Trigger Warning: This article involves themes regarding disordered eating and mental illness
Ashton Irwin came into stardom in 2011 with his vocal and drumming talent, through the now-internationally acclaimed band 5 Seconds of Summer (5SOS). Unlike most outfits that formed during the era, the four-piece Australian group have remained unified for almost a decade now. While the band has gone through musical and personal shifts over the past years, Ashton Irwin is the first member of the group to release solo music, with the announcement of his upcoming Superbloom album and the drop of his stunning single, “Skinny Skinny.”
Right from the beginning, Ashton’s voice is the focus of the song. There’s strumming guitar throughout the project that creates a feeling reminiscent of Elliot Smith and Grant Lee Buffalo’s music, but the song revolves around what Ashton’s sharing. There is no percussion on the track, which feels very intentional, seeing as he is the drummer for 5 Seconds of Summer. Ashton sings, “Hey, skinny skinny/Don’t you think about the future…”
Inside Ashton’s Mind
“My second face, my d**n reflection/We always meet when I’m defeated/You tear me up all of the time…” Ashton sings. It is his mental illness that creates his “second face”, which greets Ashton as he’s staring into the mirror. Body dysmorphia forces those who are afflicted by it to have obsessive thoughts regarding “perceived defects or flaws in your appearance.” Obsessive thoughts can be terrifyingly intrusive, which Ashton references as he sings, “We always meet without permission.” There is a lack of control.
The chorus repeats, “Hey, skinny skinny/Don’t you think about the future.” This emphasizes the repetitive nature of the thoughts that continue to attack him. Ashton’s voice takes on more pain as he cries, “I wanna eat, I wanna stay thin,” in the next verse. His compulsive need to monitor his weight and appease a mental affliction does not support his desire to nurture his body. He sings, “I wanna dance but I gotta stay in.” He wants to be free to dance, but his own body has become a simple vessel in which he is trapped. He cannot derive any pleasure from his body, due to the fear of what he thinks he may look like. This is powerful, as he allows himself to dance shirtless in the music video to the song.
— Ashton Irwin (@Ashton5SOS) September 24, 2020
Ashton sings with an intentionally shaky voice, “I’m skin and bonе, I’m made of nothing,” sounding like someone who has robbed themself of everything. He has trapped himself in his own ribs like a birdcage or prison bars. “My secret pose, my secret ending,” reflects the way he tucked this aspect of his mind and life away from the people around him. He poses in front of the mirror he dreads and the camera he fears, positioning himself to appease his affliction. It may be his “ending.”
He continues, “My tongue is tasteless, my heart is barren/My fingers stretching into my larynx.” When someone is bulimic, they force themself to purge by vomiting. The acidic stomach bile strips tongues, which can lead to a loss of taste. Eating has lost all of its joy, leaving Ashton hollowed. He is physically reaching inside his own body in order to deprive himself, releasing the fears and taunting demons that he illustrated in the cover art and music video. The larynx holds the vocal cords, this is darkly appropriate as he is a singer, particularly one who has never had a full vocal solo on an official recording from his band.
In the chorus, Ashton sings, “Stop your thinking ’bout tomorrow/You’ll never make it like that…” Survival was not going to be an option if he continued on that path. Change was deeply necessary. The chorus and pre-chorus loop a number of times before electric guitar and horn swells are introduced for the first time on the song. Ashton sings, “Too bad,” a number of times, once again highlighting the repetition.
Image via the official “Skinny Skinny” music video
This is a bold debut solo track. It is incredibly open, particularly as eating disorders are often ignored, misunderstood and untreated in men, as many resources and treatment options are designed for women. A study at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School found that while eating disorders are more commonly reported amongst women, men are less likely to access services and are more likely to have previously experienced depression. The announcement that Ashton was working on a solo project sent some 5SOS fans into a panic, but the choice to work on this song, in particular, makes complete and total sense. This is not the type of song that could be shared between members – Ashton is bearing his heart and his skin.
On this single Ashton grippingly describes feeling empty in more than just his stomach. It’s not the weight of his body that’s crushing him, but the exhaustion of his own demons. He’s battling with and tormented by his own body and physical form, which he discussed on Instagram writing about “not feeling at home in your own body.” “Skinny Skinny” is a personal and painful revelation from Ashton Irwin, introducing him as a person who hurts when he looks in the mirror, not just as a band member behind a drum set.
Feature image via Billboard