The California sun is low in the sky over Bel Air, but at 5 Seconds of Summer's house, the day has yet to begin. There are red-wine stains on the floorboards by the pool on the canyon-side deck, which overlooks the Chateau des Fleurs, a $100 million mansion that's been on the market since it was built, and the Pacific Ocean in the distance. A fireplace is surrounded by empty beer bottles. "They should be up soon," says the band's English assistant, Zoë, who reads a book as we wait. She occasionally tries texting the band in favor of knocking on bedroom doors. Nobody responds.
Luke Hemmings, the Australian pop band's heartthrob frontman, wanders downstairs to the kitchen, unshaven, wearing only a T-shirt and tight black boxer briefs. His elfin blond coif – the inspiration for a number of YouTube hair tutorials – is a ruffled mess. He spreads some avocado on toast. "Sorry I'm in my underwear," he mumbles. "I'm really hungover." He shuffles back to his room.
Around 5 p.m., the day starts moving. Bassist Calum Hood – who's 19 but still looks like the high school soccer player he was a few years ago – comes outside with a glass of Coke, his nails painted black, wearing a Billabong hat. "Let me put some bourbon in this," he says, returning to the kitchen. Guitarist Michael Clifford is roaming around inside, but Hood is giving him a wide berth. "He's still feeling it," says the bassist, lighting up a Camel. But eventually Clifford materializes, wearing a fully unbuttoned shirt, pale, but fresher than expected. "I'm fuckin' alive!" he says. "Sorry. I was literally dying today."
Last night, the band performed at the American Music Awards. "A lot of fake people, which sucks," Clifford says. Hemmings complains, "It's just, like, Viners and Internet personalities, those kind of people. Fucking pisses me off! Why are you here?"
After the show, Clifford and Hemmings hit their friend Nick Jonas' party, then crashed one thrown by Justin Bieber at their favorite bar, the Nice Guy. They didn't talk to Bieber – "I think he hates us," says Clifford – but they had a good time. "It was fucking crazy, people standing on tables and shit," he continues. "I probably shouldn't say this, but he had his own album on loop for, like, two or three hours." Clifford ended up in Beverly Hills at the Weeknd's house party, which was so exclusive that the pool area had its own bouncer. Drummer Ashton Irwin – the band's oldest and perhaps most responsible member – had been there earlier but left shortly after he was jostled up against a wall as Diddy and his crew pushed through the entrance.
Welcome to the life of 5 Seconds of Summer, arguably the hottest band in the world. Just a few years ago, they were classmates in the suburbs outside Sydney, posting Bieber and Bruno Mars covers on YouTube. After 5SOS plugged in and punked up their look, One Direction took them on a 63-date arena tour in 2013; they are now the first band in history to have their first two albums debut at Number One. The epic four-year journey has been immortalized in How Did We End Up Here?, a new documentary that traces the rise of 5SOS (pronounced "FIVE-sauce" by fans) from webstreams to Wembley.
At this point, their celebrity has eclipsed that of their pop-punk idols Good Charlotte and Sum 41, but 5SOS have an entirely different kind of fame: They get re-tweeted at dizzying speeds by their teenage-girl fans (more than 13,000 in a minute); they top the "most-reblogged" chart on Tumblr; they are the subject of fan fiction, some of which features bondage sex and cross-dressing. "I don't read that shit," says Hood. "It scares me." In Las Vegas, 60 fans were busted for crawling through a venue's air vents, attempting to sneak into a 5SOS show. "The screaming is a very stressful thing, but an awesome thing," says Irwin.
Last January, the band's label, Capitol, paid for 5SOS to move into the Bel Air house and write their new album for three months. "It was a fucking dream come true," says Irwin. But the band finished it early. "So we just had parties all the time," says Hemmings. "We had some pretty great parties at the start of the year, and they kind of got better and better. The last one, the ratio was huge."
Three nights ago, Clifford threw a 20th-birthday bash. 5SOS borrowed a house in Beverly Hills, but they were kicked out at 1 a.m., so they directed everyone back here. When they arrived, 20 people were already waiting outside. Details are hazy, but the rest of the night included an outdoor fire with Niall Horan of One Direction and a game of Rock Band at 6 a.m., and also, quite likely, vodka shots, swimming and a New Found Glory dance party in the kitchen. Clifford proudly displays one of his favorite presents, given to him by Josh Dun, the drummer of the band Twenty One Pilots: a Fleshlight, a flashlight-shape device with a plastic vagina on one end ("The #1 Male Masturbator," the packaging reads). "You've never used one of these?" Clifford asks with a grin.
He sits down in the kitchen, as the band's groomer goes to work spraying his hair for a video shoot tonight, for the band's new single, "Jet Black Heart." Everybody calls Clifford 5SOS's most punk-rock member – the band's Sid Vicious, if Vicious came up covering All Time Low and Ed Sheeran. He's tattooed, with studded earrings, his right wrist covered in black bracelets, many given to him by admirers. Today his hair is red; fans keep track of his dozen-plus dye jobs in online charts, colors like "fairyfloss," "emo purple" and "seaweed." "You've been skunk, too," says Kelsey, the stylist. "I've built up this persona where I've got to just keep dying it now," Clifford says. "And let's face it, half of pop punk is just the hair."
5SOS are coming off a year of what Hemmings calls "relentless" promo. "If I have to be asked who my celebrity crush is one more fucking time…" he says. (So you don't have to ask: It's Mila Kunis.) They've gamely imitated animal sounds on Swedish TV, and been asked to describe their new record using only emojis.
But there's one question that bothers them the most: "Are you a boy band?" They were called one just last night, at an industry party, when Hemmings was introduced to a new group. "They said, 'We're in a boy band, too,'" he says. "I was like, 'I'm walking away now.'"
"Seventy-five percent of our lives is proving we're a real band," says Irwin. "We're getting good at it now. We don't want to just be, like, for girls. We want to be for everyone. That's the great mission that we have. I'm already seeing a few male fans start to pop up, and that's cool. If the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and all those guys can do it, we can do it, too."
There is much work to be done. The band recently announced an arena tour that starts in February and lasts at least until the end of the year. After spending pretty much every day of the past four years together, tensions are evident. "Some people snap a little and some people say things they wouldn't normally say," Hood says.
Clifford – who suffers from mild depression – seems to be having the hardest time. He's spent many of his days this year inside, playing Call of Duty. But lately he's hitting the town hard.
"It's all about finding things to make you happy," says Clifford. "And for me, this week, it has been partying."
I can't believe we're going to a Good Charlotte show tonight!" says Hemmings at a crowded West Hollywood restaurant. Across the table is one of 5 Seconds of Summer's producers and co-writers, John Feldmann, frontman of Goldfinger, the Warped Tour-era ska-punk band that emerged in the late Nineties. One of Feldmann's biggest scores came in 1999, when Goldfinger's song "Superman" was used prominently in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater video game.
Feldmann is a friendly and fast-talking guy, in a suit and bleach-blond hair. He looks over the Italian menu but struggles to find something because he's on a diet. "Nine days – no gluten, no caffeine, no carbs," he says. "I'm just jacking off every second of every day."
Since he started working with them in 2013, Feldmann has become the unofficial band dad. (They went to his house for Thanksgiving.) They have a side project with him called Wormstein, where they wear animal masks and recently filmed a low-budget video of a 30-second hardcore-punk original called "Doughnuts."
He first heard 5SOS in London, while he was working with an Australian band, the Veronicas, whose singer, Jessica Origliasso, was a friend of Clifford. "I never in a million years would have said they would be on the cover of Rolling Stone in two years," says Feldmann. "I had so many fucking people say that 'guitars are over. They are over. It's all EDM and programming. And that's what people wanna hear.' And thank God, they proved them all wrong."
The band could have opted to work with hitmakers like Max Martin after the success of its first album but chose to stick with Feldmann. He's just one of the veteran pop punkers working with 5SOS – Sum 41's Deryck Whibley, All Time Low's Alex Gaskarth, and Benji and Joel Madden of Good Charlotte have also co-written with the band.
5SOS are also big Creed and Nickelback fans. "I think Australians are just naturally addicted to cock rock," says Hood. "Because I fuckin' love it." The band even did a co-writing session with Chad Kroeger recently, but it didn't work out. "It was just a fucking Nickelback song," says Irwin.
The band loves talking about Kroeger. "He ordered 12 chicken strips and a Caesar salad," says Irwin. "It was so funny, man." Hood drops his voice an octave to imitate Kroeger: "He was like, 'Fuck. I'm so unhealthy. I order this every day.'"
"At the end of the day, he was like, 'Shit, I feel stressed,'" says Irwin. "He's like, 'You guys ever look up shit on the Internet?' We're like, 'What type of shit?' He's like, 'Girl stuff, like, hot girls dancing.' So he goes on YouTube and writes 'hot chicks dancing' in the search. And we sat there watching hot chicks dancing. It was such a creepy dad-on-the-Internet move."
"Like a dad trying to find porn," says Clifford, mock-typing, " 'Porn.com!'"
"That was definitely me when I was younger – free porn," says Hood. "I don't want none of that subscription shit. I want the free stuff."
"You guys ever Google-Image 'boobs'?" says Clifford. "When I was 11, I used to take off 'safe search' in Google Images. Oh, man, this isn't helping the article at all, is it?"
Good Charlotte were Hemmings' first rock show when he saw them at around age 12 in Sydney. "They're the reason I wanted to be in a band," he says. "I could relate to a band from a small town, talking about wanting to get out."
Now, 5SOS are returning the favor: Good Charlotte had gone from playing Madison Square Garden to performing at the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, when they decided to go on hiatus a few years ago and move on to behind-the-scenes work as producers. Then Feldmann put them in touch with 5 Seconds of Summer, and they wrote songs on both of their albums. "We got really inspired," Benji Madden will say onstage tonight. "And we got the pop-punk bug back!" Tonight is the Maddens' first full show in almost five years.
As Hemmings eats, he holds hands with his girlfriend, Arzaylea, a short 21-year-old brunette with a pierced nose and a shirt that says I'd rather be eating. As Hemmings talks in my ear, she keeps her hand on his pants, rubbing his leg. They met at a get-together in L.A. three months ago. The party was "really bad," but Hemmings was impressed when she told him her favorite band was an Arizona emo group the Maine. He invited her to 5SOS's house around 3 a.m., and they've been together ever since. He tried to keep their relationship secret for weeks, getting out of cars separately to avoid the paparazzi, but tonight it seems like he's given up. "It's hard," he says. "One of the weird things is you want it to be a secret, but you don't want it to be a secret."
Arzaylea grew up in Austin and New York, and went to the Aveda Institute beauty school. "I don't use that now," she says. What does she do? "I'm an Internet influencer," she says. "I just post pictures. It's really easy." In an online Q&A, someone asked her, "Do you ever worry about money for the future since you don't have a full-time job and don't currently go to school?"
"No," she replied. "Trust fund."
Arzaylea has become a villain to Hemmings-obsessed female fans; the 5SOS online universe is full of conspiracies about her – that she's using Hemmings for his fame, speculating that she's actually 25 years old and not 21, that she's a puppet being paid by management to stir up trouble and create publicity. They've dug up sour-grapes tweets from ex-boyfriends. "You all hate me when you don't know me," she tweeted to fans. "I don't use anyone for anything. I legit can do everything on my own."
Hemmings and Arzaylea hold hands as they walk a few doors down to the Troubadour. Minutes later Good Charlotte are onstage, delivering a hits-packed set. Between songs, they make jokes about being old and doing school drop-offs before band practice. "We're gonna take it back to 2001," Joel Madden says before "Little Things." Hemmings bounces in his seat, singing along to every word. When the VIP row gets crowded, Arzaylea climbs onto his lap, and they make out. When the band gives a shout-out to 5SOS, they raise their fists.
After the show, 5SOS head backstage, where Nicole Richie, Joel Madden's wife, directs guests to a dive-y dressing room. The Maddens are chatting with music execs about their comeback. When they spot the band, everyone hugs. "We owe these guys so much, bro," Benji Madden says, speaking over the crowd. "We were, like, over it. We were done. And then we spent, like, nine months together. Seeing them become the band that they are ... I fucking love you guys. I don't know what I would do without you guys."
"These are my little brothers," says Joel, patting Hood on the back. "Thanks for coming to our show tonight. You made us look cool!"
Hemmings, hood and Clifford met at Norwest Christian College, a small private school in a northern suburb of Sydney, where students wear blazers and "teachers use their own experience as Christians to teach from a biblical worldview in all curriculum areas," according to the website. "It was pretty strict," says Clifford. (When asked if he's religious, Clifford says that these days he doesn't go to church, but "whenever I go home, my family reminds me how blessed I am and stuff.")
Hemmings describes himself as an "aggressively average" student; his mother was a math teacher and his father owned a pool-cleaning business. Clifford and Hood had known each other for years; Hemmings arrived at Norwest in seventh grade. "He was kind of like the cool guy," says Clifford, whose parents ran a computer business. "He was kind of a dick. We didn't like each other for a while." Hemmings says, "I was chubby. My voice hadn't broken. Michael was tall and skinny and had great hair, so I was like, 'Fuck this guy.'"
Adam Day, the boys' music teacher, has said Clifford showed the most ambition early on: "Michael always said to me, 'I'm going to be a superstar one day.'" But it was Hemmings who first became serious about YouTube, posting a cover of Mike Posner's syrupy "Please Don't Go" in 2011, at the age of 14. Thanks to Hemmings' looks and shaky but endearing performance, the video scored 40,000 views in a few months.
Hood – who was serious enough about soccer to have visited Brazil for a training camp – and Clifford joined the action. The trio would crowd around the camera and croon Chris Brown and Bieber's "Next to You," which scored 600,000 views. They had easy banter with one another and online fans: "Go subscribe and like and all that shit," Clifford would say. "We noticed what people liked about us," says Hemmings. "We weren't idiots. We were just kind of being dicks on camera and people would like it."
"They had this nervous energy," says their first manager, Adam Wilkinson, who met them when the three toured Studio 301, one of Sydney's biggest recording studios, in the spring of 2011. That December, they booked their first show at a local venue called the Annandale Hotel. They needed a drummer and reached out to Irwin, one half of a local acoustic pop group. The band says that only 12 people showed up to the gig. "There was a much bigger audience on the Internet," says Irwin. "No one gave a damn where we were from. But people online in Norway and Sweden were watching it and saying, 'That's cool.'"
After meeting with the band and Hemmings' mom, Wilkinson wrote up a 12-month plan for 5SOS to become a pop juggernaut. He starts reading a marketing strategy he presented to the band: "Musically, 5SOS can occupy the space between One Direction and [guitar-playing U.K. boy band] McFly. They are young, attractive, attainable teenagers that have a cheekier edge and play their own instruments. While they cannot cross into the realm of pop punk, they can stand on the sidelines and capture the end of that market."
"They always wanted to be Blink 182 or Good Charlotte, but I'll be the first to admit I thought that was shooting too far," says Wilkinson. "We tried to make them a little more pop."
Like the Fab Four, each 5SOS member would have a simple persona. Luke was the quiet one. "The idea was to make the fans feel a little bit of mystery around him," says Wilkinson. "Michael from Day One wanted to be a rock star. So we tried to accentuate that. Calum was always supposed to be the creative one. Ashton was the serious one." Wilkinson would hassle the boys to tweet to their fans: "I'd be checking their Twitter – 'Well, guys, Ashton's done this, why the fuck haven't you done it?' 'Oh, sorry, forgot. At school, got busy.'"
In May 2012, the band went on tour for the first time, a three-city run of 200-capacity Australian clubs, which Wilkinson says all sold out in under two minutes. "I still can't figure out how it blew up so quickly," he says. "Within three months, these guys went from nothing to selling out shows in three cities that a lot of known bands struggle to sell out."
The stakes got higher when the band drew the interest of Modest Management, the London company that handles One Direction. Modest's co-founder, Richard Griffiths, flew to Australia to persuade 5SOS to move to London. The band arrived in the U.K. in December 2012, a month after One Direction's Louis Tomlinson had tweeted a YouTube link to 5 Seconds of Summer's early original song, "Gotta Get Out." "Been a fan of this band for a while, everyone get behind them," he said.
Support like that didn't come free: According to reports, One Direction own a 50 percent share in 5SOS LLP, giving them a cut of the band's music and merchandise profits. Within months of the tweet, One Direction announced that 5SOS would open for them on their arena tour; after fewer than two dozen shows, 5SOS were playing the O2 Arena. When they landed in Miami for a tour stop, 200 girls were waiting for them outside the airport.
Hemmings says they took full advantage of the attention. They were wildest on their early tours, when they'd go to bars to mingle with fans after shows. "When you put four young dudes on a tour bus, playing theaters, then arenas, you're going to have sex with a lot of girls, I guess," says Hemmings. "We had a good time." Multiple girls in one night? "I feel like I shouldn't say," he says with a smirk. "You could say the possibility of that is high." Multiple girls at the same time? "The possibility is high," he says again. He cracks a devilish grin. "The possibilities are endless."
"I had all this attention from all these girls that would have never liked me in school, coming up to me and saying things, handing me numbers," says Hood. "It was like, 'Holy shit, fuck yeah!' I got a bit reckless."
In 2014, a video that Hood had Snapchatted to a girl – in which he filmed himself looking in the mirror with his penis out – surfaced online. It had actually happened a while beforehand – he could tell from his lack of tattoos. "It was kind of a blessing, in a way, because nothing that bad could actually happen to me again," he says, smoking on the porch at the band's house. "If another photo of my dick came out, it will just be, like, 'Oh! It's his dick again.'"
Plus, the video earned the band a lot of publicity. "Now, I'm just working on the sex tape," Hood says. "I'll call Pamela up, like, 'Hey, it's been a while. We really need to hype this band up!'"
He might not be Sid Vicious, but Clifford has been the black sheep of 5SOS since the early days, when Irwin had to go over to Clifford's house to wake him up for band practice. He's a little flaky – he missed a show in New York after losing his passport –and he's also the most accident-prone: Last November in London, he tumbled offstage in the first 10 seconds of an awards-show appearance after a botched jump, dropping into the orchestra pit. "My heel is fucked," he says. More scarily, Clifford walked into a pyrotechnic blast at Wembley Arena in June; his hair and shirt caught on fire, sending him writhing across the stage. He went to the hospital and was fine, but was terrified for a moment when he couldn't open his eyes.
On a more personal note, Clifford interrupted the set at a Michigan amphitheater gig later that summer: "I was just fixing some problems with my mental health," he told the crowd. "I just saw a therapist real quick on the break we had."
Clifford says he suffers from issues of "self-esteem, loneliness, a bit of depression," and has been taking too many sleeping pills at night. Two weeks ago, in Amsterdam, he hit a "breaking point" and called the band's current manager, Matt Emsel. "I said, 'I'm going home, I'm done,'" says Clifford. " 'I'm going into hiding for, like, a month or two.'" He relented, but says, "I've been sad as hell lately." After the onstage announcement, fans tweeted Clifford encouragement with the hashtag #WeLoveYouMichael. "I've become, like, an advocate for mental health, you know?" he says, a little uncomfortable with the role. Irwin is protective of Clifford, saying that he was concerned the guitarist's struggles were going to be "taken as some bullshit marketing thing."
Irwin was happy to see Clifford smiling when his mom visited him on the road recently. "Michael loves home," says Irwin. "He loves being at home with his fucking computer. That's where we picked him up from and that's where we have to drop him back. You know what I mean? Michael, if you'll just leave your computer for a couple of years, and we'll drop you back there eventually. We just need you now for this band."
In the week before the AMAs, Clifford got upset when a skit with late-night host James Corden went south. In the sketch, Corden played the fictional fifth member of 5SOS, who comically lashed out after he was kicked out of the group. But at the taping, the band kept stepping on Corden's lines, and the host got annoyed. His jokes at the band's expense seemed to get harsher, and he singled out Clifford: "I can find a dickhead with red hair seven days a week! You think you're the first guy to dye your hair and be in a band? You're like a cliché of every shit musician."
Clifford was a little shaken afterward. "That was really weird," he says, walking to a nearby supermarket. "That was the hardest promo I've ever done." (The meanest lines end up getting cut from the final bit.) Irwin has a different take, mentioning brightly that he got a compliment from a producer. "She told me I was good at improv!"
Wilkinson attributes Irwin's drive to his tough childhood. His father left his family when Irwin was two; Irwin helped his mother raise his younger brother and sister, who had a different father. "She's had times where she's been depressed and drank too much, and that was hard for me," he says. Irwin was the only band member to graduate from high school before leaving for England; he was a star swimmer and class vice president, and he took acting classes on the side. And though he had a hard time leaving his siblings when 5SOS left Sydney, Irwin knew he couldn't pass up the opportunity. "I think I was in a different place," he says. "For me, my life was a lot more stressful at home.
"I'm not withheld by my past," he adds. "I'm an adult." He works out daily ("I look up to Sting and Springsteen – they are fucking fit and terrific onstage") and takes pains to connect with music-industry folks, gravitating after AMA's rehearsal to speak to some guys standing near the soundboard. "Those are the same people who do Dick Clark's New Year's Eve show," he says. "One day, you will be fucking 60 on the charts and will need to ask them for a favor, and those are the people that will help you out. It's important."
Clifford and Irwin clash over creative differences. "There have been times when I'm like, 'Fuck, why are we fighting so much?'" says Clifford. Clifford tends to write dark, heavier songs like "Jet Black Heart." Irwin leans more commercial. He pushed for their first big single "She Looks So Perfect" (with the chorus "You look so perfect standing there/In my American Apparel underwear"). Irwin excitedly tells the story of the lyric: Their co-writer's girlfriend forgot her underwear once, so she wore his. "We're like, 'That's fucking cool,'" says Irwin. "It hit me straight away. I loved it because it was quirky. I knew it was gonna break us. Michael hated it."
"I worry about my band," he adds. "I fucking worry about them. Every now and then, someone will experience a heartbreak and feel depressed and feel crazy and party every day. I want them to get through it. We have to make it work."
So far, it's working. today, the band is crowded onto a couch, wearing funny top hats, answering questions at a taping of Ryan Seacrest's New Year's Rockin' Eve. A blond reporter in a sparkly dress asks what lessons they've learned this year. "Watch where you're going," Irwin says. "And watch where Michael's going."
Clifford is sluggish and a little sour; he was out late partying with Twenty One Pilots' Josh Dun, bequeather of the Fleshlight. Clifford rallies as 5SOS knock out their snarly singles "Hey Everybody!" and "She's Kinda Hot," but afterward, with the crowd still cheering, he darts offstage and storms down a backstage hallway to the dressing room. "Are you all right?" says one of the band's managers, putting his arm around him.
The bandmates stop for a brief photo shoot, making their best punk faces – Hemmings sticks out his tongue, Irwin grimaces, Hood puts a confetti gun on his crotch and shoots it off. Clifford squints and raises his eyebrows. But he looks miserable.
Clifford's mood brightens later in the dressing room when Irwin presents him with a birthday gift from the band, which Irwin had been planning for months: two black custom-made Gibson Les Paul Junior guitars. "Holy fuck!" says Clifford, opening the first case, putting his hands over his face. When he sees the second guitar, he screams: "This is the best day of my life! Oh, my God! Holy fucking shit! This is literally the last fucking thing I expected!" He gives Irwin a huge hug.
In the new year, the band plan to live in separate places: Hemmings and Clifford will be sharing one home, and Hood and Irwin the other. "Eventually, we're going to get to an age where we can't be around each other 24/7," says Clifford.
But they seem to realize that being a band is what sets them apart from almost everyone else at their level, and they want to hold on to that. They feel sorry for solo pop stars hunkered down with paid helpers at awards shows. "No one's fucking friends," says Irwin. Despite any tensions, they are going on vacation together in Indonesia over the holiday break. "You need to work on the band's relationship, just like a romantic relationship," says Irwin.
Clifford's favorite band moment last year did not happen onstage, or when they were getting chased, or when their record went to Number One. It was in Milan, when 5SOS asked for five minutes alone during a tour stop, away from its entourage. That's when Hood started climbing out a window, into the parking lot. The others followed.
"We were like, 'Holy shit, this is going to be the greatest prank ever,'" says Clifford. "We shut the window and jumped out and hid in the parking lot, and watched our managers go in the room.
"They opened the door and were like, 'Where did the guys go?'" he continues. "They went in the bathroom, the whole thing. They started freaking out. 'Holy shit, they're all gone.'"
"We could have ran," says Clifford, smiling. "We could have ran far away."