In 2009, if you had told me that I’d willing listen to a Jonas Brothers record in 2019, I’d probably say something that I’d be ashamed of in 2019. While it’s difficult for me to discuss what qualified as insanely popular and well-discussed pop music at that point in time, I can tell you that the Jonas Brothers were hits in the eighth and ninth grade circa 2007-2009. Their 2019 return as a mature pop act is an easy sell to nostalgic twenty-somethings and a chance for reassessment from pretentious Marilyn Manson fans. With Happiness Begins, the trio’s reinvention cements their credibility beyond teenie-boppers, but does little to set them apart from their new contemporaries.
What’s most interesting about the Jonas Brother’s collection of songs on Happiness Begins is how subdued most of the songs are. While hits like “Burnin’ Up” or “SOS” were explosive, instantly catchy pop-rock bangers, for the most part Kevin, Nick, and Joe seem to prefer tender ballads and chilled out anthems rather than infectious choruses. The closest they come to their old stadium-potential is on the G. Love-reminiscent “Cool” or debut single “Sucker.” For the most part though, chilled-out 80’s ballads (“I Believe”) or R&B where the “R” stands for “Reggae” (“Only Human”). Of course, the stylistic switch probably isn’t a bad idea. Their fans aren’t looking to scream at them like they’re The Beatles at Shea; their fans want to drink wine on Sunday nights with their friends. When JB was at their peak popularity in the late-aughts, there were still tons of “guitar bands” that were huge, but now as more people have embraced pop as a viable source of music, it’s no surprise that the trio have leaned into those tendencies to make an album in the same realm as thank u, next or 1989. In terms of appealing to a more mature fanbase, this record is genius. A friend of mine commented how with their upcoming tour, “The people that grew up with them have money now, and I’m going to get the VIP experience[i].” This album is suited for rustic brunches, rooftop bars, and smoking weed in the summer.
There are plenty of great songs here that set a summertime mood. “Happy When I’m Sad” has a great groove and is honest about mental health. “Strangers” is an ideal track for rolling the windows down when driving to the beach. “I Believe” is sure to soundtrack a few summer flings, and there’s no better contender for song of the summer than “Sucker.” Releasing the record right as June is starting is one of the smartest things the Jonases can do, and I’m sure to bob my head to some of these as I’m on my way to barbecues or bougie bars. That doesn’t really solve the record’s big problem though, and that’s that it’s boring.
Not that the Jonas Brothers reinvented the wheel when they were teenagers, but there’s nothing really innovative in this record. There are occasional references to using substances or more mature relationships, but the songs are somehow more vapid than those on their self-titled album. While their earliest albums had the charm of youthful ignorance, Happiness Begins has the mediocrity of a bored twenty-four year old. There’s little excitement or experimentation, and it does show. This record doesn’t seem like a cash-grab, but it doesn’t feel like a passionate reunion either.
With Happiness Begins, the Jonas Brothers are providing a reunion effort that will probably satiate some of their older fans. The maturity sometimes can be transcendent in providing a ~vibe~, but there’s little substance to put them in a league of their own. They’re just the players who should’ve retired while Ariana Grande and Travis Scott take over.
[i]She ended up not getting the VIP experience, but she’s still going to see them.