As rock ‘n’ roll has become increasingly irrelevant to the modern pop music conversation, its most faithful fans, those who still believe it’s infused with the same revolutionary transformative energy it had at its birth, have started to fall into one of three categories: snobs who would have spent the 60s listening to jazz and complaining about how vapid the music on the radio was, those who grew up on rock and aren’t about to ditch it for rap or dance music, and the very young. Out of all of them, the latter type of listeners have done the most work to rejuvenate the genre’s outlaw image—when all of your peers are listening to electronically generated music, listening to something with loud electric guitars front and center is a more rebellious act than it’s been in decades.
Older rock diehards may be comforted by the fact that the form continues to find new adherents, but they probably won’t like the stuff that more newly fledged fans are into. Like 5 Seconds of Summer, whose single “She Looks So Perfect” is currently at number 54 on the Hot 100 and looks like the fastest moving rock song to hit the chart in some time.
Unlike nearly everything else on the chart, “She Looks So Perfect” is played on a standard guitar-bass-drums setup. There are no synthesizers, nods to rap music, quasi-folky old-timey imagery, or any of the other gimmicks that other rock groups have relied on to catch the mainstream’s attention recently. Its straightforward, unfussy structure and amped-up hooks will sound familiar to anyone who’s listened to pop punk over the past couple decades. In many ways it feels like an artifact from a different time, when hip-hop and dance music were on the fringe and rock was the undisputed dominant sound both aboveground and under.
The twist is that this throwback to rock ‘n’ roll’s glory days is being marketing primarily to teen and tween girls, demographics that rock has never had much respect for, despite the number of albums they’ve bought over the years. They combine twinkish good looks and a Monkees-ish happy-go-lucky group attitude with a mall-bought bad-boy look of artfully tousled hair, ripped jeans, and Vans, and overall give off the same blend of wholesomeness with just a slight hint of alluded-to sexuality that several generations of boy bands have used to dominate the world, or at least certain parts of it, over and over again.
The modern pop era has been defined by fairly regular upendings, and all of the jostling about that’s come as a result has led to some strange alliances—gangsta rappers and EDM kids, R&B singers and avant-garde electronic musicians. Rock’s old guard has been praying for new fans whose fresh energy can keep the genre alive for, who knows, maybe the next six decades. Whether or not they’ll be happy with the answer to their call remains to be seen.