So I'm hanging with the Jonas Brothers, three kids from Wyckoff, N.J., who also happen to be the world's biggest pop stars. It's just the four of us — plus dozens of reporters, band members, fans, lookie-loos, all gathered 'round a swimming pool at the Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa.
It's September 2008, not even a full year ago, and Nick, Joe and Kevin — cutie-pie Disney products with shy smiles and Aladdin's hair — are in town for a concert at Ford Amphitheatre. They are humble and low-key and polite; at one point, Joe gives me a fist-bump, 'cause that's just the way we roll, ya know?
The guys are loose, candid even — until it's time for a formal press conference, and then they turn into audio-animatronic versions of themselves. Joe, the fan-proclaimed Funny One, is asked about his swoony relationship with country star Taylor Swift. He is straight-faced, gracious, coy: "She's a wonderful girl. Anyone would be lucky to meet her."
It's a careful, cardboard line, but they way he delivers it, with little regard for the gossips, you wonder, just for a second, if the Jonas Brothers, guys in their teens and early 20s, will be the rare 21st century celebs to buck the trend and slow the terminal velocity of popular culture: the ugly tabloid, the snotty 'tudes, the fade into obscurity.
Maybe that's the fist-bump talking, but I had hope.
• • •
It's now the second week of August 2009. Turn on the Disney Channel, and there's a good chance you'll see the video for Paranoid, the Jonas Brothers' new song, in which the three boys bemoan their cruel fates: being stared at by adoring throngs, dating hot singers with poison pens, living with the stress of being millionaires before they ditch the last strains of puberty. Paranoid is off their new album, Lines, Vines and Trying Times, a conceptual moanfest about the rigors of being able to date any girl between the ages of 18 and 45.
The album includes a song called Much Better, a spiteful breakup doozy on which Joe sings, "Now I'm done with superstars, all the tears on her guitar." It's a blatantly mean reference to the song Teardrops on My Guitar by none other than Taylor Swift. The Jonas Brothers are no longer coy about their love lives; they are downright nasty.
You see where this is going.
On Tuesday, I will be at the St. Pete Times Forum, where the Jonas Brothers will perform. Last year, their local show sold out in a heartbeat. Seats, however, are still available for Tuesday's gig. They are touring behind Lines, Vines, which hasn't sold nearly as well as their last album, the multiplatinum A Little Bit Longer. Their recent movie, Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience, was expected to be a smash; it wasn't. Their Disney Channel show, Jonas, has garnered a lukewarm reception; watch an episode, and it's obvious the guys don't want to be there.
Now, now, I'm not being a total doomsayer: Despite the vitriolic reaction they get from adult music fans — late-night host Craig Ferguson was rooting for their extinction the other night — the Jonas Brothers have some legit talent. They sing, play, act, write. They're probably getting more help from writers and handlers than they let on, but that's okay. Heck, Britney Spears is a creative dead spot, so any initiative on the point of teen stars should be applauded.
But it seems the JoBros aren't infallible after all. Like Miley Cyrus and Hilary "Who?" Duff before them, they are starting to ebb just as fast as they flowed to the top of the charts. You can blame the fickle nature of young consumers (and middle-aged television execs). But the JoBros, or at least their parents, deserve some tsking-tsking, too: They're getting tired, snotty, lost in the celebrity jetstream. It was bound to happen, but for a second there, these guys seemed different.
Then again, maybe I'm just mad that they didn't invite me to hang with them again. I was looking forward to another fist-bump.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.