"Disney made us more famous than we ever knew we could be."
Joe Jonas, the middle brother of the now defunct boy band The Jonas Brothers, gave an interview to New York magazine that describes in honest detail what it was like for him to be part of a pop group that rose to fame so quickly that his young life was turned upside down almost immediately. The very long read is well worth your time not because people might be clamoring to know more about Joe Jonas per se but because it’s an excellent expose on what it is like for young celebrities growing up in the public eye (something that the vast majority of us will never truly understand). To be honest, I’m quite surprised by how open Joe is about a great many things … the pressure put on him (and his brothers) regarding their purity rings, his revelation that the first time he smoked marijuana was with Miley Cyrus (tho, no real shock there) and his admission that he stayed in his relationship with Demi Lovato longer than he really wanted to. Click below to read excerpts from Joe‘s extremely enlightening interview and learn more how the “other half” lives.
To some extent, I was used to growing up in public. I was a pastor’s kid, so eyes were always on me, even then. I sat in the first pew of the church, and I had to wear a suit every Sunday, because my parents wanted me to be this role model that I didn’t always want to be. I preferred going to punk-rock shows in small venues in New Jersey, where we grew up, wearing my jean jacket and all my band pins. That’s how I fell in love with music, how I became obsessed with it. I’d stand there, watching the singer running around the stage, owning the crowd. I didn’t even notice whatever else was happening onstage. All I could see was the singer … I went to school until about seventh grade, before my parents decided to homeschool us. I sucked at math. Was pretty good with science, and I was great at music class. Big surprise. Music was always in the house. Our dad could play just about anything, and we started picking up instruments ourselves. When Nick was 7, he began singing everywhere—in the house, in the hair salon even, which is where he was discovered.
We never really had an idea of making music together, but years later when Nick was working on his debut album, Nicholas Jonas, Kevin and I genuinely wanted to write with him. So we wrote a song together in the living room called “Please Be Mine,” which we thought would just be for Nick. But when our dad heard us, he said we should play it for David Massey, who was A&R-ing Nick’s project at the time. He had signed a lot of brother bands—Oasis, Good Charlotte—and when we went in and sang the song for him, he told us he wanted to sign us as a group.
We weren’t put together by some Svengali but were definitely thrown into it. Especially Nick, who was only 12 (I was 15 and Kevin was 17), and he had to make all these big decisions about whether he wanted to be in a band or work solo or work with his brothers. Luckily, he was cool with working with us … For a few years, my two brothers, our father, our backup band, and I drove around in a van from city to city, playing any venue that would have us—schools, churches, bat mitzvahs—while our mother stayed at home to take care of our youngest brother, Frankie. Those early touring years were rough. We opened up for the Veronicas, who had a club crowd, and we had to prove to those crowds that we could really play. Show them that we’re real musicians. It was always a struggle because every single night we were walking into hate. Sometimes people flipped us off, threw water bottles at us.
Everything completely changed when Disney entered the picture. They were geared toward a younger market, and we had a younger audience, so we started doing some Disney concerts, Disney Christmas concerts, and Disney roller-coaster openings. Then we made a music video for a cover song that we initially didn’t want to do because we hadn’t written it, called “Year 3000,” exclusively for Disney, which led them to start playing the song on Radio Disney and the video on the Disney Channel. Before we knew it, our fan base had exploded.
We went from an opening act to headliners, first in half-theaters, then full theaters, then half-arenas to full arenas, all within a span of around six weeks. Playing the Texas state fair in 2007 was a turning point. There were 40,000 people, and we needed to get a helicopter in order to make it to the show because the traffic was so bad. I remember sitting in that helicopter, flying over all those cars, and thinking, This is really happening … Being a part of a company like that comes with certain expectations. Not overtly, but there was a subtle vibe. We were working with Disney in 2007 when the Vanessa Hudgens nude-photo scandal happened. We heard that she had to be in the Disney offices for a whole day because they were trying to figure out how to keep her on lockdown. We’d hear execs talking about it, and they would tell us that they were so proud of us for not making the same mistakes, which made us feel like we couldn’t ever mess up. We didn’t want to disappoint anyone—our parents, our fans, our employers—so we put incredible pressure on ourselves, the kind of pressure that no teenager should be under.
We were just kids. That’s the reality. We were frightened little kids. So you got all this responsibility that’s foisted upon you and you’re expected to be perfect. I went through media training, and I hated it. They’d teach you how to change the subject, whenever you were asked an uncomfortable question, by saying something like, “Oh, that reminds me of my dog! I have a great story about my dog!” Playing dumb is the best way of getting out of anything. We also had a strategy for who would take which kinds of questions. If it was a serious question, Nick would answer it. If it was lighthearted, Kevin would. Nick and I took questions related to our music and explaining what certain songs meant. We even did a Good Housekeeping story with our mom where we were wearing these horrible pastels. It makes me cringe just to think about it.
Nick then goes on to talk about the subjects mentioned in the opening paragraph above:
The topic that dominated news coverage of us for a long time was the whole promise-ring thing. We couldn’t escape it. It started when I was really young—I must have been 10 or 11. There’s a program people do in some churches called True Love Waits, where you wait for marriage to have sex. Kevin and I decided to join—Nick tried it later. Fast-forward a few years, we’ve started playing music and we’re working with Disney and we have these rings. I remember this interview with this guy whose entire agenda was to focus on the rings. He kept pushing the subject, and when we insisted that we didn’t want to talk about it, he told us, “I can write whatever I want,” which terrified us. That’s the thing: We didn’t know any better, and we just wanted to make people happy. Now I know that I don’t have to answer any questions I don’t want to. Like, why do you even care about my 15-year-old brother’s sex life? … Because of our age, because of Disney, because of those rings, there were so many things throughout our career that we had to sugarcoat. If a lyric was slightly sexual, someone at the record company would tell us we had to change it. It could be the most innocent reference, like “I’m alone in a room with you,” and it would have to go. It felt like we couldn’t be creative, so we stopped listening to them and just started handing shit in. We decided to take the rings off a few years ago. I lost my virginity when I was 20. I did other stuff before then, but I was sexually active at 20. I’m glad I waited for the right person, because you look back and you go, “That girl was batshit crazy. I’m glad I didn’t go there” … But I did date a lot. I used to sneak out and hook up with this one girl in her car, and some rumor came out along the lines of: “Teen pop star seen in the back of a car, in a parking lot, hooking up,” and the write-up was kind of explicit. I kept thinking, Oh my God, there’s going to be video, there’s going to be photos. The girl was also in the business, and we thought we were screwed because we were both working with Disney. It would have been the worst thing we could think of happening to us. But nothing ever came out! One relationship that meant a lot to fans was the one I had with Demi Lovato, who I’ve known for years. We had been friends forever, we were both Disney kids, and because we played a couple in the Camp Rock Disney Channel specials—and fans liked seeing us together—we eventually dated for a month. I really got to know her and got to see the ins and outs of what she was struggling with, like drug abuse. I felt like I needed to take care of her, but at the same time I was living a lie, because I wasn’t happy but felt like I had to stay in it for her, because she needed help. I couldn’t express any of that, of course, because I had a brand to protect. It was an insane situation to be in. Things kept building up, and Demi ended up punching a girl in the face on a plane, because she thought the girl was blaming her for something. Everybody gasped, and the girl just started bleeding. That’s when her team and her family told her, “You need to go into rehab.” I remember being in South America, and fans immediately jumped to the conclusion that we kicked her off the 2010 tour, and they just hated on us for it. Being a part of the Disney thing for so long will make you not want to be this perfect little puppet forever. Eventually, I hit a limit and thought, Screw all this, I’m just going to show people who I am. I think that happened to a lot of us. Disney kids are spunky in some way, and I think that’s why Disney hires them. “Look, he jumped up on the table!” Five, six, ten years later, they’re like, “Oh! What do we do?” Come on, guys. You did this to yourselves … The first time I smoked weed was with Demi and Miley. I must have been 17 or 18. They kept saying, “Try it! Try it!” so I gave it a shot, and it was all right. I don’t even smoke weed that often anymore. I was caught drinking when I was 16 or 17, and I thought the world was going to collapse. But I was in another country, and it was legal there. My 21st birthday, I fell down a flight of stairs. I was unconscious that time, and my whole team was scared to death that somebody was going to get a picture. Now I appreciate wine or a vodka-soda at the end of the day every once in a while.
… and the interview goes on and on from there. I’m telling you, it’s an insanely fascinating read in full, you can check it out HERE. I honestly couldn’t name a Jonas Brothers song off the top of my head if you paid me and I’ve never really been particularly interested in the group or their music but I really do respect the men they’ve grown up to be. We think we know what it’s like to grow up a child star but we really have no idea. This interview, at the very least, gives us some bit of insight as to what it must be like to grow up with all of that pressure, all of that responsibility and, yes, all of that fame and fortune. I commend Joe for sharing this part of his life with us. I honestly don’t really know what is going on that caused The Jonas Brothers band of brothers to break up but it really sounds like they (or Joe, at least) have grown up to be their own men, who do things on their own terms. I can really respect that.