By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
You can hear the Jonas Brothers approaching before you actually see them, because their every move is monitored by young and younger girls who act as a sort of early-warning radar for the trio of teen idols.
The Jonas Brothers are handsome, wholesome, skinny-tie-and-skinnier-jeans-wearing boys from New Jersey who play impossibly catchy and completely inoffensive pop-rock songs. But the sound that has come to define Nick Jonas (15; the cute one), Joe Jonas (nearly 19; the hot one) and Kevin Jonas (20; the other one) has nothing to do with power chords and sweet vocal harmonies.
Instead, it's those gale-force shrieks that envelop them wherever they go: Into a mall, onto a plane or around the corner in the bowels of a concert hall, as they've just done at 1st Mariner Arena, where the Jonas Brothers -- easily the biggest thing in teen idoldom since 'N Sync splintered -- are about to meet and greet 200 excitable fans before another sold-out show.
"The boys were talking to me the other day and were like, 'Dad. Dad? DAD!' " says Kevin Jonas Sr., the trio's father and co-manager. "Finally I turned around and said, 'Guys, don't be frustrated. If I can't hear, it's your fault.'[The girls] are always screaming, and it gets loud; the decibel level is medically intense" -- 115 to 120 decibels at a typical Jonas Brothers concert, he says. Sandblasting is roughly 115 decibels. At 120, you're getting into jet-on-a-runway territory and closing in on the pain threshold.
"You hear it and you think . . . some type of monster just ran through the front door," says Joe, a swarthy, rooster-strutting, karate-kicking frontman with male-model hair.
"It's crazy," says Nick, a curly haired heartthrob who plays guitar, drums and piano and is regarded by most (including Jonas Dad, a former musician and music teacher himself) to be the band's most talented musician.
"So. LOUD!" says Kevin, a rhythm guitarist who has the misfortune -- or, perhaps, the great fortune -- of being in a band with two guys who tend to overshadow him.
Says Joe: "But we love it. We love hearing our fans go crazy."
In the music business, decibel readings are another metric by which an act can measure success -- or at least take a real-time heat check -- alongside album sales (1.4 million for 2007's "Jonas Brothers"), touring receipts (robust for the Brothers, whose upcoming concert Monday at 25,000-capacity Nissan Pavilion is also sold out) and the Billboard charts (a new JoBro single, "Tonight," entered the Hot 100 at No. 8 last week).
A new Jonas Brothers album, "A Little Bit Longer," will be released today and is considered a lock to open at No. 1 on the album chart.
They're the new rulers of the boy-band realm, even if they're atypical for a boy band, insofar as they play their own instruments and write their own songs and weren't brought together by some Svengali down in Florida. (So they're like the new Hanson, only with more than one hit.) Not bad for a band that was dropped by Columbia Records early last year, after the first album, "It's About Time," sputtered following its August 2006 release. It sold fewer than 65,000 copies.
The Jonas Brothers caught the ear of Disney executives and were quickly signed to the company's Hollywood Records division, which released the self-titled Jonas album last August. Seemingly overnight, the hydra-headed Disney beast -- with its reach into radio, network television, cable and film -- helped turn the brothers into multi-platform pop-culture sensations.
They're a band cum brand now, with a made-for-TV movie ("Camp Rock"), a scripted series ("J.O.N.A.S.," shooting this fall), a 3-D concert film (out early next year) and a multimillion-dollar touring deal with concert promoter Live Nation.
So when they end their pre-concert prayer circles by shouting, "Living the dream"? Totally not kidding. (And yes, there is a nightly prayer circle; Jonas Dad is a former pastor.)
" 'Living the dream' started as a joke, but now it's true," Kevin Jr. says. "It's really awesome. . . . We waited so long to have a tour bus, to have an audience to play in front of -- to have anything, really."
The trio began as a solo act, when Nick, who had been performing on Broadway since grade school, started to dabble in Christian music. The deal with Columbia followed -- as did Joe and Kevin Jr., who, at the label's behest, formed a secular pop band with Nick. In the meet-and-greet room, which has two exit doors just in case things get out of hand, two bodyguards and even more assistants are directing human traffic and collecting gifts for the Jonases: scarves, roses, a birdhouse, a home phone number scribbled on a card with an urgent request for Joe to please, please, please call. The Brothers are giving out hugs and handshakes and pats on the shoulder, and they giggle when a young girl blows right past them, sobbing uncontrollably as she continues out the door.
She's ushered back into the room to pose for a photo, but she can't even look at them. Too busy hyperventilating.
Outside the venue, it's clear that the Jonas Brothers are the greatest thing to happen to the fabric-pen business, ever: Just about every fan who isn't wearing an officially licensed JoBro shirt has made her own. (And yes, almost every single fan here is female, save for the fathers who were enlisted for chaperoning duty.)
"Kiss Me Joe," one hand-scribbled shirt says. And: "OJD = Obsessive Jonas Disorder."
Lauren Patton, 18, and Heaven Winand, 17, are floating in this sea of hormones wearing matching "Future Mrs. Joe Jonas" shirts.
"He's unbelievably hot," Winand says. This seems to be at the core of the JoBro appeal, though the friends from Perry Hall, Md., say there's also the music itself.
"I'm more of a metalhead, but I just love the Jonas Brothers," Winand says. "All of my friends think I'm insane."
She adds: "Their songs are really good, and they're understandable for our age group. They're about your first love, someone leaving you, just having fun and being young."
What the JoBro-slagging music critics don't know, the little girls understand -- though Rolling Stone did just award "A Little Bit Longer" four stars out of five, calling it "as assured as any American rock album released in 2008" and declaring the brothers the messiahs of power pop. ("We were shocked," Nick says about the review. "I thought they had the wrong band.")
Anyway, the JoBromance runs deep: Patton and Winand both have Jonas Brothers bedsheets and Joe Jonas dolls, plus Joe Jonas pillowcases, which means they wake up with him every morning.
The Jonas Brothers are the biggest deal in the massive if fickle kiddie-pop market, but they're not necessarily breaking ground: The tradition of young girls losing their minds en masse for dreamy young male singers is older than rock-and-roll itself, dating back to at least the 1940s, when the bobby-soxers swooned over Frank Sinatra. On the teen-idol continuum since then: everybody from Elvis Presley, the Beatles and that little kid who fronted the Jackson 5, to Leif Garrett, New Kids on the Block, the Backstreet Boys and Chris Brown.
"And I was really into Andy Gibb -- I had him on my pillow," says Jen Batchelder. She has come to the concert from the Eastern Shore with a group of young girls, including her 9-year-old daughter, Peyton. Mom totally gets the appeal. "I like their songs, and those boys were raised right."
This, too, is part of the JoBro pitch: their squeaky-clean image as purity-ring-wearing Christians who don't write lascivious lyrics, don't drink, don't smoke, don't swear and say they won't be having sex until they're married. They're perfect for the Disney demographic, though that perceived perfection is certain to bring intense scrutiny, with backlash just a misstep away. (Just ask Miley Cyrus, the Disney star and Vanity Fair cover girl who may be or have been Nick's girlfriend.)
"We're not saying we're perfect," Nick says. "We make mistakes. We're just trying to be the best we can be. . . . What's important is staying grounded." Though it's a bit like trying to ground a dirigible, isn't it?
The brothers are in the inner-sanctum of their dressing room now, tending to that time-honored pre-concert ritual of doing not very much at all. It's not exactly silent in here, but it's close -- and that's a strange thing to hear in the airspace around the Jonas Brothers.
But more than 12,000 girls are outside, though, just waiting to wail.
The shrill isn't even close to being gone.