Every generation screams the same, but beneath the wail, the music keeps changing.
You could hear it mutating again ever so slightly Monday night at a drizzly Nationals Park, where reigning boy band One Direction shared the stage with 5 Seconds of Summer, a punky Australian quartet with guitars, bass, drums, ripped-up shirts and a chart-topping debut album.
What did these summer tour buddies have in common? The same management, for starters. Plus, the label honcho at the helm of One Direction’s U.S. invasion a few years back now works at 5 Seconds of Summer’s label. As torch-passings go, this one appears to be an inside job.
But it also appears to be working.
Pop revues such as Monday’s are built around the idea of ecstatic crowd participation, and 5 Seconds of Summer did its part with the hey-ey-ey-eys of its breakout single, “She Looks So Perfect.” It was catchy, and crunchy, and it gave admirers something else to do with their lungs other than scream.
As for the song’s lyrical refrain, it was a bit dirtier than the boys let on. (There were parents in the crowd.) “You look so perfect standing there in my American Apparel underwear,” they sang. And later, “I’ve got your ripped skinny jeans lying on the floor.”
The genius of so much teen pop lies in its ability to evoke sex without actually mentioning it. Britney Spears and Justin Bieber were particularly good at this game — something we can talk about in 2014 without feeling totally creepy.
5 Seconds of Summer, meanwhile, seems to be cutting to the chase. Before “She Looks So Perfect” was “Good Girl,” a better song with a naughtier chorus: “Good girls are bad girls that haven’t been caught.” It sounded more like a saucy ’70s glam-rock nugget than New Kids on the Block. In an era of adolescent sexting, Snapchat and NSA knows what else, is this the boy band most in tune with the times?
These guys balk hard at that tag — boy band — but they certainly don’t object to being marketed as one. But compare them with the most clinical punk outfit on this year’s Warped Tour and they still come out sounding comparatively sterile. Accordingly, their set felt like a continuation and a rejection of the evolving boy-band archetype. Rarely do bands seem so charmed and so doomed.
Headliner One Direction, on the other hand, stayed its course, shuffling out onto the stage disheveled and dashing, like five guys back home from their first semester at college. The varsity jackets, the khaki pants and the shaving products have all been abandoned, but the group’s vibe was as affable and nonchalant as ever.
Touring behind its third album, “Midnight Memories,” the quintet seemed to be gently pushing toward rock and roll and adulthood. The album’s title track sounded a little like Motley Crue, and its “Little Black Dress” sounded a smidge like Journey.
Vocally, no one carried the evening on his shoulders, although Zayn Malik’s voice has emerged as the smoothest and strongest of the bunch, even when his stage presence seemed the most distant. (Keep an eye on that guy.)
Collectively, the band’s shrug-’n’-smile charms fueled the show, along with an excess of flattering stage banter about “the past four years” and how “we couldn’t have done any of this without you!”
It was trite, but it was true. This crazy teenage energy ritual was undimmed by two hours of intermittent rain — proof that humanity can always bank on a surplus of adolescent optimism coursing through the universe at any given moment.