Last fall, Nick Jonas sang the same lines every white child star clamoring to maintain relevancy as an adult entertainer recites while promoting his debut solo album.
In one interview, he claimed, “At times, it is surreal looking left and right and not seeing my brothers.” Those are likely the same lines Justin Timberlake fed his *NSYNC band mates when he departed the group—while dually stifling laughter about JC Chasez sharing similar plans for solo stardom. In a separate interview, Jonas said of his self-titled debut album, “The sound of the album is kind of an alternative pop/R&B feel.” He proceeded to note “I’ve got soul as my roots in the vocal space” while referencing Stevie Wonder and Prince—two artists all acts reference to convey seriousness and artistry.
However, Jonas also referenced the Weeknd and Jhené Aiko, and it’s an important distinction because it has given him space to exist within a particular strain of R&B where he might actually fit. Jonas did not prove that so much on the album itself—it’s far more “alternative pop” than R&B—but has so on subsequent remixes of “Jealous” and “Chains.” Each is accompanied by someone who falls somewhere in between the ever-expanding definition of R&B, Tinashe and Jhené Aiko, respectively.
While I somewhat cringe at the phrase “alternative R&B” and similar names that scream “Ooh, I’m so different,” there is a certain bareness to it—and that differs substantially from what the likes of K. Michelle are offering. Frankly, that bareness gives singers who are more equipped to coo and whisper than sing a more fitting space to exist in. Conversely, it lets the likes of Nick Jonas really shine because though he may not be the most soulful person around, he can certainly carry a much higher note than the people he’s been covering in the studio and on the road.
This is different from say, Miley Cyrus, who despite working with Mike WiLL Made-It on Bangerz, proved that an ability to sing doesn’t mean one should try singing everything. Her annoying caricature of black music and culture got attention, but musically she continues to be at her best when she’s jocking Dolly Parton.
And I don’t care how many times mainstream publications declare this: Sam Smith is not the new face of soul. If that’s soul singing, a pumpkin spice latte goes perfectly with a plate of oxtails, black-eyed peas, and greens. Sticking a black choir behind you doesn’t make you or your song soulful. That’s a lesson Nick Jonas should also carry with him. I watched the video for his gospel twist to “Jealous.” God bless him, but that should never happen again.
Read the rest at Complex.