This week, his clothes back on after a series of risqué photoshoots, Nick Jonas found himself warmly ensconced in the sounds of gospel. The 22-year-old pop star has been on a months-long promotional campaign meant to burnish his image as a solo artist independent of his promise-ring teen pop past as one of the Jonas Brothers, and to celebrate the record’s release on Monday, he uploaded a clip to YouTube performing his first single “Jealous” backed up by a full gospel choir. Strutting in a backwards baseball cap and clapping his hands to the organ melody, Jonas manages to come off, all at once, as wholesome, cool, and intensely savvy. The gospel version of “Jealous,” at first glance a run-of-the-mill pop hit, makes a case for the song’s hefty sonic chops, allowing it to appeal to kids and the parents who provide the allowance to buy his album at the same time.
I’ll admit that before this fall, I couldn’t pick out Nick Jonas from a lineup. Sure, I had heard of the Jonas Brothers, but even with their culture-shaking popularity, I never found a song of theirs that felt memorable enough to invade my iTunes. Their popularity has since waned, their legacy has been relegated to the dust bin of teen pop trend history, along with 98 Degrees and Mandy Moore; and Nick’s brothers have mostly given up the game: Joe parted ways with Hollywood Records in 2012, and Kevin is, of all things, apparently working as a building contractor in New Jersey as well as an app developer.
Jonas was only fourteen years old when he first hit the charts with his brothers, but while childhood stardom ensures you enduring name recognition in a sea of upstarts, how do you find respect as an adult artist? It’s a bittersweet game that everyone from Miley Cyrus to Justin Timberlake has had to play, and as Jonas said in a recent interview with E!, what he has had to overcome to build a solo career is both straightforwardly simple and overwhelmingly difficult, the grand leap of getting the public to give you one more shot: “I think the challenge that I faced was in just giving people a reason to give me a second look.”
Photo: Andrew Zaeh
Photo: Andrew Zaeh
As it turns out, Jonas has given many reasons for many looks—his “Jealous” video has already garnered more than seven million views. And while he hasn’t had the promo budget or star wattage of Taylor Swift, who had even Diet Coke banking on her success, he has managed in his own way to grab the web’s attention. It started, as so many things in pop culture do these days (we’re looking at you, Miley), with Jonas stripping down. In a shoot for Flaunt magazine earlier in the year, Jonas recreated those infamous Marky Mark Calvin Klein ads from the nineties and effectively caused a frenzy on Twitter. Whereas the harder-to-like Justin Bieber was famously booed when he stripped on stage, Jonas launched a wave of viral videos when showing off his abs on gay nightclub stages around New York or poking fun of his heartthrob image with Andy Cohen on Bravo, a strategy that felt aimed directly at one of the key Venn diagrams of pop music: young women and gay fans.
Musically, the album is a serviceable, if at times safe, take on straightforward soulful pop. If Miley was his ancestor of the new post-Disney sexed-up image, Justin Timberlake’s solo stardom after N SYNC seems to be the model when it comes to the actual music. Jonas filled his album with catchy, pop/R&B hybrids, collaborated with emerging star Tinashe, and even garnered a positive review from the New York Times that said this was “his most mature and riskiest work to date.” “Now I’m kind of like, ’F–k it. I do what I love, I love what I do.’ And that’s a freeing thing,” he told E! “ . . . I’ve told myself to enjoy the ride and have fun with it . . .” There were a million ways that Nick Jonas could’ve brought attention to his new project, but sometimes just being likable, with a smirk and a wink, is enough.
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