At first glance, the 5sos lead singer and guitarist Luke Hemmings’ first solo single ‘Starting Line’ is about growing up, accompanied by feelings of loss and identity. But woven within this narrative are more complex elements explored by Hemmings, making the track intimate and immersive for all who listen to it.
5 Seconds of Summer burst onto the international music scene in the early 2010s after forming in 2011. The band started by posting covers of songs by various musicians on YouTube. This attracted Sony and they were later asked to open for One Direction on tour, a major boost for the band. Since then, the Australian quartet have been wowing crowds worldwide as a band and as individuals.
‘Starting Line’ is the opening song of Luke Hemmings’ debut album, When Facing The Things We Turn Away From, released on August 13. According to the singer-songwriter, who made a post about the album on Instagram, the album “grew out of a year of enforced stillness” due to Covid-19 restrictions, which pushed 5sos’ 2020 tour back to 2021. During this time, Hemmings’ album began to take shape and ‘Starting Line’ was born, with this musical creation becoming a profound reflection on his life so far.
Hemmings’ first foray into solo music is energetic and powerful; a pop rock affair with a big chorus. ‘Starting Line’ is a track filled with yearning, beautifully illustrated in the lyrics and Hemmings’ pleading vocals. The introspective tune begins delicately on piano and crescendos on the powerful chorus as Hemmings contemplates his thoughts on what he is really seeking in life and what he has missed.
The magic of this song lies in the fact the personal experience Hemmings writes so beautifully about is not only limited to his life. Rather, his own experience easily becomes one shared by many.
The song’s delicate introduction creates a space-like symphony, whereby the listener floats between familiarity and uncertainty. The song pauses briefly for the introduction of Hemmings’ vocals, bringing the audience back down to Earth with the steady beat. As the music gradually swells and Hemmings’ tone goes from soft to pleading, singing “I wake up every morning with the years ticking by/ I’m missing all these memories, maybe they were never mine”, there is a sense of nostalgia as the pace builds.
Youth and longing
With the change in pace and the urgency in Hemmings’ tone, comes his longing to be consoled; an elusive desire that seems to diminish as the track progresses. During the chorus, Hemmings’ frustration increases as he sings “I wake up every morning with the years ticking by / I’m missing all these memories, maybe they were never mine / I feel the walls are closing / I’m running out of time / I think I missed the gun at the starting line.” The repetition of these lyrics in the chorus emphasises Hemmings’ desperation to relive what he has missed in life and to reflect on the madness of his youth from being a part of a highly successful band.
Hemmings’ early adult life was shaped around 5sos and the band’s success, which saw the four friends travel across the world and writing and releasing music from the age of 18. He is also the youngest member of the band but has managed to create and perform music with passion and maturity. However, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t felt the bitter sting of fame. Being in that position from such a young age, especially as the youngest member of the band, has propelled Hemmings towards; exploring that pivotal time in his life through his upcoming album, something he was unable to do in the midst of fame. This exploration of the past is key for him to move forward and to understand the whirlwind he experienced in 5sos’ infancy.
As ‘Starting Line’ progresses the listener becomes immersed in Hemmings’ storytelling and lyricism, creating the idea of trying to catch a train that never comes, to a home that doesn’t exist. The narrator wants more and more of the life they missed out on, while trying to remember the parts they did live. “Something like an omen / I can never keep / Moving on and on, so very bittersweet” seems to refer to someone (whether that be Hemmings or the listener) never feeling the highs of childhood and youth, feeling restless for a life without rushing and missed experiences and accepting this loss.
This articulation of missed time and opportunities is what makes ‘Starting Line’ so special and unique. Hemmings manages to embody the insurmountable feeling of loss that can be prevalent in a busy and fulfilled life. He has created a form of art that expresses what it means to be so full yet so empty. This song taps into a variation of the same experience people, not just celebrities, have shared in their lives and what it means to grapple with the realisation that thus far, this is the life they have led.
At the heart of ‘Starting Line’ is recalling memories, trying to place certain events and choosing what to remember. ‘Best Years’, track number seven on 5sos’ fourth album CALM, holds a similar theme but looks more into the future. Therefore, it is suggested that during his one-year reflection, Hemmings realised you can’t move forward until you confront the past, and once you deal with the bad memories and everything in-between, you then go on to have the ‘Best Years’.
In verse two of ‘Starting Line’, Hemmings sings: “Moving on and on, so very bittersweet / Is it lost on me? / All the things I don’t need.” This simple observation reveals that moving forward from the past to the future is not as easy as it may seem, and that it can be challenging to do so. But, he is becoming mindful of what is needed in his life, with “All the things I don’t need” potentially referring to lingering whispers of his past that he is struggling to part with, including his previous, rocky relationship with Arzaylea Rodriguez and the band parting ways with UK-based Modest! Management and their US label Interscope earlier this year, marking a new chapter with YMU Group.
Through his lyrics, Luke Hemmings speaks directly to those who do feel or have felt the same as him, with the understanding that it can be difficult to alleviate those feelings of loss amidst confusion about the future. Yet, “Take me alive / Don’t look away until it’s gone / Until it’s gone” emphasises the importance of ensuring that we do let go of the past in order to move forwards in life.
It isn’t a surprise that Luke Hemmings has branched away from 5sos to create his own music. Everyone has their own, individual stories to tell, and I couldn’t be happier that he has. ‘Starting Line’ is a thoughtful yet powerful anthem that has set the precedent for Hemmings’ upcoming album. This is only the beginning for Hemmings, and during a time where everything remains uncertain, ‘Starting Line’ provides just over four minutes of peace, which I for one am thankful for.