Remembering The Summer Of Jonas, 10 Years Later

Getty Image

As the summer of 2008 came to a close, the Jonas Brothers, a pop-rock trio of real-life, Disney-managed brothers, unfurled their third album into the universe. A Little Bit Longer, titled after the piano ballad of the same name, was a meditation on the youngest JoBro, Nick, and his reconciliation with a type 1 diabetes diagnosis. The album handily debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and became the band’s first chart-topping album. That same week, in mid-August, the Camp Rock soundtrack, a musical compilation featuring original songs from the Disney Channel Original Movie, starring none other than Nick, Joe, and Kevin Jonas, — then 15, 18, and 20-years-old, respectively — also held a top-ten spot on the charts. The brothers from New Jersey were deep in the throes of their Burnin’ Up tour supporting the records, a jaunt that would earn them a cool $41 million.

The near ubiquitousness of the band — from morning shows to the VMAs — proved successful for Disney, who took them under their wing in 2006 and expertly crafted a two-year, slow-burn marketing plan. The fruits of such labor culminated in a pop culture movement that touched nearly every corner of entertainment.

Between cross-promotional opportunities and a meticulously molded public brand, the Jonas Brothers successfully built a multi-platform empire that comprised of television, live performances, music videos, and tabloid fodder, a feat that might not be possible in 2018. A decade following their cultural takeover, when Disney stars no longer hold the same social capital as they once did and marketing campaigns are more effective on social media than made-for-TV movies, the intensity of the summer of Jonas plays like a relic from a not-too-distant past.

“Disney is great at creating fame,” Joe Jonas told Vulture in 2013. It’s true: Without the media and entertainment conglomerate behind the band, many of the multifaceted opportunities which added to the buildup of Jonas ventures would fail to exist. Such an occasion, the Jonas Brothers’ 2007 appearance on Hannah Montana, was the catalyst for the year that followed. The episode, “Me And Mr. Jonas And Mr. Jonas And Mr. Jonas,” aired following the premiere of High School Musical 2 — another wildly popular franchise in the Disney machine — and gleaned 10.7 million viewers, at the time, basic cable’s most-watched series episode ever. “That was definitely our first major love shown by Disney,” Joe later told Vulture, “and I think it might have been a trial to see whether they should give us a show of our own.”

Association as, or with, a Disney star in the early aughts was synonymous with exposure; the brand affiliation put entertainers in front of a lot of eyes. By linking with Miley Cyrus, as they did again at the 2007 Teen Choice Awards and as openers for Cyrus’ Best of Both Worlds Tour, the brothers cozied up with young fans and their parents. Their backstory — the sons of a pastor who came to fame after Nick was discovered in a barber shop — paired with their squeaky clean purity-ring-wearing image wielded the approval of the credit-card baring adults who would go on to purchase the albums and concert tickets for their fervent children.

By April 2008, Jonas Fever was in full swing. Over the course of one week, the JoBros made appearances on Dancing With the Stars, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Kids Choice Awards, and The Oprah Winfrey Show, adequately expanding their appeal to audiences outside of the tween purview. Because even if the Jonas Brothers didn’t entice you, you likely know someone who they did cater to.

Just two months from the June 20 release of Camp Rock, the brothers were actively promoting their first forays as actors, with Joe as the leading man. But despite the public’s ignorance of the album that would follow in the movie’s footsteps, these outings laid the groundwork for an ongoing publicity push. With brief references to the group’s upcoming record in the Los Angeles Times and Billboard, the album’s official announcement came on the heels of Camp Rock. The first single, “Burnin’ Up” was released on June 19, the day before the Camp Rock premiere; its video immediately followed the TV movie, which earned 8.9 million viewers.

In one week, “Burnin’ Up” was downloaded 100,000 times; the song catapulted the brothers into the second leg of an already months-long publicity jaunt and the start of a headlining tour. By maintaining the momentum surrounding Camp Rock, the Jonas Brothers never ceased to exist from fan consciousness. Every corner of media was stamped with Jonas influence: iTunes partnered with the band to premiere four songs prior to A Little Bit Longer’s August release, they graced the cover of Rolling Stone, they maintained a healthy Youtube presence, and Disney announced the brothers would get their own television series later that year.

Naturally, with any caliber of fame, especially that of the Jonases in 2008, comes tabloid scrutiny. From relationship rumors — Selena Gomez’s appearance in the “Burnin’ Up” video fueled gossip of a relationship with Nick, Joe and Taylor Swift dated for the summer and famously split over the phone — to the topic of purity rings, nothing in the brothers’ lives were off limits, effectively creating more buzz around the group’s ventures. The brothers themselves contributed to their own rumor mill, through an effort to please interviewers and the public with the best soundbite, the punchiest photo opp, they were putting pressure on their lives in ways that resulted in financial gain through an unhealthy game of publicity cat-and-mouse. “The secret ingredient of the Jonas Brothers phenomenon?” wrote Rolling Stone’s Jason Gay, “Oversharing.”

Instead of giving audiences a chance to miss the Jonas Brothers in their absence, prepubescent wishes were constantly fulfilled. If adolescents couldn’t physically be with the band at all times, a desire piercing screams and online fanfiction would suggest, they wouldn’t have to go far to get the illusion that they were a part of the family.

Ultimately the Jonas Brothers’ breakout summer contributed to not only cultural domination, but to cementing the group’s appeal as teeny-boppers. To straddle the line between sexy and wholesome would potentially alienate fans and to rebrand in the hopes of winning over new audiences could prove ineffective. Trying to squelch the messages of their own marketing would take time, though eventually, the Jonas Brothers would achieve it, albeit through his own endeavors following the band’s 2013 breakup — Nick as a solo artist, Joe with DNCE, and Kevin as the head of a social media influencer marketing company.

The gifts that Disney bestowed were both a blessing and a curse. The brothers’ heavy-handed approach to fame established a dedicated audience who followed the artists on their individual paths. The memory of interviews and press appearances from the summer of 2008 also required the Jonases to take an equally as committed approach to undo the messages of their youth, to openly discuss sex, family feuds, drugs. Their current public personas are a direct rebellion of their former selves from a decade prior. (But, of course, who could expect any adult to maintain their teenage ideals?) As the brothers forge adult careers and lives, the stickiness of first public impressions remains: the Summer of Jonas was indeed too hot to be forgotten.