Sunday, May 17, 2009

Jonas Brothers — faith, hope and chastity

Three brothers; a few thousand girls; one shrill hormonal, blood-curdling cacophony. As the Jonas Brothers’ MPV pulls into Leicester Square for the premiere of their new film Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert Experience, you realise that it’s been a very long time since British girls emitted screams of quite such enormity. Over here, they might just be getting warmed up. In America, however, Jonasmania has prompted hysteria unseen since another famously abstemious, God-fearing band of siblings, the Osmonds, elicited similar fandemonium. Far from being an impediment to their fantasies, the suggestions daubed on home-made placards suggest that the Jonas Brothers’ continuing chastity is exactly what’s fuelling those fantasies. One message directed at the 18-year-old singer urges: “Joe, once you’ve given me a ring you won’t need your ring.”

Once the waving and the autograph signings are done, will they stay or go? Hours earlier amid the relative calm of their Soho hotel, this is what the brothers are debating. “Shall we just walk in?” inquires Kevin Jonas , at 20, the eldest of the three , to no one in particular. “I don’t mind staying,” ponders 18-year-old Joe, he of the ruddy complexion and Velcro eyebrows. “I’ve seen it twice, but the 3-D effects are kind of cool. Like when the shark rises up and savages me. Everyone ducks.” Registering my expression, 16-year-old Nick Jonas chips in. “There is no shark, but you might duck when Joe sprays the audience with foam.”

These are uncertain times for anyone raised on the belief that rock cannot truly be said to roll without a certain amount of debauchery and a healthy contempt for divine retribution. In America the last two Jonas Brothers albums have rack up 3.5 million sales between them, a level of success that reaches far beyond the prepubescent tweenage market at whom their Disney-owned label, Hollywood Records, had initially aimed.

Indeed, so utterly have the Jonas Brothers been co-opted into the Disney machine that it’s easy to forget that they formed independently of it. Marketed by their first label, Columbia, as an American version of Busted (to the degree that two of the British group’s songs featured on the track listing), their debut album It’s About Time stalled at 60,000 sales. The Jonas Brothers’ musical career seemed fated to be remembered as a failed experiment.

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But while Columbia cut its losses, Disney executives heard something altogether different — a musical template that has percolated into records by its other Disney stars Miley Cyrus, Vanessa Hudgens and Camp Rock’s Demi Lovato. Far from being reviled for it, their reinforcement of musical values that accord with their fans’ parents — “real” instruments, self-written songs — means that these sons of a New Jersey pastor have been spared the critical contempt that once came as standard for groups such as New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys. Reviewing the group’s 2008 album A Little Bit Longer, Blender praised “their vaguely punkish élan”, while Rolling Stone approvingly noted: “The Jonas Brothers are acting their dad’s age.” America’s fascination with the Jonas family extends even to seven-year-old “Bonus Jonas”, Frankie, currently playing in his own band, Hollywood Shake-Up.

Presenting the American MTV Awards a few months ago, Russell Brand famously misjudged this pan-generational affection for the group. Referring to George Bush as a “retard” was one thing, but when the comedian made light of the brothers’ promise rings — denoting their commitment to chastity before marriage — many in the room felt that he had overstepped the mark. The teenage singer Jordin Sparks told Brand: “It’s not bad to wear a promise ring, because not every guy and girl wants to be a slut.”

In fact, Kevin says, the episode wasn’t as embarrassing as people might have thought. “Most of the evening we were getting ready for our performance, so we missed a lot of what he said. Did we meet him afterwards? No, but we wouldn’t have objected to it. We hold no grudges.” As Kevin is the responsible older brother and a paragon of equanimity, this is just the sort of response he is prone to dispense. Nick’s tone is slightly different. “Everybody’s got their thing,” begins the youngest Jonas, choosing his words carefully. “But it seemed like he could have used some new material — which I guess we provided.”

Sitting in a room with the Jonas Brothers — three Christians with a whole lifetime left in which to lapse — it’s only natural to look for chinks of off-message unpredictability that may, in time, evolve into starry eccentricity. With his love of country music and affection for Texas (a few years ago, the family moved there from the upper-middle-class New Jersey suburb of Wyckoff), sensible, solid Kevin can be discounted straight away.

Joe has more potential in this regard. When pressed to describe how a putative Joe Jonas solo album would sound, he makes up a new word, averring that it would “gradjitate towards Kings of Leon and MGMT”, two bands who have been known to enjoy the occasional chemical relaxant. In the event, however, it transpires that he is even less rock’n’roll than his mother, Denise. “My mom wanted me to take some medicine on the plane to fall asleep,” he laughs, “and I didn’t take it. I was trying to prove to her that I could fall asleep without it. And I was right.”

All the most interesting question marks, however, seem to hover over the famously unsmiling Nick. At 16, he’s the group’s multi-instrumentalist and main songwriter, his journey to maturity presumably hastened by the extra responsibilities of managing a diabetic disorder of four years. In the hotel restaurant later, Denise Jonas talks about him in terms that suggest that even she remains a little mystified by him. “I used to go to the hairdresser to get my hair straightened,” she explains, “and Nick being just 6, I would to take him with me. He used to sing to the customers and earn a little extra money for sweeping up. People noticed and he wound up with an agent. Within two years, he was on Broadway [starring in Baz Luhrmann’s La Bohème]. He didn’t look back. One vacation, he even asked if he could stay on [and keep working]. That’s Nick. An old soul.”

An old soul, indeed. It’s hardly normal for a teenager to own up to a fondness for those 1970s powerpop scions Cheap Trick, but the best Jonas Brothers songs — say, BB Good or the new single Paranoid — make it a plausible claim. The Jonas Brothers’ signature sound — exuberant bubble-gum tunes driven home by brittle new-wave arrangements — isn’t far removed from such heroes. Given the restrictions that come with being a millionselling act on a Disney imprint, the new songs on their new album Lines, Vines and Trying Times show some of the impurities of real life getting into the water. Poison Ivy relies on the same girl-as-irritant metaphor that provided the Coasters with their identically named 1959 hit. WWIII goes farther still — an explicit address to a girlfriend whose combative nature seems to be making the relationship untenable.

“I wrote it out of personal experience,” Nick admits. “It was about this relationship. This person kept on fighting, and making out like it was world war three, when it was really a one-sided battle. It was just them coming at you, and you don’t really have any problem.” By a simple process of elimination, it’s likely that Nick is referring to Miley Cyrus. After meeting on the set of her Hannah Montana show, Cyrus and Jonas started dating. “We became boyfriend and girlfriend on the day we met,” Cyrus said. “For two years he was basically my 24/7. But it was really hard to keep it from people. We were arguing a lot, and it really wasn’t fun. When we were dating, Nick wanted me to get highlights — and so I did that. And then, on the day we broke up, I was like, I want to make my hair black now — I don’t want to look pretty. I was rebelling against everything Nick wanted me to be.”

That’s some effect for a teenage boy to exert on a girl. “I dunno,” he says, three times, to his brothers’ amusement.

Am I embarrassing him? “Embarrassment is getting stuck in an elevator and calling the emergency services only to realise that, actually, you didn’t press the button hard enough. In my defence, however, I was 11 when that happened.” Recapturing his thread, he continues: “I don’t know that I was the reason she dyed her hair black. But we are very good friends now, and that’s what’s important.”

It would, you suspect, be a nightmare if they weren’t good friends. To most children the twin foundations of the modern Disney brand are not animated characters. Along with the three High School Musical films, they’re Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers. The template established by Hannah Montana — a concurrent television show, movie career and music career all serving to draw attention to each other — is now propelling the Jonas Brothers to similar heights. They appeared in Camp Rock last year, and production for Camp Rock II begins shortly. Later this year, a scripted Hannah Montana-style series, J.O.N.A.S., about a group who have to balance going to high school with the demands of pop stardom, airs on British television.

In reality, it’s a far trickier balancing act that the group have to accomplish. Most bands will tell you that they struggle to write on the road. The Jonas Brothers don’t have that choice. Their tour bus has a studio on it, allowing them to double up touring and recording time. Nothing is wasted. Their 2007 single Shelf was written on a plane — not an untypical occurrence, apparently. “We stay busy,” Kevin says, “but that’s a feeling we like to have. It makes us feel that things are working properly.”

Back at the film premiere, where the noise of on-screen fans has merged with that of the fans who have surged to the front of the auditorium, things are clearly working very properly. (However, the 3-D technology proves too much for the daughter of the Blue singer Anthony Costa. The five-year-old stages her own 3-D “experience”: an impressive Exorcist-style vomit on the cinema’s plush pile.) Where to from here? In the eye of the storm, there are signs that the Jonas Brothers — or a fraction of them, at least — might be wondering the same thing. Asked to name a career high in his brief but busy life, Nick Jonas makes no mention of the hysteria. Instead, he recalls a recent encounter with Elvis Costello, engineered, at his request, by Rolling Stone. “He was such an amazing guy,” Nick says. “I mean, just one song from someone like that can teach you so much. I Don’t Want to Go to Chelsea is one of those songs. I can’t listen to it enough.”

Before we part, he adds one more thing. “Thanks for asking about some of the songs.” Momentarily, I’m not sure what to say. I mutter something to the effect of: “Well, isn’t all this predicated on the music?” He nods. “That’s what we think. It’s just that people don’t usually ask about that stuff.”

Source: The Times Online

I love this ARTICLE, I just had to post it (: Don't worry Joe, I dig 'em velcro brows.