The Week In Pop: Nick Jonas Is On The Verge Of Something Awesome
We needed the expert Miguel impersonation that is “Jealous” this year, if only because Miguel himself seems determined to tantalizingly dangle his own new music just out of reach. (These fleeting seconds were such a maddening tease! I realize this hard-to-get routine is a form of foreplay, but jeez.) Anyway: The biggest solo hit so far from Nick Jonas — as in Jonas Brothers, the now-defunct Disney-affiliated mall-punk pinups — is the closest anybody’s gotten to approximating the sleek, soulful, retro-futuristic brilliance that made Kaleidoscope Dream the finest R&B release in recent memory. “Jealous” is a little more self-consciously cartoonish than “Adorn,” a characteristic the willfully corny (dare I say “Bound 2″-esque?) video plays up. But its luscious groove, glossy exterior, and effortless falsetto trills push the same buttons. Forgo the new Tinashe remix, an attempt at cool points and/or gender reciprocity that inadvertently ruins the song, and bask in the glory of the original.
There’s a clear “Adorn” influence there, one Jonas himself would probably not deny. He’s already verbalized his affection for the Weeknd — whose nihilistic malaise he blended with Miguel’s sensual future-soul and a generous splash of Justin Timberlake on the also-excellent pre-“Jealous” single “Chains” — and for key Miguel influences Prince and Stevie Wonder. And given how well Jonas’ recent run of singles has integrated all those touchpoints, he scans as a fellow innovator more so than a Macklemore-style interloper making a traditionally black genre safe for white American teenagers. After all, both “Jealous” and “Adorn” can be traced back on the evolutionary chain to Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.”
Speaking of gay, that’s the audience Jonas seems to be playing to anyway. Not that he’d turn down attention from the teeny boppers he used to court, but in ways subtle (the steamy male modeling on his album cover above) and not so subtle (subjecting himself to “Guess The Bulge,” in which a British interviewer asked him to identify the crotches of his fellow male pop singers), he’s been embracing his iconic status among portions of the gay population. Jonas told HuffPo that he’s “thrilled” about his big gay following, something he proved by doing a striptease for some of them during a tour of Manhattan gay bars. The theme extends into his acting career: As Jonas hinted to Andy Cohen, he’s playing a very possibly gay mixed martial arts fighter in the DirecTV drama Kingdom. Jonas, who co-wrote “Jealous” about his girlfriend Oliva Culpo, might be going overboard when he says he “identifies” with his Kingdom character, but nobody can question his savvy. Given that he hasn’t fully connected with the world at large yet — “Jealous” climbed to #27, and none of his other singles have cracked the Hot 100 — playing to his gay audience is probably smart business. He knows who loves him, and he’s showing them some love in return.
The world at large really ought to be paying attention, though. Nick Jonas — officially his second solo album following 2004’s Nicholas Jonas but for all intents and purposes his debut — is out next week (and streaming today). And while it doesn’t live up to the high bar set by “Chains” and “Jealous” on the whole, it’s still one of the strongest entries in the 2014 pop canon. After leading off with the two singles, the quality level dips closer to “Numb,” the decent “Dark Horse” rewrite Jonas shared last month — not revelatory, but expertly performed and arranged nonetheless. So it goes with “Teacher,” a B-minus hybrid of Prince’s “Kiss” and Timberlake’s “LoveStoned,” and grand finale “Nothing,” a swing-for-the-fences ballad that gets there, barely. The Demi Lovato duet “Avalanche” beats OneRepublic at their own game, which isn’t saying much, but still. The album mostly lives in that vicinity, though it does graze transcendence occasionally, particularly on “Push,” a gentle romantic ballad bathed in ethereal synth ripples. It’s no coincidence that that’s one of the only other songs to fully buy into the Miguel/Weeknd aesthetic.
So, like fellow kids-TV refugee Ariana Grande’s My Everything, Nick Jonas is not a masterpiece, but it is a strong, confident step forward into musical adulthood. Jonas is onto something with his next-gen Timberlake shtick, borrowing the freshest R&B sounds of yesterday and today and tilting them ever so slightly toward the top 40. He may have a FutureSex/LoveSounds in him yet, but to get there he’ll need to find himself a Timbaland and forge boldly beyond expert homage into fresh territory. (Remember how crazy-abrasive “SexyBack” sounded on first listen?) It would certainly help his cause if he could score some Justified-level hits this time around to earn himself a little more industry heft. So hopefully “Jealous” still has a late-breaking surge left in it — not impossible given the slow-burn nature of many chart hits. Mainstream pop has been pretty dire this year, particularly on the male side. With Timberlake on his suit and tie shit and Justin Bieber making more headlines than hits, there’s a hole to fill in the pop ecosystem. Jonas might be the man for the job. If not, cult stardom beckons; those abs will probably buy him at least a couple decades.
It’s all Taylor all the time this week as Swift’s 1989 debuts at #1 with a monumental 1.287 million in sales and “Shake It Off” climbs back to #1 on the Hot 100. We’ll start with the album: Billboard confirms that 1989 had the highest first-week sales of any album since 2002, when The Eminem Show moved 1.322 million in its opening frame. (If that feels like a long time ago, it was.) It’s also instantly the best-selling album released in 2014 — not just the most anyone’s sold in their first week, but the most anyone’s sold all year — and it’s second in 2014 sales to the almighty Frozen soundtrack’s 3.2 million. Obviously, 1989 becomes the first album released in 2014 to go platinum too. And it’s one of only 19 albums in the SoundScan era (since 1991) to sell a million in its first week, joining Swift’s Red and Speak Now.
There were other albums last week, so let’s explore the rest of the top 10. Now 52 enters at #2 with 103,000, followed by two more debuts, country singer-songwriter Sam Hunt’s Montevallo (#3, 70,000) and Barry Manilow’s duets-with-dead-people album My Dream Duets (#4, 51,000). Jason Aldean’s Old Boots, New Dirt continues to sell well with 43,000 this week to land at #5. Florida Georgia Line’s Anything Goes is at #6 with 38,000. Then, thanks to a massive reissue campaign, 43-year-old Led Zeppelin IV shoots up to #7 with 35,000. Christian singer Chris Tomlin’s Love Ran Red debuts at #8 with 35,000. Last week’s #1, Slipknot’s .5: The Gray Chapter slides down to #9 with 34,000. And Black Veil Brides’ self-titled debut starts at #10 with 30,000.
1989’s huge numbers are a huge story, yes, but I’m afraid we’ve buried the lead: Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” has been dethroned after eight weeks on top. I like Trainor’s song, but damn, when even the inescapable “Shake It Off” seems like a breath of fresh air, it’s time for a change. This makes three weeks total at #1 for “Shake It Off,” matching the three nonconsecutive weeks “We Are Never Getting Back Together” enjoyed in 2012. That’s not the only good news for Swift on the singles chart. Largely on the strength of digital sales, four more 1989 tracks enter the Hot 100 this week, led by official follow-up single “Blank Space” at #18. “Style” is at #60, “Wildest Dreams” debuts at #76, and the Katy Perry diss track “Bad Blood” starts off at #80. “Welcome To New York,” which debuted at #18 last week, is still on the chart at #69 as well. That means Swift has six songs in the Hot 100 right now, and her all-time total is up to an insane 66 Hot 100 hits.
“All About That Bass” is at #2, so it’s not like it’s gone away. Tove Lo’s “Habits (Stay High)” remains at its #3 peak, followed by Maroon 5’s “Animals,” which reaches a new peak at #4. Jessie J/Ariana Grande/Nicki Minaj’s “Bang Bang” clocks in at #5, then it’s “Black Widow” by Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora at #6. Jeremih and YG’s “Don’t Tell ‘Em” lands at #7. Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Boy” is at #8. Ed Sheeran’s “Don’t” reaches a new peak at #9. And Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” slides one spot to #10.
David Guetta – “Dangerous” (Feat. Sam Martin)
Why does David Guetta even exist if not to star as a Formula 1 driver in an extended Jonas Åkerlund music video? This kind of thing is his destiny. The song is a complete afterthought here, though it will probably be a hit because it sounds like Maroon 5. Notably, this Sam Martin character sang the hook on Guetta’s last single too, the one with the Western-themed video starring Ray Liotta.
Carrie Underwood – “Something In The Water”
Two questions: (1) Does anybody do humongous choruses better than Carrie Underwood? (2) Could she be pursuing the Christian audience any harder here?
— Carrie Underwood (@carrieunderwood) November 6, 2014
K. Michelle – “Maybe I Should Call”
Along with Elle Varner, K. Michelle is doing a great job of carrying the torch for traditionalist R&B. Don’t sleep.
Becky G – “Can’t Stop Dancin'”
“Shower,” the breakthrough hit by Dr. Luke underling Becky G, was faceless yet irresistible. “Can’t Stop Dancin’,” unfortunately, is just faceless.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Sam Smith will sing the next Bond theme, fulfilling his destiny. [Page Six]
- Clay Aiken lost his congressional race. [Billboard]
- Rita Ora claimed her Twitter was hacked after a tweet promising to release new music with 100,000 RTs was deleted with only 2,000. [Buzzfeed]
- Here’s a roundup of all the weird shit that happened on the Country Music Awards last night. [Vulture]
- The rich get richer: Paris Hilton’s perfume business is worth $2 billion. [Celebuzz]
- The latest young talent to join Madonna in the studio: Chance The Rapper. [Instagram]