BEVERLY HILLS — The Jonas Brothers are mugging for the camera on the balcony of a posh hotel suite. The photographer asks Kevin to shift his arm.
"Sure, but you've got to pay us first," he says.
Say it ain't so, JoBros!
Has the sweet-natured trio gone Hollywood-cynical already?
Breathe easy. The eldest Jonas is just channeling another upbeat band whose first fans also consisted largely of hyperventilating young girls.
"Have you seen video of The Beatles' first press conference in New York?" Kevin later asks a publicist who didn't catch the Fab Four reference as they walk down the hall to one of nearly two dozen interviews they'll give today. "A reporter asks them a question, and (John Lennon) goes, 'You've got to pay us first.' It's such a great quote."
Comparing any rocking combo to The Beatles risks musical heresy. That said, these three lads from New Jersey — Kevin, 21, Joe, 19, and Nick, 16 — are hot on the Liverpudlians' manic mid-'60s pace.
The trio — which could turn into a quartet if the so-dubbed "Bonus Jonas," Frankie, 8, got shaking — sells millions of records, plays to rabid crowds, has a TV show and, on Feb. 27, unveils new movie Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience.
And then there's the band's pop-culture ubiquity, with appearances at the Grammy Awards (where they just lost best new artist to Adele and jammed with Stevie Wonder), on Saturday Night Live (opposite hot host Alec Baldwin) and in the White House (first fans Malia and Sasha Obama enjoyed an acoustic serenade on move-in day).
All this, and yet just two years ago they traveled to gigs in a van.
It helps, of course, that they're traveling aboard the good ship Disney. The company has put its full weight behind the group with a vision to replicate its wildly lucrative Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana franchise.
The new Jonas Brothers movie is a page straight from the Cyrus playbook. But mixing up-tempo songs with a you-are-there feel (and a few off-stage vignettes to break up the music), the movie aims squarely for anyone with a Jonas jones who failed to get their in-person concert fix.
"Last year, Miley's 3-D movie (of her Best of Both Worlds tour) opened at $31.1 million and ultimately made $65 million in the U.S.," says Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst for Hollywood .com. "With the success of girl-oriented movies like Twilight, the timing for a Jonas movie couldn't be better. If they open at $30 million, few would be shocked."
Music is the moneymaker
Big bucks already are flowing, thanks to album sales. The group's latest release, A Little Bit Longer — their second on Disney's Hollywood Records and a follow-up to the 1.4 million-selling Jonas Brothers— topped Billboard's album chart shortly after its August unveiling and has sold close to 1.5 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Last year's concert tour grossed $41.5 million and was the 13th biggest in North America, "one step above Coldplay," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the touring trade publication Pollstar. "They were the breakout new act of the year. Everyone else out there, from Madonna on down, were the usual suspects. They haven't peaked yet."
All of which has meant that Kevin, Joe and Nick have traded a modest home in New Jersey for spreads in Los Angeles and Dallas, and trips in vans for travel aboard a Gulfstream jet. Might they be flying too high too fast?
The boys shake their heads; they're happily grounded.
"We see artists take years off just to regroup, but we're really enjoying all this," Kevin says as the three plop down on a sofa three-quarters of the way through a day of media chats. A publicist nearby keeps an eagle eye on the interview clock.
"We're still growing as musicians," Nick says. His voice is soft, but when he speaks, the older boys defer to him. "All this attention and success is flattering, but we've got a long way to go."
Would they consider going solo? "We all have dreams of our own, sure," Joe says. "But a band is a band. We're in it together."
Disney minders may be close at hand, but this Three Musketeers patter sounds genuine, born of road-trip-to-nowhere gigs with their pastor father, Kevin Sr., 43. Their affection for one another seems real, much like their teen-zine-ready good looks.
Nick is ruggedly casual in a plaid shirt with rolled-up sleeves, jeans and boots. Kevin, in a leather jacket, cops a Brando look. And Joe, alone with his natural curls slicked down, summons an '80s vibe with a collarless jacket and skinny tie.
And always, those photo-op-ready smiles.
"They're good kids," says "Big Rob" Feggans, who stands guard outside the hotel suite door. He's the mountain of a bodyguard who was drafted by the guys to rap on their hit song Burnin' Up.
"I don't rap, but they wanted me to be involved, so I gave it a try. That's just the way they are," he says. "As far as I'm concerned, anything they get, they deserve."
A straight line to success
Their genuine, raised-right demeanor is the best thing about the band, says Karleigh Santry, 16, of Erie, Pa., who along with her sister, Katie, 18, started jonasbrothersfan.com.
"Sure, they're cute, but mostly they're great role models and their music is clean," says Karleigh, who says she has been to at least 50 Jonas Brothers concerts. "A lot of people say you have to be 10 to like them. But what they write about, well, it's really what teens talk about."
No less than Rolling Stone put the JoBros on its cover last summer, along with a four-star review of the new album. "Our point there was, like it or not, they're making a kind of power-pop that hasn't been seen since the days of Cheap Trick," says Caryn Ganz, the rock magazine's pop music critic. "They may have the prefab look, but they play and write their music."
Ganz says the band's next album will be scrutinized by those critics who have elevated them from manufactured boy band to genuine artists. "Their fans are mostly crazy, fanatical tweens, and they'll stick by them," she says. "But if they make anything less than a great record, critically they'll be in trouble."
Down the road, there are a few possible avenues for the Jonas Brothers to take.
There's the route taken by another brotherly trio, Hanson. After their 1997 hit MMMBop, Hanson "quietly went off to make records on their own, none of which do that well, but they've got money and are doing just fine," says David Smay, co-editor of Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth: The Dark History of Prepubescent Pop, From the Banana Splits to Britney Spears.
The other option is to break from their Disney roots and follow former Mouseketeer Justin Timberlake. Or at least one of them might. "I can see Nick doing that in particular," Smay says. "Maybe going off and finding some great musicians to work with, forming a new band and leaving the Jonas name behind."
It's nothing personal
You're not going to get the Jonas boys to go down that speculative path. Leaning forward on their elbows, the three offer mostly short answers to a range of questions.
Nick on coping with type 1 diabetes for the past three years: "At first, I thought, 'Why me?' But the more I told my story to people, I thought, 'Why not me?' It's an opportunity."
Kevin on the famous girls in their lives, singer/songwriter Taylor Swift, 19, who appears in the new concert film, and Miley Cyrus, 16: "We saw both of them all week leading up to the Grammys. They're great friends. It's neat to hear a new generation of musicians come up."
Nick shuts the door: "We choose not to talk about our dating lives."
Joe on their new home in Dallas: "It's on a golf course. We love to ride around on the carts and talk to the older guys."
Nick: "We cause havoc."
Kevin: "Well, not really havoc."
With touring and moviemaking and interview-giving, when do they write songs?
Nick: "We have downtime during the filming of our TV show (Disney Channel's J.O.N.A.S.). We're starting songs for the next album and will rehearse soon."
Not many minutes in, the audience ends. The boys rise in unison, each thrusting out a hand and apologizing for the rush.
You sense they mean it, but the Disney trains must run on time. The boys sit back down and another questioner enters.
A few days later, the phone rings. It's the Jonas Brothers. The first meeting was too brief, and Disney offers up another shot at the trio. They're curious about the reaction to a preview screening of their 3-D film, which opens with a chased-through-New York nod to The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night. Told that the movie was obscured by 70-odd minutes of shrieking audience members, Nick laughs.
"Well, it's not always like that," he says, unconvincingly.
"We're definitely fans of A Hard Day's Night, and we wanted people to see what goes on behind the scenes a bit, too," Kevin says.
That would include the brothers waking up (cue screams from the audience) and changing backstage (louder screams).
How do they get away from the estrogen-fueled mayhem?
"We love to play golf, or whiffle ball or football, mostly with the guys in the band," Nick says. "But right now, we're writing a lot."
The next album is due this summer; they are five songs into the project. Nick starts to list the group's influences, which include "a lot of classic artists, like Elvis Costello and Prince and …"
His voice grows faint, then the line abruptly goes dead. It's easy to picture them being hustled off to another room, another interview, another engagement, another city.
Just another day in the outsized life of the Jonas Brothers.
[Source: USA Today]