Pop

How The Jonas Brothers Staged One Of The Most Successful Comebacks In Pop

According to industry lore, when former Columbia Records president Steve Greenberg heard the Jonas Brothers’ first single, “Please Be Mine,” he decided to sign them as a group on the spot. Considering Greenberg was involved with the success of Hanson, the biggest boy band of the late ‘90s, his cosign meant a lot. Like the Hanson brothers, Kevin, Joe, and Nick had plenty of hair and plenty of bops, but they weren’t a fit with the high-end, coiffed, decidedly adult audiences of Columbia, and were dropped almost immediately after their debut came out.

It’s safe to assume the meager 67,000 copies their debut sold was a big part of the reason, and if it weren’t for a burgeoning record label geared toward a completely different kind of audience forming elsewhere, that might’ve been the end of the story: the brothers Jonas would just be a footnote in pop history. But, the Disney Channel — and its powerful music industry extensions Hollywood Records and Disney Radio — stepped in instead. And while Disney has been involved with the rise and fall of countless pop stars, including Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Ariana Grande, and Selena Gomez, no entity seemed to encompass the network’s power more than the Jonas Brothers.

Formed in 2005 and breaking out in 2007 with their self-titled album, the brothers’ first release on Disney’s Hollywood Records label went on to sell close to two million copies. Things took off from there, when the brothers also starred in the hit Disney movies Camp Rock (2008) and Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam (2010), and were even granted their own short-lived TV show. The wildly successful Camp Rock franchise also starred Demi Lovato, who went on to turn her own early teen stardom into similar mainstream pop fame; both acts performed at this year’s Grammys a couple weeks ago, and both have withstood a decade or more of fame, with all the ups and downs that come along with that.

For the brothers, though, things have been remarkably on the upswing. At a packed, private underplay at the Hollywood Palladium for Citi Sound Vault’s concert series during the week of the Grammys, they belted out hit after hit to the rows of fans pressed up against the barricades, who screamed back the lyrics and yearned forward, trying to make contact with the closest of the brothers. The Sound Vault shows offer fans a chance to see massive acts like Brandi Carlile or Coldplay in way smaller venues than they regularly perform at, and the thrill of seeing the Brothers in a 4,000 capacity room was palpable. These fans included a mix of teenage and younger fans, but plenty of them were grown women, reliving their girlhood obsession with one of the most beloved pop acts of the mid-2000s.

And while the crowd was eager for current material off the band’s latest record, the pitch got a little higher, a little more emphatic when the brothers ventured into their extensive back catalogue, pulling out old hits like “S.O.S.” and “Year 3000,” or even the ubiquitous “Burnin’ Up.” That’s totally normal, and to be expected. And yet… despite the overwhelming pull of nostalgia, some of the loudest cheers of the night also came for the live debut of the band’s latest single, “What A Man Gotta Do.” For newer material to be received not just on par, but perhaps more excitedly, than a boy band’s old hits is almost unheard of — but the Jonas Brothers had done it.

Ever since the brothers went their separate ways back in 2013, diehard fans have been quietly bemoaning the lack of new Jonas music, especially as poptimism and a new generation of writers, critics, and industry professionals began to reframe the once-shamed power of pop music, effectively restoring proper respect for pop artists with predominantly young, female fanbases. So in early 2019, perhaps responding to the shift in the climate, the Jonas Brothers launched their comeback after a six-year hiatus, going on to become one of the most successful reboots in pop history.

Following popular side projects from Nick — two solo albums and, most notably, the hit single “Jealous” — and Joe — anchoring the dance-rock band DNCE aka the purveyors of that inescapable “Cake By The Ocean” song — the brothers released their fifth studio album, Happiness Begins, in March of last year. Finally outgrowing their time at Hollywood Records, Happiness Begins was released on Republic, the label that is home to fellow pop powerhouses like Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande. And right after releasing their new album, they released something more important and influential: the extremely candid Chasing Happiness documentary, detailing their rise to fame, the reasons behind their split, and what drew them back together.

Instead of sweeping the drama and chaos under the rug, the brothers addressed it head-on, even portraying internal conflict, sadness, and anger on camera, giving fans an intimate look at the difficult forces that drove them apart, not just as a band, but as a family. By bringing this out into the light, and presenting their return as a renewed source of intimacy in their personal relationships, the Jonas Brothers took control of the narrative of their hiatus, and dealt with it on their own terms. It doesn’t hurt that the music is beyond great, either, with the lead single “Sucker” becoming the group’s first-ever No. 1 and the follow-up single, “Cool,” hitting No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Additionally, the brothers are able to point to the fact that they all have actually changed in a major way — each of them got married in the time they spent apart. In the video for “Sucker,” each of the brothers’ famous wives appeared in the video alongside their respective partner, essentially double the star power of the clip. As America’s favorite boy band transition into bona fide Wife Guys, their timing couldn’t be better, domestic bliss is in, and petty drama is out.

And their unexpected new song “What A Man Gotta Do” — which also includes plenty of wife cameos in the video — joins the ranks of their successful new singles, debuting at No. 16 on the Billboard charts and coming alongside an announcement of yet another new studio album — and their April residency in Las Vegas. Last year’s international tour, which began in August, will continue through their this year and into the two weeks or so of Vegas dates, as the brothers capitalize on the success of their comeback instead of resting on their laurels. With an additional new album imminent, things have never looked better for these three pop stars, and if there’s a whole new album of music, it stands to reason their tour might continue as well.

As for Steve Greenberg, he just might be kicking himself for dropping them right about now.

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