifth-anniversary episode of the show! -- co-hosts Keith and Katie reflect on five years of the podcast with the show’s creator and former co-host Jason Lipshutz! Plus, the team breaks down chart news about Quavo, Bad Bunny, Drake and Kodak Black.
The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard's weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard's senior director of charts Keith Caulfield and deputy editor, digital Katie Atkinson every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)
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