Luke Hemmings is an Australian singer, guitarist and songwriter. He’s one of the biggest names in the music industry and the lead singer of one of the sole surviving groups from the craze of bands composed of teens in the 2010s, 5 Seconds of Summer (5SOS). At just 24-years-old Luke has the industry-experience of an artist three times his age, which he has shared he intends to tackle on his upcoming album, “When Facing The Things We Turn Away From,” set to be released on August 13, 2021. The first single from this debut album is “Starting Line.”
Gentle piano introduces “Starting Line” with rising, twinkling beats following, like stars slowly appearing in the sky. Luke sings, “In and out of focus/Moments that I keep…” Luke described the overwhelming experience of cataloging his memories in an interview with his label, “It’s like you’re forgetting so many pieces of your life—not from vices or anything—but from the sheer volume. The last 10 years of my life have been a blur and I have had to figure out how to fill a lot of gaps for myself in a positive way.” Luke helped start 5 Seconds of Summer when he was just a tween boy in 2011. A decade later, he’s played some of the largest stadiums in the world, won 80 awards and broken numerous records — all before hitting age 25. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing, and the experiences he’s had can blend. This song and the upcoming album both delve into this experience.
“Something for the pain/And something so I sleep/Won’t you comfort me?” Luke sings about seeking solace during the introduction to this track. While the lyrics could be about his new fiancé, it is also implied that it could be about turning to drugs to bring a sense of stability. The twinkling background instrumentals continue as he sings, “Visceral in doses/Hiding in the seams/Standing on the sun and I don’t feel a thing…” He’s describing a sense of numbness and being forced to seek strong reactions from the extremes of life, only possessing the capability to process bursts of emotion. In the most literal sense, being blinded by paparazzi and stage lights will make rays of sunshine feel less bright.
The chorus means a shift in the sound, which had been consistent throughout the beginning of the track. “I wake every morning with the years ticking by/I’m missing all these memories…” Once again, Luke is singing about missing time. Apertures in memories paired with the crushing sensation of aging will be oppressive and prevalent when you reach superstardom at age 17. He sings about his memories, “Maybe they were never mine,” and is referring to the way his youth was packaged and sold to the world, never affording him a chance at experiencing a simple or typical coming of age.
Luke’s voice grows more frantic and strong as the background instrumentals rise, creating a sense of intensity, “I feel the walls are closing/I’m running out of time/I think I missed the gun at the starting line.” The instrumental surges make it sound as though he’s charging forward, shoving past a crowd that could never keep up with him. The final lyric of this line is the most impactful. He’s won the race, but it’s as though he broke the rules to dart ahead of the competition, essentially leaving him behind in the end — he barely even got to compete, he just ran. The production also plays a key role here, as it sounds like his voice is being pulled away under the current of the guitar, like his adolescence getting sacrificed to his career.
In the bridge, Luke searches for answers. He asks, “Tell mе, am I broken?” He talks about being trapped in the stardom, as well as hiding his pain and emotions from both the fans and himself, “I can never lеave/Biting on my tongue and/Checking if it bleeds.” He explores the impermanence of his memories and the fear that he’s incapable of truly appreciating everything he’s seen and done. “Oh, is it lost on me?…Something like an omen I can never keep/Moving on and on, so very,” Luke sounds pained as he sings, “bittersweet…”
Illusions to the race are similar to his bandmate Ashton Irwin’s solo song “Greyhound,” which is also about working oneself to the bone. Lyrically, it’s reminiscent of fellow Australian Ruel’s “as long as you care,” as well as Billy Joel’s “Vienna,” August D’s “Give It To Me,” Britney Spears’ “Lucky,” Will Jay’s “Married To Myself” and “Burned Out.” Taylor Swift’s “Lucky One,” “Right Where You Left Me” and “This Is Me Trying” also directly line up with the themes. Most notably, “Starting Line” is similar to 5 Seconds of Summer’s “No Shame,” which is about the dangers of fame and the obsessiveness of fans. “No Shame” touches on parasocial relationships, but “Starting Line” digs into what the attention does to the fixture of fans’ love.
The electric guitar rises, one layer of it making a siren-esque noise — like a warning. The percussion is rushing but more subdued than the guitar, both contrasting light flairs of Luke’s “aaah” vocals. Luke repeatedly cries, “Take me alive, make me a liar/Take me alive/Don’t look away until it’s gone!” He’s begging his career and the fans to consume him, to drain his career, to rob him of his understanding of truth. The lines and the years are blurred — what is the truth anymore?
Luke’s voice remains nearly upbeat, not taking on a more rocky sound during the bridge, while there’s more raw sound to his vocals in the chorus. “Starting Line” is produced and co-written by Sammy Witte, who is behind massive Harry Styles, Isaac Dunbar, Maggie Rogers, King Princess, Lykke Li, Lennon Stella and Suki Waterhouse hits. Witte’s influence is clear, as “Staring Line” is a pop song in some senses, but also very detached from the markings of what makes popular tracks today, in many other ways. The song is similar to Harry Styles’ heartbroken hit “Falling” in its overall sound, but particularly the piano composition and use of crescendos.
I couldn’t be prouder to introduce you to “When Facing the Things We Turn Away From”; a project that grew out of a year of enforced stillness.
— Luke Hemmings (@Luke5SOS) June 30, 2021
The sound of “Starting Line” is similar in many ways to the more heartfelt popular songs of the early 2010s, around the time Luke was coming up in the industry. The sound of the song isn’t distinctly detached from 5SOS’, which lends itself to the meaning of the track — he’s been living his life and working on his own craft within the group, but it’s been a consuming process and these identities have mixed together in many ways.
Luke’s voice even sounds young on this song. Although his voice is now developed, he still has the vocal tone and weight of someone his age, which isn’t old at all. When listening to 5SOS’ music, the members’ ages can be more easily forgotten, especially since many fans have grown up with the group members. When listening to Luke sing completely alone, the youthfulness of his voice directly contrasts the weathered tone of the lyrics.
“Starting Line” is about a niche experience, intending to resonate with those who gave their teen years to the music industry, but it can still be an anthem for the overachievers. This single’s release timing is also key, as it’s graduation season in many countries (though not his home nation). Students around the world are reflecting on educational careers and may be experiencing similar emotions. The song simulates a crushing feeling of staring awake into the dark, wracked by terror of the future and anxieties about the past.
“Starting Line” is about someone who has run so far they’ve returned to the beginning of the track, watching their peers sprint into the distance together. There’s a sense of melancholy, longing and desperation that laces each line. It’s a song that can be screamed at the top of your lungs or quietly appreciated alone. The track is the realization that you were forced to have tunnel vision in order to achieve all of your accomplishments, meaning you missed the opportunity to appreciate the success or the experiences that came with them. Luke is grieving the moments lost to his own memory. With a perfect debut solo track title, “Starting Line,” is just the beginning for Luke Hemmings as a solo artist.