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Saturday, June 22, 2024 — Houston, TX

In Defense of the Jonas Brothers

By Sarah Cook     9/4/08 7:00pm

"Dude? You still listen to MGMT? Their EP was okay, but Oracular Spectacular seriously fell out of their usual shape-shifting psychedelia. Now it's just MTV bullshit. What's next, the freaking Jonas Brothers?"Yes, actually.

See, as a junior in college, I've seen the last few years marked by what one might call a musical pissing contest. I realize that many people consider a diverse taste in music a gift; however, I come from the hipster city of Austin, Texas. This means being around lots of people who constantly say things like the quote above. Being cool in college - scratch that, being cool in any part of your life - is determined by guidelines dependent on what sort of people you choose to be around. When in Austin, I frequently find myself around the sorts of people who hang out at vegan coffee shops and discuss whether or not math is a social construct designed to maintain the class structure (not kidding). In this group, being cool depends on how "original" you are and how in touch you are with the underbelly of several art movements, most notably music. Ironically, the trends and music of these groups oftentimes feels as judgmental and stringent as those of any fraternity.

You hear it all the time. In record stores and coffee shops and on street corners, people using the music they like to try to give you an impression of their unique personalities. They say they like a few bands you've never heard of, a few bands you've heard of but haven't actually listened to and a few classics, just to show that they're grounded. They might mention Ella Fitzgerald or Johnny Cash, and the latter may indicate a secret love of country with a fear that it's too redneck. Thus the choice of a country singer who has been deemed socially acceptable, like Johnny Cash or even Willie Nelson.

I know all this because I've lived it. I've fallen down that dreaded hole of thinking of music not just as a form of escape, but also as a way to impress and communicate with those around me. This summer, though, spending time in Houston away from the constantly pressing and pulling music scene of Austin, I had an epiphany: What if I listened to all the stuff I wasn't supposed to? All the stuff that was mainstream and popular - and, by the indie transitive property, completely worthless? We could now, of course, get into the battle of whether one determines the other, whether bands like the Flaming Lips and the Postal Service sold out and got popular or are simply judged as sellouts because of that popularity. That is another discussion. All I'm saying is that if you refuse to be open to anything outside of your comfort zone - even if that comfort zone is Neutral Milk Hotel - you are definitively closed-minded. I don't care how much American Apparel you wear. It won't change that.

So, I treated this summer as a social experiment. An experiment on how heinous mainstream music actually is. I would try to appreciate mainstream music without writing it off as an ironic or sarcastic choice. I trudged through Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Jordan Sparks - all of it. I found that most of it was not exactly my type of music. And while acts like Duffy and the Ting Tings didn't feel guilty enough, I was determined to find something I loved despite feeling I should loathe it.

Finally, I came upon a group of three brothers, grown in the Disney Laboratory, called the Jonas Brothers, who were rebelling against everything I thought a band had to be. I found them amazing.

Each one of the boys wears a promise ring. A promise ring. Remember in high school (or the movie Teeth) when that one kid wore a promise ring advertising his conservative commitment to abstinence and everyone thought it was sort of lame? Well, these days, rebels wear promise rings. For a rock star, being overtly sexual isn't exactly edgy. Elvis crossed that bridge quite a few years ago. Nice try. No, in our crazy world, the Jonas boys' clean-cut images and wholesome morals are, ironically, fresh and unexpected.

Their clothes are classy and fun. Joe Jonas (the hot one) wore a nautical hat and stripes a la Chuck Bass for an entire tour. Kevin (the oldest) wears tailored suits and tattered scarves as ties. Nick (the youngest, who dated Miley) wears low V-neck t-shirts with winged shoes. They are very careful about their wardrobe, making sure it looks like a mix of classic throwbacks (Nick's curly coif is almost a copy of Jerry Lee Lewis') and indie aesthetics (spiky flat-ironed hair, scarves and form-fitting skinny suits).

The band knows their music, too. Their second album included three covers of the U.K. band Busted, which sounds like a fun mix of Bowling for Soup and early Green Day. Check out "Crashed the Wedding" and tell me it's not comedic gold. When asked what band they would like to cover, Nick said, "I'd love to cover Johnny Cash . or Elvis Costello . or John Prine. They're great story tellers." If you've made it this far, you probably just laughed. Johnny Cash? Really? Ha! What right do the Jonas Brothers have? They'd butcher Johnny Cash. But Nick's comments show how mature this band is trying to become. They're slowly growing out of their Disney roots, which is a smart business move.

They really did come close to growing out of them on their latest album, A Little Bit Longer. It shows influences from groups like The Rolling Stones (in "One Man Show"), Jack Johnson (in "Love Bug"), Hellogoodbye (in "Pushin' Me Away"), Ben Folds (in "A Little Bit Longer") and even The Arctic Monkeys (in "Got Me Going Crazy"). The climactic screams in "BBGood" seem drawn from a raunchy Prince song.

These influences are still overshadowed at times by pop overtones, namely simple rhymes (they rhyme "be" with "me" with "be" again) and cheesy voiceovers, such as, "OMG, did you hear I'm dating a Jonas Brother? It's so hot."). But they're danceable, fun and multifaceted. The boys talk about being liked just for their money, about fear after a diagnosis, about unrequited love and about being drawn to bitches and apologizing for relationships they realize they won't break off. They wrote all the songs themselves. When I was 16, I had a livejournal. I wasn't nearly that witty with my angst and hormones.

Which brings me the final reason I love the Jonas Brothers. Because I want to. I want to like things because I can dance to them. Because they make me happy. Because music is just as much an escape from boredom as a way to change the world. Because music should shatter closed-mindedness and ideas of superiority, not bolster them. Because I want to piss off kids in skinny jeans who say "Pomo" and "Meta." Because Joe Jonas can borrow my Chi Iron any day.

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