THE ONE THING YOU DON’T need to remind the Jonas Brothers is that teen-pop success has a short shelf life. They got your memo, thanks. They know that today’s pop phenoms are tomorrow’s VH1 roadkill, and for every loyal fan, there’s a hater loudly predicting their swift demise.
Naturally, the Jonases say they want to make music forever. And because they are capable of writing songs, this is easier to believe than if you heard it from, say, the cast of High School Musical. The guys are eager to hear the reaction to their newest record, A Little Bit Longer, hoping people will see them as a rock band and not just as a passing tween obsession. Nick admits he’s fantasized about recording under an alias. “It’d be great,” he says. “Maybe even write songs under different names for other artists.”
You get the feeling that Nick could junk the whole rock-star thing and be happy. “The success is great,” he says during a private moment on that flight to Phoenix. “But we wrote our last record while we were being dropped and playing for 10 people. We know what it’s like to do it just for fun.”
The challenge, of course, is getting the Jonas audience to mature with the band and not grow up and reject them like a pink stuffed elephant. But this is hard — not many bands are capable of going from Please Please Me to Rubber Soul. To date, the Jonases have not shown much musical interest in politics or world affairs. “I don’t think we ever wanted to be a band that wants to be political, because that starts getting hairy,” says Kevin.
The trick is getting the edges of your real life in your music, which isn’t easy if your real life is protected by Disney. But the Jonases’ current showstopper is “A Little Bit Longer,” a melancholy an-them Nick wrote about his battle with diabetes; it’s not exactly sing-along-in-the-minivan material. And Cyrus’ new record contains several pained breakup songs, which will surely be credited to Nick, even if Disney won’t touch that subject with a 1o-foot magic wand.
Just before I leave, there’s a funny moment. My last night on tour, at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine, California, a photograph is taken right after the band’s pre-show prayer. For some reason, there’s a lot of worry about it; a Disney publicist is anxious and politely asks for it to be deleted.
As the publicist makes a case, the Jonas Brothers concert is starting. Nick, Joe and Kevin brush past us with Big Rob in tow, the lights go dark, and there’s the unmistakable sound of dopamine and oxytocin releasing en masse. The backstage area begins to vibrate, but all I can think about is the picture. What could it possibly be? Why would the Disney handler want to delete it? Was it Nick making out with a girl? Joe putting on a wig? Kevin playing ping-pong with the devil? Booze? Drugs? Dick Cheney?
Later that night, I’m finally able to see the photograph. It’s a picture of Nick, Joe, Kevin and, yes, a beautiful young brunette in a scarlet-red top. Nick has his arm around the girl’s back, and the girl’s arm is wrapped around his. Her name is Selena Gomez, she’s Demi Lovato’s best friend and a big new Disney Channel star. The genuine affection in the photo is obvious; these guys seem like the luckiest brothers on the planet.
And if you want a time stamp, it was taken one minute before the Jonas Brothers, a humble family band from New Jersey, took the stage to perform a sold-out concert before 15,000 people, when they were on the cusp of being one of the biggest bands in America.
That photo doesn’t look like trouble. It looks like the time of their lives