Burnin’ Up in the Year 2019

On Thursday night, I had the surreal experience of seeing the Jonas Brothers live in concert for the first time. (!!!) The JoBros are the first band I ever stanned, before I knew what stanning was. Joe was my #1 celeb crush, and little did I know I’d end up dating a Kevin (lolol). I’ve been wearing an H&M kids top with Joe’s face on it for the past 10 years (one of my best birthday presents), and I’m pleased to say that the shirt is still as good as new. The Jonas Brothers were, and this is no exaggeration, essential to my teenage years. As the title of this review suggests, this essay is first and foremost a review of the JoBros’ Happiness Begins Tour. And yet, like almost everything else of significance in the year 2019, this essay will also be a reflection on what it means to make a comeback, to feel nostalgic, to sing along to “Burnin’ Up” in an age of global warming…

…but first, the concert. The JoBros have been hyping up their return since early 2019 (some might argue since December 2018, with Nick and Priyanka’s highly publicized marriage). The brothers debuted their most acclaimed single yet, “Sucker”; took over the James Corden show for a week; released a documentary on Amazon. Each promo move reinforced how much they have grown up and glown-up. A decade ago, they were stereotyped as Disney’s pet boyband. Few critics took them seriously, and media outlets refused to let go of their “purity rings.” Now, the JoBros are married men who could each easily grace the cover of GQ. They’ve gone on to pursue successful solo careers, which include Kevin’s ventures into real estate. But, after 10+ years, are they able to find the space to relive their past? Their Happiness Begins Tour answers that question with a resounding yes. The tour (and album’s) opening song, “Rollercoaster,” is a heartfelt promise to the value of bygone days: “It was fun when we were young and now we’re older / Those days that are the worst, they seem to glow now / We were up-and-down and barely made it over / But I’d go back and ride that roller coaster with you.” Full disclosure: the moment the brothers stepped out in sync to perform this song, I immediately WEPT. 

Throughout the night, the JoBros performed a selection of songs from their new album. Highlights included the snazzy “Only Human,” smooth “I Believe,” and poignant “Hesitate,” which was probably the most moving musical moment of the night. The brothers got up on the B stage (close to where I was!!) which rose in the air as large glowing balloons levitated around the room. It. Was. Magical.

Unsurprisingly, however, it was the brothers’ old hits that carried the concert. In one of the JoBros’ first interviews with James Corden, he had said, “Lovebug still slaps.” And guess what? It totally does. It’s remarkable how well these songs have aged. If “Lovebug” came out in the year 2019, I believe it would be a massive hit. The guitar riff has a Jason Mraz catchiness to it, and its transition from acoustic to electric rock is golden. The song itself achieves what the JoBros have with their return: soared from youthful territory to mature ground. In the original (and lovely) music video, you see the brothers all dressed up in vintage clothing, looking awkwardly older than they really are. But listen to the song in 2019, and you’ll realize that the tune is now timeless. And we’ve all caught the Jonas bug again. 

In interviews, the chemistry between the brothers is infectious, and they’re naturally humorous. And yet, I found myself wishing for more brother-brother banter during the live show. For most of the night, each brother seemed to command their own stage presence. But they do so incredibly well, in a way that would not have been possible in the early 2000s, when they were presented as if they were triplets joined at the hip. Solo-brother moments were outstanding during the concert. Nick’s rendition of “Jealous” (Joe joined for the second verse) and Joe’s delivery of “Cake By the Ocean” were among the top performances of the night. I mean, giant inflatable slinkies shot up into the air for the latter song. The crazy-crazy and smooth personas that Joe and Nick have respectively adopted during the solo careers shone in both performances. And Kevin got his moment, too; throughout the night, a big screen showed clips of the grown-up brothers interacting with versions of their younger selves (played by other kids). The best scene was of a young Kevin running into adult Kevin with his two daughters in a forest (I think the entire audience went “AWWWW” at the same time). That scene then transitioned into Kevin playing the piano live for “When You Look Me in the Eyes,” another perfect ballad. Although there wasn’t much intersibling dialogue, at least on Thursday night in Chicago, the JoBros find a way to belong on stage together while each harnessing a unique rockstar confidence. 

Moreover, to the JoBros’ credit, they were trying to fit a ton of songs into two hours. I’m not sure there was much time for chatter. Even cute surprises for the audience felt rushed; it was Danielle’s birthday recently, and she was invited onto the B stage to be serenaded and blow out candles. And yet, the intermission lasted probably around one minute; I don’t think the cake was even cut! It was a cute and sweet moment, nonetheless. Another moment that felt rushed was the multi-song mashup towards the end of the show; the JoBros played a smorgasbord of deep cuts, ranging from “Mandy” to “World War III” to “Hold On.” But the medley felt slightly forced, at least to my ear. 

That being said, if you’re an OG JoBro fan who wants to relive your childhood and feel revived at the same time, the Happiness Begins tour absolutely delivers. I particularly love how the brothers saved “Burnin’ Up” and “Sucker” for the encore, ending with both an iconic blast from the past and a confident delivery of their best-ever hit from just this year. The message they convey with their performance is that yes, they would ride their childhood rollercoaster again, but now they’re on a whole new high. 

Alas, time is everyone’s best frenemy. The JoBros’ powers have doubled since we last met. They’ve made a veritable comeback, and the songs they abandoned for years seem unscathed by age. But the best perspective is often retrospective, and it’s inevitable that songs like “Burnin’ Up” and “Year 3000” rub us differently today than they did 10+ years ago. Today, the world is burnin’ up, baby. The song is more relatable as an unintentional and unwitting climate change anthem than just another pop song about a crush. As the Jonas Brothers sang “Year 3000,” I seriously also found myself wondering whether we as a planet will even make it to then. In the Year 3000, the song predicts, we’ll be living underwater. And “your great-great-great-granddaughter” shall be “doin’ fine.” Not much will have changed. Except, we’re watching the effects of climate change take a toll on our planet every day. When the JoBros ask, “baby who turned the temperature hotter,” we must unironically ask the same question about the earth. Even “Cool” from their new album, with the line “I’m feelin’ so cool,” seems relevant through a climate perspective; it’s lyrically the temperature antithetical to “Burnin’ Up.” 

The Jonas Brothers are a perfect example of how saving underrated moments of our past is possible. They show that taking a decade off to work on self-care and betterment is essential for enabling togetherness. They suggest that there’s no time like the present to fight for what we really want. 10 years since their split, the JoBros are still doin’ fine. By all means, their show is teenage May’s dream come true, and I had the best time singing along to their songs at the top of my lungs. But I can’t help but wonder: In the year 3000, if we get there, will we still be boppin’ along to “Burnin’ Up”? 

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