Once known as the very picture of harmless, sexless pop music, the Jonas Brothers were ubiquitous in early aughts tween and teen culture. It was a big moment, with future superstars Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, and Demi Lovato all dominating a specific brand of pop at the same time (and nearly all of them had entangled romantic and/or professional lives). Collectively, the cohort made up a fraternity of millennials who dominated TRL and iPods across the nation. At the time, the trio of brothers from New Jersey could induce mass hysteria at their concerts and appearances for their eponymous Disney Channel show. If you were a person even vaguely aware of pop culture at the time, you may have not heard any of their songs, but you knew about their purity rings and their views of virginity.
And then, the Jonas Brothers had a falling out. Long-held grudges and resentment led to the band’s dissolution in 2013. Ardent fans were bereft, but as they hadn’t dropped an album since 2010 and the TRL bubble was popped when the show was canceled in 2008, their absence didn’t leave a huge hole in the pop culture landscape. The world moved on.
Just less than a decade later, the Jonas Brothers returned with “Sucker,” the lead single off their new album, Happiness Begins. Suddenly, they were back and living under the shadow of gossip about their sex lives again — this time it was just as chaste. Two of them were the talk of the gossip industrial complex thanks to a pair of high-profile marriages — Joe to Sophie Turner and Nick to Priyanka Chopra. Kevin also married and had two children during the band’s hiatus. There is no question that the JoBros are virgins no more. But, the main theme of the newly reunited band’s Happiness Begins is love and harmony without too much lust or debauchery. The guys manage to stay true to the idealism and wholesomeness they were known for back in their Disney day.
There is a magic to the music Nick, Joe, and Kevin Jonas make together. In their solo endeavors Nick and Joe, with his band DNCE, had at least a song or two that came close to being as addictive as their lead single from this album, “Sucker,” but none that quite match it. It’s truly a marvel of a pop gem (this coming from someone who was old enough to absolutely loathe the JoBros the first time around because hello, have you even heard of Arcade Fire?). It was an unexpected sound for their return, co-produced by Frank Dukes, the guy behind a lot of Drake hits, Cardi B’s dark “Be Careful,” and the surprising debut album from Camila Cabello. “Sucker” bucks a lot the big-production, highly mainstream sounds that are hallmarks of the Jonas sound, stripping it down into a slick, minimalist, and modern earworm.
They pull a classic Jonas move and follow it up with “Cool,” a song that references James Dean, a young Jane Fonda (because the old one isn’t hot? I missed that memo), Charlie Sheen and his brother Emilio Estevez (why???), Queen, Game of Thrones, and Post Malone while dripping with uncoolness. It’s meant as an affirmation that anyone can glom onto (put “When I grow up, I wanna be just like me” on a kitten poster ASAP), but does more to assert the idea of having a good day when everything goes right than a feeling of cool. In its dorkiness, the coolness is sucked right out of the air.
Nick said in an interview with Beats 1 that “I Believe” is the heart of the record, the template for what they wanted Happiness Begins to sound like when they began. They certainly nailed the goal there, as even a cursory listen to the album makes it clear that they are very much about good vibes, happiness, support, love, communication, and family. There’s nary a song that’s problematic or disparages women (a scourge that seems to plague many other modern male artists). In fact, they go out of their way to romanticize both women and relationships at every opportunity. In “Love Her,” they may take it too far with a chorus that comes close to infantilizing when it admonishes, "'Cause when you love her / No matter the fight you know she's always right.”
That said, songs like “Hesitate,” which Joe wrote for his now-wife Turner, and “Comeback” are captivating examples of their prowess at writing a love song. In the latter, that love is their brotherly bond, addressing their reunion after a falling out. “You know the place that I go running to / I get scared when you're scared but what else can I do? / Come back to me, baby, I'll come back to you,” the brothers sing, closing the circle on a relationship they’ll be in for the rest of their lives.
The Jonas Brothers’ reunion is, against all critical odds, not a bad effort. There are even some solid pop jams. The guys play it safe, working with producers who are known to make monster radio hits like Max Martin (Ariana Grande “God Is A Woman”), Shellback (Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber “I Don’t Care”), and Greg Kurstin (Adele “Hello”). They obviously want to smash a home run with this album rather than step outside the lines or create something new. They stay on-brand for the JoBros, but in today’s climate that is what differentiates them. Their fans will appreciate the music, while those who didn’t particularly care for it the first time around will appreciate the songs offering voyeuristic looks into their high-profile romances. With the confessional lyrics and a highly emotional documentary (Chasing Happiness, released June 4), the guys know the stakes are high for an unlikely success story like their reunion. They’re making all the moves they need to set themselves up to win.