To be a successful entertainer as a teenager with your work focused towards a younger audience, and then transition into adulthood whilst maintaining that success and winning over a new, older audience. To truly Timberlake, the entertainer must achieve success in both music and film.
Example: “Have you seen Nick Jonas lately? He’s really Timberlaked.”
It seems like yesterday that the ridiculously fresh-faced Jonas Brothers were unavoidable. Three UK Top 20 albums barely scratches the surface, since their Disney Channel ubiquity and associated film, Camp Rock, released in the immediate aftermath of the High School Musical craze, ensured they were the wholesome pin-ups of choice for tweens worldwide.
However, for Nick, the youngest of the three brothers, that all presumably feels like a lifetime ago. Gone is the cherubic face and ruffle-ready mop, replaced by a heartthrob image more appropriate for a man of 25. It’s clearly going well. Since properly launching himself as a solo artist three years ago, he’s had a number 2 hit with ‘Jealous’, collaborated with artists such as Anne-Marie, Tove Lo and Nicki Minaj, and been nominated for a Golden Globe for the track ‘Home’. Not only that, his film career is gathering apace too. Just before Christmas, he starred in a remake of the ’90s family classic, Jumanji, alongside Karen Gillan and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and he’s also due to star in next year’s Chaos Walking, based on Patrick Ness’ young adult novel trilogy of the same name.
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“I certainly don’t have a secret recipe as to how it’s done,” Jonas claims down the line from New York, where he’s just finishing up a relaxed family Christmas. “There are going to be some missteps. I’m willing to ride that out and I think the key has just been staying patient.” Clearly, there’s no fool-proof guide on how to Timberlake, and pop history is littered with those who have tried and failed, but you suspect Jonas has had a better schooling than most. He started performing professionally aged seven, and was originally touted as a prodigious solo artist in a Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson mould before the decision was made to launch him alongside his elder brothers.
Unsurprisingly, in conversation, Jonas displays all the hallmarks of someone who’s been dealing with the promo trail practically his entire life. He’s an easy, charming interviewee, able to rattle off answers to questions confidently and without hesitation. Yet he’s constantly hedging his bets, wary of saying anything remotely controversial that could be twisted by a less scrupulous journalist. When he’s quizzed about whether his focus for the coming year is music or film, he sits on the fence and, in a roundabout way, says both.
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I’ve really come into my own as a writer and a storyteller.
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At another point, he states: “There’s no longer a traditional album cycle or a requirement to promote an album. You can really make up your own rules.” When pressed as to whether this means he’ll pursue more non-traditional release strategies in future, he backtracks and says: “I really like the album model. It’s a good creative process and you can tell a longer story.” In a world where your every move is scrutinised to the nth degree, pragmatism is the first line of defence.
That’s just the reality of things when you’re in his position, and especially when you’ve got as much to promote as Nick Jonas has. As well as the two aforementioned movies, there’s the follow-up to his 2016 album, ‘Last Year Was Complicated’, which despite not having an official name or release date at the time of writing, is already recorded and ready to go. “I can’t wait to release it and put it out there for people to hear,” Jonas explains. “I’ve really come into my own as a writer and a storyteller. I’m more sure [of myself], and I think that confidence and peace while creating really helps.”
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That new-found confidence has allowed Jonas to tackle a subject that’s an obvious source for inspiration, yet one he’s never felt comfortable writing about until now: his family. The song ‘Home’, from the animated film Ferdinand, is “the first song I’ve ever written about my family, 12 or 13 years into writing songs.” Despite the Jonas Brothers’ split being officially blamed on that good old industry staple, “musical differences”, ‘Home’ is much more benign in its subject matter. It’s a song about belonging, about knowing there’s always somewhere to return to, no matter what’s been going on in your life.
Clues as to why Jonas sticks to safer topics in his songs stem from his developing approach to songwriting. “I’ve really pushed myself to find the optimism in what I want to say, from the sounds that inspire what I’m doing to the things I’m willing to talk about in my lyrics.” Again, his guard is clearly up, but in such a genial way he can’t help but get you onside.
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I’ve really pushed myself to find the optimism in what I want to say...
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Truth be told, if you had the world at your feet in such a way, you’d be doing everything within your power to ensure you didn’t throw it all in a dumpster as well. He might be a former child star with everything going for him, but as a born entertainer with a deep adoration for his industry and his craft, he’s focused on pushing forward and developing as an artist. He’s even willing to embrace setbacks and bumps in the road that could easily derail someone less driven. “When you really believe in something you’re doing and you’re trying to push yourself but it doesn’t connect with the audience, in a lot of ways, it’s the disappointment of thinking that you aren’t making strides and that you’ve come up short.”
It’s clear that, for Nick Jonas, his art is his number one priority. This unabashed love and perfectionism make him easy to root for, and the fact he’s managed to be in the public eye for so long without anything approaching a scandal is nothing short of astonishing. He views the music industry’s evolution away from draining album promotional cycles as an opportunity to fit in even more work, which is why he’s able to give equal attention to his music and film careers.
Timberlaking ain’t easy, and Nick Jonas is making a better stab at it than pretty much anyone else right now.
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Words: Joe Rivers
Photography: Eric Chakeen
Fashion: Ian Bradley
Creative Direction: Rob Meyers
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