Jonas Brothers Reflect on Rise to Teen Stardom and Bumpy Path to Hollywood Walk of Fame
By Mike Wass,2023-01-27
The Jonas Brothers ’ legacy will be cemented, quite literally, on Jan. 30 when the band is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame — an accolade that feels both too soon and long overdue. Barely in their 30s, the band members are very much in their prime and the trio continues to have a vice-like grip on pop radio — with a much-anticipated new album on the horizon. On the other hand, the siblings have been doing this for 18 years, leaving an indelible mark on entertainment in the process.
It took a while for the enormity of the news to sink in. “At first, it was shock,” Nick Jonas says of his reaction to the band earning real estate on the Walk of Fame. “We got on FaceTime with the whole family and tried to digest it.”
As with all the awards the Jonas Brothers have received along the way, this means more because it’s a communal experience. “So often, people have their business life separate from their family life, but we get to share it all.”
Joe was similarly moved. “We just felt so honored,” he says. “Some of us were in tears, we just couldn’t believe it.” When asked about them attaining the honor at a comparatively early stage of their careers, Joe doesn’t miss a beat. “I hope it doesn’t mean anything bad,” he jokes. “Maybe we’ll set a trend of more young people getting a star.”
As for now, he’s only concerned about one thing: “I hope we have good neighbors.”
It’s another remarkable milestone in a decades-long journey that somehow felt ordained from the very beginning. Raised in Wyckoff, N.J., by musical parents, the brothers were already proficient at multiple instruments before fate intervened and Nick was discovered at a barber shop. (According to legend, he was overheard singing while getting a trim.) Before long, he was working on a solo album, 2005’s “Nicholas Jonas.”
“I was originally signed as a solo artist by David Massey at Columbia Records,” Nick recalls. (Massey currently runs Arista Records.) He roped in brothers Joe and Kevin to help write songs for the project and they came up with “Please Be Mine,” a dreamy pop-rock ballad that showcased their honey-dipped harmonies. “It was the first song we wrote together,” Nick continues. “Massey heard the song and recognized that it was special, eventually he signed us as a group.”
The Jonas Brothers look back on the making of their debut album, 2006’s “It’s About Time,” with fondness and a degree of incredulity. Kevin remembers “driving into the city every single day and going to writing sessions with different writers and producers” while also juggling school and homework. “It was a weird time because we were all living double lives,” he adds.
Initially, friends didn’t know what to make of their musical aspirations. “No one really knew what we were doing,” Kevin laughs. “I told people, ‘We’re in a band, we’re going to make an album,’ and they were like, ‘Of course you are.’”
While the group has some misgivings about the finished album (“cool for the time” is the oldest Jonas’ assessment), recording it was a rewarding process. “We learned a lot about songwriting,” Kevin says. “The good and the bad.”
Released with minimal fanfare, “It’s About Time” contained two songs from Nick’s solo debut (“Time for Me to Fly” and “Please Be Mine”), two covers of hits from ’00s U.K. boy band Busted, and an interpretation of LFO’s “6 Minutes.” Their innate musicality and growing musicianship were better showcased at live shows. Starting in 2005, the Jonas Brothers opened for everyone from the Veronicas to Kelly Clarkson and the Backstreet Boys.
“It was hard for us to comprehend the scale of the shows,” Nick recalls. “We had been performing at clubs to 200 or 300 people.” Rocking out in front of tens of thousands of fans galvanized them. “We wanted to get to that level ourselves,” he says, “but we had so much more work to do.”
Kevin’s assessment is more blunt. “We had no right being on that stage at the time,” he says. Amused, Nick chimes in: “Mistakes were made along the way.”
While “It’s About Time” cracked the Billboard 200 and introduced the Jonas Brothers to teens via syncs and appearances on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, Columbia Records cut the band loose. They soon signed with Disney’s in-house label, Hollywood Records, which released the band’s eponymous sophomore album in 2007. It would be their launching pad to superstardom, but they went into the studio in debt and with something to prove.
“We made that album in the basement of the house we were living in in New Jersey,” Nick remembers. “A family friend let us stay there essentially for free because we were so far in debt from self-funding our career and not having much success.”
With their dreams on the line, they backed their own talent. “The self-titled album was really born out of a need to show the world what we were capable
of,” Nick adds. “It was really a defining moment.”
With the mighty Mouse in their corner and near constant coverage on the Disney Channel, the Jonas Brothers exploded in a way that few acts have before or since. The album delivered a steady stream of hit singles — “Year 3000,” “Hold On,” “SOS” and “When You Look Me in the Eyes” — and went on to sell more than 2.4 million copies in the United States. JoBros mania was alive and well, not that they were particularly aware of the adoration at first.
“It was moving so fast that we were always just focusing on the next thing,” Kevin says. “Every day was so busy that it didn’t really sink in, we just kept moving forward so quickly.” However, his memories are overwhelmingly good: “We were just on the ride and ready to go to work every day.”
Joe’s experience was similarly positive, but he remembers the attention occasionally getting out of hand. “We had a meet and greet in South America and we were unprepared for the amount of people that showed up,” he recalls. “We were literally running through a mall, being chased and then when we got into a minivan, we had to duck to hide.” At that point, the siblings knew that something had shifted in their lives forever.
“It was different,” Joe says. “This was definitely something that we were not used to, something I had never seen before.”
When asked if the attention was ever overwhelming, Joe pauses to consider. “It was scary, but also exciting,” he says. “We were doing what we loved on such an extreme level and enjoying the ride.” It was also easier because they had each other. “We were able to find our own joy in the craziness. Whether it was just staying up till 4 or 5 in the morning, watching movies, playing video games and eating pizza — that was our after-party because we were so young.”
They were also able to lean on each other when times got tough. “When you do need a day off, but you don’t have one, we were able to be there for each other,” Joe says. That camaraderie also emboldened the brothers to try new things, including acting. The Jonas Brothers starred in seminal Disney musical “Camp Rock” in 2008 alongside Demi Lovato and contributed songs to the soundtrack. An instant hit, the musical was watched by 8.9 million people on the night of its premiere.
“Camp Rock” has since become a classic with scenes going viral on social media every other week. “You don’t think about the impact an album or a film can have on a younger audience,” Nick says, “but you carry that into your adult years and it becomes even more meaningful.” While other child stars have distanced themselves from earlier projects (Miley Cyrus famously buried Hannah Montana), the Jonas Brothers understand the power of nostalgia.
“We’re really proud that the movie means more to our adult fans now than it did back when they were kids,” Nick continues. “It’s a really good example of how Disney could do no wrong at the time.” That isn’t to say that it has escaped the ravages of time entirely. “I don’t want to say that the movie is bad by any means, but when you watch the clips that are viral now on TikTok … some of the lines are really questionable.”
The band’s third album, “A Little Bit Longer,” dropped shortly after “Camp Rock” and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. The hits — “Burnin’ Up” and “Tonight” — kept on coming and they broke new ground for Disney stars by earning a Grammy nomination for new artist, a Rolling Stone cover and performance on “Saturday Night Live.” “We were really digging into the creative process, and we were proud of what we were making,” Nick says. “Anytime you’re recognized by your peers in any sense, it’s a really gratifying thing.”
The recognition did have a downside. “It led us to overthink a lot of things along the way,” Nick says. He’s referring to the band’s ill-fated, at least in comparison to their previous Disney offerings, fourth album, “Lines, Vines, and Trying Times.” As the emo title suggests, the band lost sight of its euphoric pop-rock roots and started chasing credibility in a way that occasionally worked, but just as often did not.
“We were actually starting to live very separate lives, really starting to grow up,” Kevin says matter-of-factly. “You can hear that in the album. We had different ideas about genres and direction: it’s not that it wasn’t focused, it just wasn’t as cohesive as other things we had done in the past.” Ultimately, he thinks it’s an accurate snapshot of where the band was at the time. “We were all over the place,” Kevin admits. “We need to discover our individualities outside of the group.”
A slew of solo projects followed.
Nick Jonas and the Administration came and went, while Joe’s solo debut “Fastlife” dropped in 2011. A fifth Jonas Brothers album was planned for 2013 and singles “Pom Poms” and “First Time” were dutifully rolled out along with a potential title (“V”), but the band shocked fans by pulling the plug on the project and breaking up. Despite knowing it was coming, Kevin’s initial reaction was utter disbelief.
“I never really thought the band would ever be a thing that wasn’t,” he says emotionally. “I never wrapped my head around the idea that it wasn’t going to be, but I think that that’s actually part of the problem — you just become delusional in the sense of thinking that this thing is forever.”
Joe had mixed emotions. “I came to terms with it,” he says quietly, “but it was definitely a lot of frustration and sadness and mourning of something that you’ve done for so long.”
Nick’s approach was more pragmatic. “There was a lot going on in our lives,” he says. “We started insulating and only working with certain people instead of branching out and being more free creatively.” That was reflected in the music they were making: “It was not stuff that we were particularly thrilled with.” Ultimately, they put family over career. “Being family was more important than trying to jam Jonas Brothers into all of our lives,” Nick adds.
Joe points to one regret: the televised breakup announcement on “Good Morning America.” “It felt inauthentic, especially to our fans, who were so great to us for so many years,” he says, “but we were trying to be as honest as we could with them.”
It didn’t take long for Nick to launch a solo career, while Joe landed hits with dance-pop collective DNCE. Perhaps counterintuitively, the success of those endeavors stoked the flames for new Jonas Brothers material. “That period was the foundation for our return,” Nick says. “We found ourselves again, there’s no effective unit unless the parts are strong on their own.”
The Jonases started contemplating a reunion in 2018, initially for a series of live shows that would encompass previously released music. The more time they spent together, the more they wanted to record new material. They just needed the right architect for their comeback and found it in Ryan Tedder, who’s written hit songs for Adele, Beyoncé and his own band, OneRepublic.
“Ryan raised his hand right away,” Nick recalls. “He described it to us and our record label like this: ‘Jonas Brothers have a giant sleeping army basically ready to go.’ And thankfully he was right.”
It was actually something of an understatement. Comeback single “Sucker” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, giving the band the biggest hit of its career. “It really set the template for the rest of the album,” Nick continues. “We wanted to bring happiness back into people’s lives and share the joy that we felt by reconnecting with each other.”
Reuniting wasn’t without risk, however. As Nick explains: “Being totally transparent, it was really scary stepping out and taking as big a swing as we took. And to see people show up in the way they did that year was really incredible.”
They named the album “Happiness Begins,” which resonated with the band. “We missed out on a lot because everything was moving so fast,” Kevin says. “We wanted to enjoy the moment this time. It really turned it into one big family reunion.”
Originally, Jonas Brothers planned their next full-length for 2020. They dropped a series of singles including “What a Man Gotta Do,” “Five More Minutes” and “X” featuring Karol G. “We have an amazing group of songwriters who also happen to be friends,” Nick says. “We took a week and just wrote a bunch of songs. We never want to be off-cycle as far as making music.”
But then COVID hit and, as with many projects due in 2020, the album was placed on hold. “We had shows in Vegas lined up in 2020 too,” Nick continues. “We had plans to get back in the studio, but I think it all worked out how it was supposed to. It provided more time for us to zone in on exactly what we wanted to say with this body of work and what felt like the right musical tone.”
In much the same way that Tedder captained the ship on “Happiness Begins,” artist-producer Jon Bellion took the reins for their upcoming sixth album. “In a lot of ways, he has become another brother on this album given what he brought to the table musically and creatively,” Nick says.
The unplanned hiatus also gave the band a chance to grow as people with weddings, children and side-projects such as Nick’s Villa One tequila. That maturity is reflected on the new record. Says Joe: “The direction of the lyrics, the stories we’re telling. … It has changed a lot.” And there’s another important consideration. “I think about the fact that our kids will listen to this music,” he adds.
Wide-reaching appeal is also important for fans, who regularly turn up to shows with their parents and offspring. “There are so many different generations,” Nick says. “How do we make an album that speaks to all those different walks of life and ages?” Producer Bellion seems to have solved the puzzle. “The key to Jon’s initial pitch was bringing in influences from the ’70s, but with a really modern edge to it. We wanted to find a way to tell stories that are universal but also ultra-personal.”
With the ’70s looming large over the project, it’s unsurprising to hear nods to another uber-successful sibling trio: the Bee Gees. “They were a huge influence in our lives, growing up and listening to them with our father,” Kevin says enthusiastically. “And obviously, as we grew up being three brothers in a band, we definitely understood similarities.”
With their Walk of Fame star being polished at this very moment, the band can’t help but ponder their legacy. When asked what they want theirs to be, there is a moment of silence. “That’s a difficult question to answer,” Joe says. “Music makes you feel things and I hope we’re able to get people through different emotions, different milestones, different breakups, heartaches and healing. Ultimately, I hope that we make people feel good and be a part of their lives like they have been a part of ours.”
WHAT: Jonas Brothers receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. Jan. 30
WHERE: 7060 Hollywood Blvd.
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