VAULT: A critical retrospective of The Jonas Brothers (aka 'The article no one asked for')
VAULT is a new weekly review series run by Ansel Wakamatsu (that’s me!). I’ll be checking out music, film and television, whether they be new releases or old favourites.
Yes, The Jonas Brothers. You read that right. And at this point you may be asking yourself, “Why is Ansel, a deeply respected and well established purveyor of the modern arts, sinking to such grotesque depths?” First of all, this is my goddamn segment and I can do whatever the hell I want to. Second of all…
Flashback to June. It was pre-exam season and I was diagnosed with a severe case of the procrastinations; symptoms included rechecking all my socials once every twelve seconds and submitting myself the infinite abyss of Youtube. Suddenly, I came across The Jonas Brothers’ music video for Burnin’ Up. It sat in the sidebar with the words “Recommended for you” written underneath. A boyband geared toward preteen girls who had been irrelevant for roughly eight years was recommended for me? I hadn’t even touched power pop since middle school (Fall Out Boy is where is was at y’all), and I hadn’t watched a Jonas Brothers’ video since my Dad got rid of Disney Channel from our Foxtel package in 2008. But the YouTube algorithm doesn’t lie. So as my cursor hovered over the link, I asked myself, “Am I this desperate to procrastinate?” Absolutely.
I spent the next three minutes and twenty seconds laughing my ass off, revelling in late-2000s nostalgia and the hilariously unpalatable aesthetics which came along with the era. But at the back of my mind, something troubled me. Is this so bad it’s good, or is it just…good? I mean, it’s corny and childish, but so is every other pop music video from 2008 (except for Single Ladies, that video is triumphal and absolutely ahead of its time). Poor lyricism, musical simplicity, and cliché have been proven to cohabit with critical acclaim, so why had the brothers been cast off from the zeitgeist, presumably never to return? Was it their association with Disney? Was it the fact that pop figures liked by young girls are often ridiculed? Was it their fashion choices? Most importantly, was The Jonas Brothers a cynical cash grab coordinated by faceless execs, or a genuine artistic effort which was never taken seriously? I’ll probably answer none of these questions, but get ready for the nostalgia trip of your life.
Initial impressions: The Burnin’ Up video brings a new definition to the word “inexplicably.” The Jonas Brothers lounge at a beach resort which is inexplicably close to a volcano. The scripts are formatted incorrectly and are inexplicably written in what looks like 20pt font. The band features an auxiliary guitarist who is inexplicably dressed as a 35 year old accountant. David Carradine (that’s Bill from Kill Bill) inexplicably makes a cameo. The word “Technicolor” is inexplicably spelled wrong.
Pros: Burnin’ Up comprises of a music video within a music video within a music video, a metafictive feat so grand I thought Charlie Kaufman wrote the video (that’s a joke, guys). Also that progression in the bridge where they ended on a Cmaj (so that’s IV-V-VII assuming Dmaj is the tonal centre) was an unexpected harmonic sidestep that was lit on fleek fam squad *fire emoji* *prayer hands emoji*.
Cons: Cultural insensitivity? Or are we agreeing that it’s OK because the video is ironic and dated?
Initial impressions: Another gem from the JB golden era, back when JB still stood for The Jonas Brothers. I remember this video countless times on Disney Channel, couched in the ad breaks which constantly interrupted my Suite Life of Zach and Cody marathons. Upon reflection the video, it raises more questions than answers. Why does Kevin throw his phone in a bin upon receiving a break-up text? Why is Joe wearing a doubled-breasted suit on a cruise? Speaking of which, why are these guys having so many relationship issues on a cruise? I’ve never been on one, but surely that’s the last place to have relationship issues. Don’t people just hook up on cruises? Like the Burnin’ Up video, there sure are a lot of logical flaws in both of these stories. Perhaps, these flaws are the result of apathetic, money-hungry producers preying on gullible pre-teens to oil the Disney machine. Or, maybe the logical shortcomings are created to point to a larger theme; the randomness and unknowability of the universe, perhaps. I guess we’ll never know.
Pros: The most iconic couplet since Biggie Smalls dropped the opening lines of Juicy:
‘Next time I see you, I’m giving you a high five/‘cause hugs are overrated just F-Y-I.’
Nick delivers these lines with passion, evoking a strange mix of standoffishness, pain and anger bubbling underneath an approachable veneer. We are asked: what is it like to see someone you once loved? Is it sadness? Longing? Both? The real pain, Nick postulates, lies within regression. Irreversibly shaping each other in ways unimaginable, only to become strangers again.
Cons: The fedoras.
Initial impression: Unlike the previous videos which centre revolve around themes of interpersonal relationships, Year 3000 takes a macrocosmic approach. The Jonas Brothers travel to the distant year of 3000, where apparently nothing has changed apart from the fact that everyone lives underwater, implying that an ecological disaster has rendered the entire surface of Earth unliveable. However, if “not much has changed,” that means almost no scientific progress has taken place in the last millennium. Does the oxygen pumped into this underwater dome dull intelligence and render human incapable of scientific and social advances? Or do social discourses revolve around the idea of maintaining life as it was in the distant past? If time machines exist, why doesn’t someone try and reverse the events which lead to the creation of this watery prison? Or at least try and escape? Who is in control? Why doesn’t anyone try and do anything? I personally interpreted this video as a metaphor; we feel free, but are in fact controlled and manipulated by like marionettes by invisible hands, keeping us in this prison we call modern society. Wake up, sheeple.
Pros: The optimism of The Jonas Brothers, who believe that in a millennium they will be 1) alive, and 2) relevant.
Cons: Peter, the time travelling crack addict.
Pros: Not even playin’, this song fucking bangs. I mean, it starts out pretty innocuously, but when that solo hits, oh man. Those fills, those bass triplets, those harmonies over the solo, that double-time; everything is preformed with passion. That final chorus explodes, like Vampire Weekend’s Hannah Hunt on cocaine. The video is also lovingly crafted, although the protagonist’s World War IIcareer lasts roughly twelve seconds and comprises of mostly writing letters whilst his buddies play football on a remote beach. The whole thing was not too gimmicky, a true feat for a boyband eight years on.
Cons: I’ve now publicly stated that I like a Jonas Brother’s song, so there’s that.
Conclusion: What the hell was I even trying to prove with this article? Maybe I was just trying to cash-in on the nostalgia train which everyone seems to be hitching a ride on; we do live in an age where not only is there a Facebook page named “Australian Millennials,” but it is also vastly successful. Or perhaps I was trying to relive the happier, unburdened days of my life, whilst simultaneously hiding my vulnerability behind snide, ironic, pseudo-intellectual commentary. What was that line from Don Draper’s ‘Carousel’ pitch? “Nostalgia is a twinge of pain from an old wound?” Anyway, if you’re feeling that existential dread creeping up on you, not to worry, I have prepared a playlist here.
Ansel is a second-year undergrad studying Communication (Media Arts & Production and Creative Writing) and International Studies (Japan). He likes Piña Coladas, getting caught in the rain, the feel of the ocean, the taste of champagne, making love at midnight in the dunes of the cape, so if I’m the love you’ve looked for, lets plan our escape [guitar solo].
If you would like to contribute to VAULT, shoot me a message on Facebook or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.