Understanding the Jonas Brothers Within the Musical Metanarrative


Joe, Kevin, and Nick Jonas.  The names alone are enough to inspire envy, lust, wrath, and most of the remaining deadly sins.  In newspaper columns, entertainment blogs, and multi-colored notes passed during seventh period, this trio of troubadours has been called everything from “pre-pubescent harbingers of the apocalypse” to “OMG!  Sooooo hott!!”

Unfortunately, most of these knee-jerk professions of love and loathing are of little substance as they fail to first provide a context whereby we might understand ourselves in relation to The Jonas Brothers.  Pundits and pre-teens prattle on about peripheral issues like anti-intellectual lyrics, sequined vests, and dimples, while the boys’ influences and interests are entirely ignored.

Do not be fooled.  The Jonas Brothers are far more than just another experimental, avant-progressive noise band bursting onto the post-pop moonscape.  They are heirs to a storied rock and roll tradition with influences ranging from the Dance-Punk scene of late-1970s London to the earthy incantations of pre-colonial Africa.

To focus on their abstention from alcohol, drugs, and fornication, while ignoring the anti-folk undertones of songs like “Burnin Up” and “Lovebug,” is not only an affront to Mssrs. Jonas, it is a disservice to Iggy Pop, The Velvet Underground, and the Brothers’ many other artistic forebears.

How can we even begin to address questions like, “Would I be honored or angry if Nick Jonas impregnated my 16 year-old daughter?” if we don’t appreciate the significance of Nick’s red-stained Gibson SG guitar – an obvious nod to the late Jerry Garcia – or recognize his mid-coital onstage facial contortions as distinctly John Mayerian?

Put simply, we cannot.  It is impossible to discuss The Jonas Brothers’ music or the extent to which said music is destroying Western Civilization without first locating the band within the proper musical milieu; a task made increasingly difficult by the near impossibility of isolating the Brothers within a single genre or musical epoch.

Take Nick, for example.  Lead vocalist.  Lead guitarist.  Lothario.  Yet, before ex-girlfriend Miley Cyrus introduced him to Gogol Bordello and other mainstays of Nashville’s gypsy punk scene in late-2005, young Nicholas was just another faceless scene kid staving off capitalism while wearing girl jeans.

The influence of the gypsy punksters softened the heavy distortion and shouted invective of Nick’s early songs like “Dear God” and “Joy to the World (a Christmas Prayer),” and gave way to the multi-lingual, tambourine-laden ballads which have since become his signature.  Yet reviewers, like The Onion’s A.V. Club, insist on writing him off as another “moribund Mouseketeer.”  This refusal to critically interact with Nick’s work reveals nothing but their own ignorance of musical nuance.

And what of eldest brother Kevin?  Ever wonder why he infuses his work with sitars, harpsichords and other relics of neo-psychedelia?  The answer is right there, for anyone who wants to know, in the October 2007 issue of CosmoGirl.  Had CosmoGirl’s readers not been so hasty to shred the article for its pictures, they might have learned about Kevin’s discovery of psychedelia – specifically tribal electronica – during a summer spent living in a utility shed in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, and his subsequent collaboration with Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci to write the hit song “Kids of the Future.”  Alas, the magazine’s readers would rather paste the article to their ceilings, lockers, and trapper keeper covers than read about the music behind the man they love.

The same fate has befallen Joe Jonas, middle child and paramour to the stars.  Pigeon-holed from the start as Hollywood’s resident man-about-town, Joe’s high-profile dalliances have been covered ad nauseum by the muckrakers at OK! and TMZ. Meanwhile, the fact that the he is a percussionist of the highest order goes unnoticed.

It is time we moved past these captivating caricatures and smooth-faced straw men.  If we ever hope to have intelligent discourse about the Jonas Brothers we must develop a full-bodied hermeneutic of their work.  This begins with an understanding of the socio-musical universe over which they rule.

Nurtured in the bosom of the iPod era, these young men have suckled at the teat of every artist working in the past fifty years (with the exception of Hanson whom they are contractually forbidden from listening to).  Their panoply of intrigues and influences precludes any mention of them in the same breath as “bubblegum pop” or “laboratory-created performance monkeys.”

On the contrary, Nick, Kevin, and Joe Jonas stand at the crucible of rock and roll’s evolutionary journey and the dawning of the post-MTV age.  They are a new kind of rock group for a new kind of America.  Love them or hate them, fear them or desire them, we must understand them.  Because one thing is certain, these boys and their pre-apocalyptic, neo-glam, anti-Bono, Christo-rock are not going away anytime soon.

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