The saddest point in the cycle of a boyband is the day they issue their break-up announcement. For the Jonas Brothers, this was on 30 October, when the New Jersey trio told People magazine: ‘It’s over for now.. we’re closing a chapter, for sure.’ Note the crafty wording: the chapter may have been closed, but the book itself is still open. There will inevitably come that lean time when Kevin, Nick and Joe decide they have ‘unfinished business’ and the reunion will get under way, so the world won’t be deprived of them for long.
For now, though, they’re gone, citing ‘a deep rift’, and their demise seems more pitiful than that of other boybands. Though they stuck it out for eight years, selling 8m albums along the way, they shouldn’t have lasted this long. No boyband should.
The brothers made the mistake of keeping the band going when their hearts weren’t in it and the sight of them now, grown men with tired eyes and 5 o’clock shadow, should serve as a warning to One Direction to pull the plug well before their 21st birthdays. (Louis Tomlinson has already passed that point.) Rather poignantly, Nick Jonas is still only 21 himself, meaning he has a whole lifetime of failing to recapture the dizzying highs of his teen years.
Now the threesome will have to console themselves with moderately successful solo careers and the occasional high-profile dalliance, such as Joe’s relationship with Taylor Swift and Nick’s coupling with Delta Goodrem. Unless one of them has the charisma and luck to do a Timberlake, the brothers will struggle as solo artists to match their collective success. (In America, of course, no mid-noughties tween group was more successful than the Jonas Bros, owing to a Disney reality series and their conservative views, the latter symbolised by the wearing of purity rings.)
In a way, their gender works against them. While they’re at the top of their game, male pop idols are perceived as scream-fodder for girls, and garner little respect from everyone else. Other men are almost visceral in their hatred: when Robbie Williams tried to forge a friendship with Oasis soon after leaving Take That, Noel Gallagher contemptuously called him ‘that fat dancer from Take That’.
Among the few exceptions are Hanson, the 90s siblings who made it clear they had no wish to be screamed at, and were allowed to evolve into a semi-credible stubble-faced rock band. As for the rest of the male idols, when the music stops selling, they find themselves with a balance of zero in the credibility bank and nowhere to go with their musical careers. Given the way Justin Bieber has been kicking over the traces recently, he clearly knows what lies ahead and is repurposing himself before it happens. Bieber has assiduously been acquiring rapper friends such as Ludacris and Big Sean, so expect a Timberlake-like step into ‘urban’ music any time.
Female teen idols, on the other hand, don’t carry the same baggage. Miley Cyrus, who once appeared with the Jonas Brothers on an episode of Hannah Montana (talk about crossing the streams) has made the transition to an adult audience with fierce intent. The move has seemed easy, partly because of a new latex-doll image that has erased the memory of the Hannah years. But it’s also because, sadly, people have lower expectations of teen female singers. They’re not loathed by adults in the way boybands are, but neither is anyone watching them, fervently hoping they’ll fail.
The godmother of the teen queens, Britney Spears, led the way in 2003 with the brilliant Toxic, Cyrus was already on her way in 2009 with Party in the USA and Selena Gomez is making the transition now with the album Stars Dance (and a well-received turn in the film Spring Breakers). Current Disney starlet Ariana Grande, whose singing has been compared to the young Whitney Houston, will probably be next. All of them are easily surpassing expectations, setting the crossover bar even higher for the poor Jonas Brothers.