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A Man, a Plan, a Fedora: Nick Jonas Rebrands

A conversation with Nick Jonas, former Jonas Brother and current fedora enthusiast.
September 29, 2014, 2:15pm

So, Nick Jonas was wearing a fedora. And, in the context of every person, including myself, at the “Urban Picnic” event where Nick Jonas was performing new songs being there, perhaps existing at all, solely because he was Nick Jonas, he wore it well. Hell, rakishly even. After all, words like “bro” or “hipster” or “uncool” or “over” burn up like meteorites in the atmosphere of celebrity. Sitting as the picture of serenity on one of those couches that are more collection of grey footstools than couch, surrounded by handlers, PR flacks, and presumably the VP of digital marketing at Island Records, Nick Jonas could have been wearing the Bush administration on his head and I would have been hard pressed to tell him it didn’t look at least pretty alright. I was there, on a Wednesday night during Fashion week, ready to live my 20 minutes with Nick Jonas, as granted to me by his PR team, to the fullest.

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The famous are different; they can wear fedoras.

But it’s not just the hat. I shouldn’t fixate on the hat. The impenetrability of pop stars is, at this point, cliché. But it still feels like Nick Jonas, youngest and most often shirtless of the Jonas Brothers, inhabits a world that exists on a different vibrational pattern than the one in which you and I exist. This is understandable. He’s been famous since he was 15 and groomed to be famous since the age of seven. Talking to him is like talking to a Jeff Koons’ sculpture; you know there’s something going on, both overt partisans and detached pop “fan” intellectuals will insist on it, and to hint that there’s no “there” there is to be joyless and hopelessly square, and, really, having a cursory knowledge of pop art and pop music, your loath to not indulge the obvious pleasures of the surface. He’s sweet and ostensibly open and you get what people mean when they describe a handsome surfer they’re dating as “soulful,” everyone tells you there’s something go on; at least two of his handlers called him “the deepest guy I know” and, really, you hope there’s something going on; fuck the hipsters and snobs what the hell do they know, right?

But there Nick Jonas was, soft-spoken and empathy-eyed; all gloss and shell. When you look at him, you just want to reach across the distance between yourself and the Nick Jonas sculpture and just… give it a couple hard taps. Just to make sure.

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We were the side gallery to the main event, the building designated for tonight’s interviews. I’m after a TV interview where Nick was being accosted on camera by whoever Leeza Gibbons is in 2014. The handlers seemed pleased to see me, and were sweet and gracious, immediately putting me at unease. The walls of the space were covered in the type expensive art that artists complain about: big, bold, and if you put a gun to my head I’d still fail to describe it.

Nick Jonas told me he liked my shoes—burgundy John Fluevogs, FYI—and that clearly meant enough to me that I’m bragging about it here. The interview was, to be honest, awkward. Or rather, it was so self-contained as to be an entire universe unto itself, a universe wholly centered around, and birthed from, Nick Jonas’s ability to stay on point. It would have felt rapturous to be there at a new universes’ God’s first yawn but instead it just made my hands itch. At one point during the interview, when I was entirely cowed into silence at just how nowhere the whole thing was going, Nick Jonas began singing Next’s ode to boner anxiety, “Too Close.” I didn’t recognize it but both he and his team were more than pleased to explain it to me.

I asked Nick about whether he’d always leaned towards R&B in his heart, despite the JoBros’ positioning as Demi Lovato’s toothsome rocker pals.

“I feel like what happened was I first started really listening to music and loving music and what I was really inspired by was Stevie Wonder, Jackson Five, The Bee Gees, kind of what my dad brought us up on. And when we signed with Columbia Records, some people came in and started working on a project who were like, ‘You guys are gonna be this, like, young teenage punk rock band!’”

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I responded, “You guys were pushed as The Strokes who didn’t do coke.”

“Exactly,” he said, seemingly pleased, which made me pleased. “That’s a really good way to put it.”

I backtracked. “I’m assuming you guys didn’t do coke. That might be an unfair assumption.”

“Lots of Diet Coke. But no, no cocaine.”

Speaking of cocaine, I should reiterate that this was Fashion Week, the time in New York when Paper Magazine interns really get to shine. This particular Fashion Week party was in Tribeca. A drunken real estate guy who claimed to work upstairs and kept bumming cigarettes off me and threatening to turn Nick Jonas gay, pointed out the block nearby where Taylor Swift had recently moved in. The rest of the party was made up of the sort of models and hangers-on that populate the sort of Fashion Week parties that a person like me, a solid six and a half aesthetically and connected but only to a point, can get into. There was free sushi and…White Castle, which seemed to Jonas’s team a real coup of realness, but which caused me to become physically embarrassed at my own vegetarianism. Luckily, there was champagne.

After Nick’s performance, which was not soulless by any stretch but perhaps a bit antiseptic (the fists were clenched, the eyes were clenched, and it was dramatic in a “musical theatre” sense but not necessarily a “genuinely dramatic” sense), one of his handlers brought me over to meet his brother, Joe. If it was a move meant to disarm me, it worked. As soon as I found out Joe liked TV on the Radio, which Joe volunteered when I asked him what he was listening to, I started sending him hectoring emails trying to get him to get drunk with me. I had Joe’s email because Joe gave it to me so he could send me cool mixes on Spotify. It was only after my second or third email asking if Joe was going join me at the bar (“And hey! Bring your brother if he’s down!!”) that I realized that I’d actually just joined Joe’s email list.

In my interview with Nick Jonas—which he took part in as promotion for his new single “Jealous” and for which his PR people provided bullet points which I ignored as well as a list of “off limits” topics which included a bunch of shit (“relationships with…Bieber, Miley, Demi, etc…”) I can’t ever imagine anyone ever even being remotely curious about—Mr. Jonas used the word “fun” more often than I have not only used but have actually heard in my 39 years on this planet. Fun, for Nick Jonas, is a great equalizing force that eliminates complication or ugly greys. Fun is both transcendent and grounding. Fun is an answer. In fact, the word “fun” was part of almost every answer Nick Jonas gave me in a 20-minute interview that, I suspect for both of us, felt 25. In the interests of keeping our lives as sleek and streamlined and, yes, fun as they deserve to be, I’ve omitted my obsequious kowtowing in the face of annihilating fedora-ed celebrity, and just included Nick Jonas’s quotes that contained the word, the essence, the spirit of fun. Enjoy, like there was any other option.

Nick Jonas on “Jealous” (the song), general heaviness.
“I think that that’s the interesting thing about this song in general is that most guys probably are afraid to talk about jealousy cause it leaves you vulnerable. Um, but I feel like some of the best art is done when you are vulnerable and you’re able to talk about things that make you uncomfortable. And, you know, with this song in particular it was kind of like, ‘Fuck it, let’s just leave it all out on the table, and just have fun with it as well.’ I don’t think it’s too heavy, you know, that’s the fun part about it.”

Nick Jonas on “Jealous” (the song), its place in the pantheon of songs about jealousy (the emotion).
“I didn't really think about other songs that talked about jealousy when I wrote it, even now. Cause I think that it is actually more than actually more than just the word jealous, it’s kind of the whole idea of this, like, ‘Why don’t we just talk about the things no one wants to talk about, and also make it fun as well?’ and danceable, and soulful.”

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Nick Jonas on his ladyfriend’s reaction to “Jealous” (the song).
“She loves the song. Yeah. It was fun when she heard it because she was really aware of the event that happened as the precursor, and we only started dating about a year ago so you know I hadn’t really been writing music that much about real life experiences. I was doing a lot of writing with other people for their music, so this was, like, the first time there was a song about her or that she inspired so you know it was a fun moment for us and she loves the song now and is actually in the video. Easy casting job.”

Nick Jonas on something that happened.
“That was pretty fun.”

Nick Jonas on the problematic aspects of a song about jealousy (the emotion) in today’s climate.
“I think there’s a lot of songs about a lot of things that could be taken the wrong way. If you listen to the song, I think you know exactly what the heart of it is. There’s also the setup of the song, and in an interview setting and explaining where it came from – and then explaining what the song actually talks about. So I don’t think anywhere in it is there ‘I was gonna use my physicality to beat someone up because they looked at my girlfriend.’ I think it’s more about, ‘This happened, I felt this way, here’s a song about it.’ You know, and way less intense than that, as it relates to the sense of ownership and I think that I have tremendous respect for all people, specifically women, and I feel that it’s about both people in a relationship feeling like they have trust with someone else, and you know, knowing that they’re yours in the sense that they love you is different than ‘they’re yours’ as in they have a chain.”

Nick Jonas responding to me saying, “You do give it a twist at the end where it becomes more passionate. Like, girl, I like it when you…”
“Get jealous too. It’s fun.”

Like all fun things, it was all over too fast if it happened at all. Jonas performed a few of his songs to at large enough crowd of enthusiastic listeners and a larger crowd of enthusiastic existers. His band was tight and, in an unfortunate Fashion Week tradition, the only black people in the room. I strained to see if Nick was lip-synching but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t. His voice was lovely. The members of his team next to me were rapturous. “He’s the deepest guy I know.” I didn’t doubt it. I shook some hands, got some free Fashion Week pizza, and walked to the West Village to sit in an empty bar and get to emailing Joe Jonas’s email list to see if he and his brother wanted to hang out with me.

Zachary Lipez just wants to have fun. Have fun with him on Twitter - @ZacharyLipez