When Did Nick Jonas Become a Pop Star?

If you told me six months ago that Nick Jonas, one-third of the Jonas Brothers, would be poised for genuine pop superstardom, I probably would’ve laughed.

It wouldn’t have been a malicious laugh. It’s just that the premise seemed so unlikely. After the Jonas Brothers imploded last year, for reasons no one really understands, can anyone be blamed for believing that we’ve heard the last of Nick and his brothers, besides an occasional tabloid mention?

And yet, here we are. Nick Jonas is on the cusp of being the first viable male pop star whose name isn’t Justin Timberlake or Usher.

But how, and why?

In July, Jonas released “Chains”, a gritty slow-burner that absolutely no one could’ve expected from him. It was released the same day as the trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey movie, and the connections made themselves. It was a stroke of genius on Jonas and his team’s part, and even though the song didn’t make a huge dent, it would foreshadow a series of smart choices that would recast Jonas into the edgier adult he needed to be, to be truly taken seriously.

Then “Jealous” was released. Where “Chains” was dirty and dark (as dark as 21 year old child star can get), his album’s second single was bouncy and bright, with enough edge to inspire a think piece or two about the song’s lyrics. His voice, which has never been particularly strong, took on a soul-lite growl that should’ve come off as contrived, but worked for him. “Jealous” was the perfect song to ignite his first real stab at a solo jaunt, and the song started spinning regularly on radio and rising on iTunes.

“Jealous” probably would’ve done fine with radio support and a performance or two on talk shows. Instead, Nick Jonas did a magazine shoot for Flaunt Magazine in his underwear. The reaction was swift, on both social media and the charts. Within hours, “Jealous” shot into the top ten of iTunes, and stayed there (minus a reprieve caused by the single version being deleted in favor of the album version).

It would be easy to write off that magazine shoot as a shameless attention-seeking stunt. Well, it is. Like Miley Cyrus before him, he is working against years of Disney-branded innocence that people still link with him. It’s understandable that he wants to change people’s perception of him, if not completely incinerate it like Miley did. Where Nick differs from Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber is the music. For Miley and Justin, their songs took a back seat to all of the tweaking and joyriding, all actions to prove their perceived maturity. Sure, Nick got a little naked, but that’s no different from any pop star. As for his newfound adulthood no sexuality, he is letting the music for itself, and the music is good. Much better than anyone probably expected.

Five songs from his album have been released: the aforementioned singles, “Numb” featuring rapper Angel Haze, “Teacher” and “Wilderness,” and they all have been genuinely good songs. They don’t sound like a boy pretending to be a grownup singing about sex. No, Nick seems to be completely in tune with his sexuality and how his music can reflect it. So far, it’s been trippy, funky, dark, and pretty fun. Most important, it’s distinctive. The reason why Nick is pop’s most viable male star is because his songs sound like only he could be singing them, or at least he has a vested interest in them. It’s something lacking in pop music in general, but severely so with men, with Jason DeRulo and Pitbull as serial offenders. Nick Jonas is shaping up to be the breath of fresh air we all knew we needed, but couldn’t find.

If you also told me six months ago that I would actually be looking forward to Nick Jonas’ first album, I would’ve probably laughed too. Then again, I underestimated him back then. I won’t be making that mistake this time around.

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