And doesn’t it make sense that the Jonas Brothers would grow up to be L.A. playboys with a Machiavellian grasp of pop psychology?
As an album, Happiness Begins is nothing special, designed to float into Lyft-shuffle anonymity rather than stop us in our tracks. As a marketing strategy, it’s brilliant. Get the Jonas Brothers back together just as people are starting to remember they existed, and then slap their name on songs whose authorship doesn’t much matter as long as their ubiquity gets people humming them. These aren’t the same JoBros who slayed stadiums in the late 2000s. The rock-band angle is gone, guitars are absent unless they’re the acoustic ones that convey sensitivity, and the brothers don’t attack their songs with childish ecstasy but croon them smokily, letting us know that the purity rings are a thing of the past. Joe’s boast that he’s “winning like it’s ‘Game of Thrones’” is a lot funnier when you realize he’s married to Sophie Turner, who played Sansa Stark.
So it doesn’t sound like the Jonas Brothers. What does it sound like? Every damn hit on the radio, down to the most alarming specifics. “Sucker” nicks its drum machines from Drake’s “Hotline Bling.” “Cool” does the same descending-chorus thing as Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” On “Every Single Time” Nick repeats a melisma identical to the one Adam Levine uses on Maroon 5’s creepy “Blurred Lines”-era embarrassment “Animals.” And “Love Her” kicks off its chorus with the same notes and almost the same words as Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself”; it’s no less mordant a song, though at least the protagonist is on the receiving rather than giving end of abuse. None of these songs are really carbon-copy clones. It’s more of a way to affiliate these songs with pop music as a whole rather than with a musical identity specific to the Jonas Brothers.
But here’s the thing: it’s not a bad pop album. The lyrics sound like they were written by Swedes with hangovers, but they’re not noticeable enough to be embarrassing. And a lot of the traps we might expect a bygone pop phenom trying to reclaim their chart cred to fall into were avoided. No urbano, no trop-house trap beats, no Future features. When Happiness Begins dabbles in black pop, it’s to give “Only Human” an intriguing reggae lilt or to gussy up “I Believe” in the clothes of sumptuous ‘90s R&B. There’s no we’re-bad-boys-now bullshit; Nick got that out of the way by spending his solo career shirtless. Doing the real-pop thing and remaking Lukas Graham or Ed Sheeran songs is out of the question, because you can’t use realness to sell the fucking Jonas Brothers.
And doesn’t it make sense that the Jonas Brothers would grow up to be L.A. playboys with a Machiavellian grasp of pop psychology? You might not like the way they’ve matured, but there’s no doubt it’s consistent. Remember Ridley Scott’s Hannibal from 2001, with Julianne Moore picking up the mantle of Clarice from Jodie Foster? That’s a little like what we’re seeing here. Fresh-faced FBI trainees grow up to hard-ass cops, and teen pop stars grow up to be merciless manipulators of the game—if they’re lucky.