For no other reason than “I Believe” off this year’s comeback album, Happiness Begins, hating on the Jonas Brothers should be a perfectly acceptable pastime for those above the age of 13.
The most offensive thing about the breezy mall-pop ballad is that it makes a great case the Jonas Brothers don’t believe in anything in 2019 other than the almighty dollar, which is likely why they’re back together after a 2013 implosion over “creative differences”. Reconciling is hard to do. Until, that is, the reality of life as a solo artist starts to remind you that private airplanes, five-star hotels, and sold-out hockey rinks weren’t the indignity they once seemed.
“I Believe” almost torpedoes whatever goodwill the Jonas Brothers deserve on Happiness Begins. Take over-Auto-Tuned vocals, gauze-swaddled synths, and programmed yacht-rock drums, combine them with lyrics like “I believe, I believe, I believe/When you hold me, it’s like Heaven coming down,” and you’ve got three minutes and 37 seconds of pop music at its most ruthlessly insincere.
It takes a lot to make Britney Spears sound like Brody Dalle and the Backstreet Boys seem every bit as real as the White Stripes, but Kevin, Joe, and Nick Jonas do that with an almost effortless abandon. And let’s not even start on the almost-as-pukey “Used to Be”.
But in what’s a surprise to perhaps no one but their parents and pastors, the amazing thing about Happiness Begins is it eventually makes it hard to begrudge the Jonas Brothers the multiple platinum records hanging on the walls of their various multimillion-dollar mansions.
Built on Prince-perfect vocals and a stupidly inventive drumbeat, “Sucker” leaves you wondering what you ever saw in post-*NSYNC Justin Timberlake. “Only Human” creates magic out of an infectious Kingston-strut bass line and ganja-dazed synths, and the glossy-pop closer, “Comeback”, serves as a valid exclamation point that Happiness Begins is a solid return to action.
It’s all a reminder that the Jonas Brothers were missed, mostly for showing America there’s another way to superstardom than shaking one’s ass to prefabbed pop songs written by Max Martin during his good-morning dump.
For the group’s more or less organic approach to its craft, one can perhaps thank emo pioneers Fall Out Boy, Panic! At the Disco, and MxPx—all of whom inspired Kevin, Joe, and Nick to pick up guitars and microphones and dream big. And by dreaming big, we’re talking an Ernie Ball Stage appearance on the Vans Warped Tour, which is as high as the initial, mall-punk incarnation of the Jonas Brothers was aiming.
Yes, that’s right, before they found themselves dodging training bras and flying headgear in the American Midwest, the Jonas Brothers’ idea of success was landing a deal with a label like Fearless Records. And, as part of that pursuit, there were countless days in a shitty beat-up van, and nights playing grimy clubs in the bowels of New Jersey. Add brownie points for their slogging it out with a collective case of blue balls—that having everything to do with the idiotic idea that purity rings and rock ’n’ roll were a beautiful combination.
So what does the Jonas Brothers’ re-formation after six years apart from each other as a band mean? For a start, it shows the kids of America that sometimes it’s entirely possible to get along with one’s siblings, even if that means accepting the fact that sometimes the youngest brother ends up being the brains of the operation.
The return of the Jonas Brothers also suggests that the guitar hasn’t gone the way of buggy whips, Blackberries, and Underwood typewriters—giving the world hope we may one day see another Jack White, Tom Morello, or St. Vincent. (Who gives a shit that the Jonas Brothers’ guitars don’t even seem to be plugged in when they play live—it’s the thought that counts.)
And most of all, it shows that sometimes you can stink out the studio with a song like “I Believe”, and still face the world with your dignity intact. The Jonas Brothers went away for almost a decade and then returned to headlining hockey rinks like they’d popped out for a pumpkin spice latte. Believe it.
The Jonas Brothers play Rogers Arena on Friday (October 11).