Sometimes you enter into a pop cultural universe late and have to work backwards to fill in the gaps. Maybe you’ve decided to binge several seasons of a popular TV show to participate in the discourse, or you’ve fallen headfirst into a musical subgenre and now have a whole canon to educate yourself on. Maybe you drifted away from a world you once knew well and now feel the sudden impulse to catch up. Or maybe you even developed an interest in something that actually matters, like environmental science or metaphysics, and end up maxing out your library card and diving down some deep YouTube holes. Whatever the subject, it was once peripheral to your own life, and suddenly it’s not anymore.
This is my backdoor way of explaining I know about the Jonas Brothers’ heyday only through rigorous historical study. I’m not sure I could have named one of their songs before they staged their comeback this year. I’ve been writing about pop music every week for five-plus years, but in 2008, when the JoBros were cementing their status as teeny-bop legends, I was [flashes back… flashes back some more] way into Times New Viking. Tha Carter III and Graduation were getting a lot of burn in my Honda Civic, as were star-making albums from Bon Iver and Frightened Rabbit. Basically I was your average indie stooge who dabbled in critically acclaimed rap. I wasn’t clued in to what was happening on the Disney Channel.
Both the Jonas Brothers and I have grown up quite a bit since then. Perversely, as of 2019 my own journey into adulthood now involves becoming conversant with music once targeted at preteens. See, the Jonas Brothers are back in a big way. When they returned in March with “Sucker” — their first single since their ill-fated 2013 reunion, from their first album since 2009’s Lines, Vines And Trying Times — it debuted at #1. Their fall arena tour sold out instantly. They’ve been all over NBC primetime, performing on the Billboard Music Awards and The Voice and promoting the new reality show Songland, where they’re among the pop stars in search of the Next Great American Songwriter™. They’ve been tabloid fixtures too thanks to two of the brothers recently marrying TV stars Priyanka Chopra and Sophie Turner. A documentary is premiering next month on Amazon Prime. And a few days later they’ll release Happiness Begins, the aforementioned comeback album.
In order to properly contextualize what they’ve become, we need to understand what they used to be. And what they used to be is a somewhat unique entry in the boy band canon. Like the Beatles and Bay City Rollers before them, the JoBros were a rock band. Like the Monkees, they were a rock band with their own TV show — actually a TV show and a series of Camp Rock TV movies costarring Demi Lovato. Jonas Brothers were marketed as dreamboats in that glossy Disney fashion, purity rings and all, but they played their own instruments and didn’t engage in dance routines like the kings of the TRL era. As such, they were the first boy band in a long while that actually felt like a band in the people-playing-music-together sense.
And then they stopped playing music together. After the success of the second Camp Rock film in 2010, the Jonas Brothers spent a year or so on hiatus, then launched a reunion tour they wouldn’t finish in support of an album that never materialized. Citing creative differences, the band broke up in 2013. Two of them soon found a measure of solo success, Nick with steamy pop-R&B singles like top 10 hit “Jealous” and Joe with his poppy dance-rock band DNCE, whose “Cake By The Ocean” also hit the top 10. Kevin starred in a reality show about his young marriage, fathered some children, and was later fired by Donald Trump on The Celebrity Apprentice the same year Trump announced his candidacy for president. They got on with their lives.
According to a recent Billboard cover story, the time apart was necessary to chart their own paths and heal relational wounds. But by Christmas 2017 Nick, who had originally pushed for the hiatus, was hatching a reunion: “There’s a different magic when we’re together that I wasn’t experiencing. So I started sprinkling some Jonas Brothers songs into my set, but always thought, ‘This would be a lot better with the other Jonas Brothers.'” His siblings tentatively agreed, as did a boatload of business people including their former manager and executives at the industry-dominating Republic Records.
Last year the JoBros embarked on sessions with some of pop’s top songwriters and reimagined what the group would be like as adults. Judging by the first two singles from Happiness Begins, they pulled it off spectacularly. Not that “Sucker” and “Cool” are masterpieces — both songs are a bit corny and at times actively irritating — but they’re marvels of craftsmanship and presentation nonetheless. They establish a fresh aesthetic for the group, one that makes sense for where they are now yet sits comfortably alongside the music they made their name on. The bubblegum pop-punk of “S.O.S.” and “Year 3000″ had already begun to morph into a more ecumenical form of pop-rock by the end of their initial run. That trajectory continued in Joe’s work with DNCE, and now it has extended into the grownup version of the group with an assist from Ryan Tedder, the writer-producer who also played a part in 5 Seconds Of Summer’s leap from pop-punk boy band to glossy top 40 mainstays.
“Sucker” is a brisk pop-rocker built around falsetto vocals, a nimble bass and drum groove, and a whistled refrain — so of course at first I deemed it a pale imitation of Portugal. The Man’s already quite pale crossover smash “Feel It Steel.” But as I realized when “Sucker” capped off a medley also featuring “Jealous” and “Cake By The Ocean” at the Billboard Music Awards, this song’s monster chorus sets it apart. It doesn’t rip off “Feel It Still,” it improves upon “Feel It Still.” The antiseptic feel-good vibe continued on “Cool,” a comfortably swaying singalong about life getting better and better, again with a monstrous and undeniable hook. “Is it me or am I just having a good year?” they sing before rhyming Post Malone with Game Of Thrones, the show that made Joe’s wife Sophie Turner a star.
They really are having a good year. Quite possibly you aren’t, in which case JoBros 2.0’s sunny lifestyle music might clash with your current disposition. But history has proven that there will always be a market for happy music, be it for celebration or escapism. Jonas Brothers have honed in on that impulse with laser precision. At a point in their career when most boy bands have plunged deep into irrelevance, they’re making the best music of their lives and enjoying their greatest commercial success. I can’t say I love what they’re doing, but I’m definitely impressed.
“Old Town Road” continues to vanquish the biggest pop stars in the world. After previously blocking Taylor Swift’s Brendon Urie duet “ME!” from #1, Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ smash hit has now done the same to Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber’s “I Don’t Care.” Per Billboard, “Old Town Road” racked up 103.1 million on-demand streams last week, the eighth-best streaming week ever, and now lays claim to six of the eight best weeks. And all those streams happened before Lil Nas X dropped the official “Old Town Road” video last Friday, so the song’s streaming numbers are likely to go up before they go down.
So, yeah: Sheeran and Bieber’s song enters at #2. It’s Bieber’s 15th top 10 hit and Sheeran’s seventh. It’s also Bieber’s record fourth song to debut at #2 after “Boyfriend,” “Sorry,” and “Cold Water” with Major Lazer and MØ. After Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker” at #3 comes Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” at a new #4 peak, becoming her first song to crack the top five. The Post Malone double-glut of “Wow.” and “Sunflower” with Swae Lee has moved to #5 and #6. Sam Smith and Normani’s “Dancing With A Stranger” is steady at #7.
“ME!” is all the way down to #8, and if you think that drop is steep, consider that last week’s top five debuts from Shawn Mendes and Logic featuring Eminem have plummeted out of the top 10 entirely this week. “Eastside” duet partners Khalid and Halsey round out the top 10 with two songs that are not “Eastside”: Khalid’s “Talk” is back up to #9, while Halsey’s “Without Me” is at #10 — its 29th week in the top 10, only four weeks short of the record set by Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” and Maroon 5 and Cardi B’s “Girls Like You.” Speaking of Halsey, her new song “Nightmare” is the next major pop single to take a crack at “Old Town Road.” Her songs tend to build slowly rather than debut at #1, but she’s gotten a lot more famous lately so who knows.
Logic has his third #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart this week with Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind. Per Billboard, the project debuts on top with 80,000 equivalent album units and 24,000 in sales. His two prior chart-toppers were last year’s Bobby Tarantino II and 2017’s Everybody.
Billie Eilish and Khalid hold steady at #2 and #3, where they’ve been for a while now. Debuting at #4 with 40,000 units largely accrued via album-ticket bundling is Sammy Hagar & The Circle’s Space Between, which remarkably is the former Van Halen singer’s first ever top 10 album under his own name. Ariana Grande remains at #5, followed by Queen’s Greatest Hits I II & III: The Platinum Collection at #6 with 32,000 units thanks to a massive iTunes discount last week.
Following a deluxe reissue, Luke Combs’ 2017 album This One’s For You is back to #7 with 28,000 units. Also with about 28,000 units, DaBaby’s Baby On Baby hits the top 10 for the first time, climbing to a new #8 peak. And after Post Malone at #9 comes a #10 debut for Mac DeMarco’s Here Comes The Cowboy. It put up 27,000 units and 20,000 in pure sales to become DeMarco’s first top 10 release.
Halsey – “Nightmare”
And to think I spent my high school years watching TRL thinking I had to choose between pop and nu-metal!
5 Seconds Of Summer – “Easier”
Speaking of rock-on-pop collisions, I’m told this song has “a little Nine Inch Nails in it,” which I guess refers to a drumbeat that somewhat resembles “Closer.” Mostly it just sounds like Charlie Puth’s sleek, soulful Voicenotes album, which is perfectly acceptable. I think I would have liked it a lot more if they hadn’t set me up to expect something that really rages.
The Lonely Island – “Oakland Nights” (Feat. Sia)
So good to have these guys back executing weirdly specific concepts. Also very nice to see Sterling K. Brown enjoying himself.
Becky G – “Next To You Part II” (Feat. Rvssian & Davido)
It’s super rainy outside my office today, but this is reminding me summer kicks off this week.
Will Smith – “Friend Like Me” (Feat. DJ Khaled)
Check this out and then go back to “You’re Welcome” from Moana and you’ll really start to appreciate Lin-Manuel Miranda.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Lil Nas X finally has more songs on the way: the 7 EP is out next month. [Twitter]
- Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber released a video for “I Don’t Care.” [YouTube]
- Meanwhile Sheeran has another new single with Chance The Rapper and PnB Rock out tonight. [Twitter]
- A new BTS and Charli XCX collab “Glow” has reportedly been registered with BMI. Stargate and Ryn Weaver are also listed as co-writers. [Twitter]
- Diplo parachuted into his DJ set at the Preakness Stakes horse races in Baltimore. [Twitter]
- Next month Lady Gaga will do an intimate show at the Apollo for SiriusXM/Pandora. [Erie News Now]
- Taylor Swift and Brendon Urie did “ME!” on The Voice. [YouTube]
- Cardi B leads the BET Awards nominations with seven. [Rap-Up]
- In other Cardi news, she cancelled some concerts due to plastic surgery complications. [TMZ]
- NCT 127’s Haechan met the Los Angeles Zoo’s baby pudu named in his honor. [AP]
- Mustard announced his new album Perfect 10 is out 6/28. [Twitter]
- Selena Gomez appears alongside Timothee Chalamet and Elle Fanning in the trailer for Woody Allen’s A Rainy Day In New York, which was shelved by Amazon but now has distribution in Europe. [YouTube]
- DaBaby shared a violent and confusing video for “Pony.” [Spin]
- Luke Combs announced a new EP, The Prequel. [Taste Of Country]
- Madonna released a video for her Swae Lee collab “Crave.” [YouTube]
- Pink brought out Chris Stapleton to duet on “Love Me Anyway” at MSG. [YouTube]
- Melissa McCarthy put herself in Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” video. [YouTube]
- Michael Jackson’s sons Prince and Blanket have launched a movie reviews series on YouTube. [YouTube]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
“You know how Natalie said we never dated and that I was creepy? Well would a creepy guy do THIS??” pic.twitter.com/9pNMr6vFLn
— Mere Smith (@EvilGalProds) May 22, 2019