By Anna Billy | 27 July, 2021
Luke Hemmings’ title for his debut album When Facing the Things We Turn Away From immediately orients listeners to provocatively think about what the 2020 pandemic has meant to so many individuals and artists -- an opportunity to confront the emotions, feelings, and unresolved experiences that were neglected from years past. In Hemmings’ own words, the past year was “a forced moment of stillness.”
The bone chilling chorus of Hemmings’ debut solo track “Starting Line” echoes a far too familiar sentiment many musicians who begin their superstardom career at an early age express: a lack of identity as consequence from a rapid rise to fame in the music industry. His repetition during the bridge -- “take me alive / make me a liar” -- poignantly articulates a lost sense of reality and identity in a foreign and unfamiliar world. He sings with a rushed sense of urgency and his voice becomes louder with each lyric. I’ll admit I became quite emotional the first time I listened to the track because the song’s cinematic sound masks Hemmings’ melancholic words.
With the recent release of “Motion,” his second single for the album once more gestures at the trauma of teenage fame. His opening lyric resounds “With every sundown, I feel alone. / These hands are strangers, they aint my own.” By paralleling bodily disconnection and the natural world Hemmings acknowledges his fragility as a human being. I would even suggest his words are a gentle request for his fans to view him as human. He plainly depicts a fractured identity that disallows him from separating his performative stage presence as the Luke Hemmings from 5 Seconds of Summer from who he is off stage. Like any celebrity who occupies the spotlight, Hemmings and his bandmates from 5 Seconds of Summer are frequently raised on a pedestal. These young men are proclaimed as perfect, untouchable, and without fault. Hemmings’ uses his seemingly simple lyrics to shed himself of that harmful and detrimental narrative. He encourages his fans to view himself and his bandmates as humans who make mistakes, suffer from loss and loneliness, and struggle every day too. However, does his radical departure from the early 5 Seconds of Summer’s marketable boyish charm alter his wide appeal as a solo artist?
As explained in Part One of Hemmings’ mini youtube series, he expresses the need to pursue a project outside of 5 Seconds of Summer. He calls his endeavor “terrifying” and states he loves “being that person [in the band]” yet simultaneously acknowledges how the band forced a separate persona -- an expectation of who he should be. He continues on to say how his dual identity and rapid rise to fame personally affected him in a multitude of ways. This type of acute self-awareness recognizes the chaotic mix of privilege, expectation, and performance thrust upon him by the music industry.
In our current cultural climate, fans are slowly gaining an awareness that young musicians were thrown into the limelight in an unhealthy way. With the thick smoke screen slowly dissipating, what is our responsibility as fans moving forward? How do we make amends for perpetrating and allowing such a harmful, and sometimes toxic, environment for our idols and role models? Is it enough to promote their self-reflective projects that provide them the space to process their emotions and come to terms with their identity? Or do we need to make a bigger impact? Why not think big and start petitioning record labels and other media moguls to impose restrictions on what young stars can endure?
As fans, we have the power to make change. The music industry has clearly taken far too much from the people whom we admire and adore. So, I challenge you: what will you do when enough is enough?