nick jonas is growing up and letting go
As a boy, Nick Jonas grew up in the public eye. Now, he’s finally free to be the man he wants to be.
Meeting with Nick Jonas is like interviewing Bruce Wayne freshly transitioned from a night on the prowl as Batman. Firstly, he's getting his face taken off by an assistant, who pats down his cheekbones for remnants of photoshoot make-up. Secondly, he talks like Bruce, as he sits on a couch with his arm around an imaginary companion: steady, meticulous, with little margin for humor. But unlike Gotham's playboy, Jonas is a little more willing to let the cat out the bag. "I've been getting beat up for two days in a row. Last night I went till 2am," he says, very seriously.
As well as being a popstar, the 22-year-old is an actor. He's in LA filming Kingdom, a TV series in which he plays a gay MMA fighter. His approach is precise. "Last year I was 175 lbs and put on 15 lbs of muscle," he says. "This year my character goes down to competition weight so I had to lose that mass. It's about goals." On-set fighting must remind Jonas of the battle he faces in the pop arena, where he's shifted over 180,000 copies of his second album in the US alone since last November. "There's certainly a lot of roughhousing," he says -- about filming Kingdom, not the pop arena. In terms of the latter? "Having had about five careers already, I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly." That's about as controversial as Jonas gets.
His thoughts on the Twitter beef between Nicki Minaj and his buddy Taylor Swift amount to "intense." He's diplomatic too about former Disney colleagues, including business partner Demi Lovato -- with whom he runs Safehouse Records -- and his former sweetheart, VMA awards host Miley Cyrus. "I'm blown away by her, she's fearless. Disney was our high school. We all dated and broke each other's…" he pauses. Then, like a 70-year-old retiree, Jonas concludes, "There's a lot of life lived between all of us."
Jonas is hoping to secure his own MTV gong via Crowd Surfing. Not actual crowd-surfing -- "I don't do that. People start grabbing" -- but a social media tool that encourages fans to engage with artists more "organically." Work aside, Jonas does not endorse the ways of the modern world. "Social media is not important," he says. "It's discouraging when you go to dinner with friends and their priority is posting pictures of the food and not having a good conversation." Jonas finds selfie culture particularly "bizarre." There's little hesitation when asked what the most extreme circumstance in which he's had someone request a selfie. "The bathroom," he retorts. "I was in the urinal, he was in the stall, we were back-to-back. He took a picture with the door open with me in the background peeing. The bathroom is not the place for pictures. Like most people I do not like being photographed while I pee." Is there anyone he'd break his no-selfies rule for? "Daniel Craig. In the right environment I'd say, 'DC. Let's get a pic'."
In terms of life experience, Nicholas Jerry Jonas is older than his years. In 2005, he and his two older brothers, Kevin and Joe, put on their purity rings and formed teen rock/pop group The Jonas Brothers. The trio performed with Paul McCartney at the White House, sold 20 million records by the time Nick turned 18, and split in 2013. Only a few boyband members have achieved emancipation successfully. Justin Timberlake emphatically freed himself from *Nsync with a grown-up cover of Rolling Stone in 2003. Zayn Malik has shed One Direction shackles via Soundcloud and artwork reminiscent of a Takashi Murakami illustration. Nick firmly declared his tween pop chapter over via a risqué magazine shoot last November. He appeared shirtless while grabbing his crotch in a homage to Mark Wahlberg. "I sent [my parents] shots as a heads-up. My dad replied, 'You know where you get that from!'" I laugh. He doesn't.
"It was uncomfortable." Jonas mentions being uncomfortable a lot. A sense of self-doubt allowed him to pen his most mature album to date, his second, titled Nick Jonas. It's an 11-track urban take on mainstream pop, featuring hit singles Chains and Jealous, the latter Jonas attributes to not just redefining his career, but his life. "The biggest compliment is when people hear my music and don't believe it's me," he says, without irony. "Every day there's an element of risk. How are people going to react? I don't put any pressure on myself. There's an acceptance for me as a solo artist, as a man. But if people don't like me, I'm not crushed."
The record was written with the likes of Mike Posner [Pharrell, Big Sean] and Sir Nolan [Justin Bieber, Jason Derulo], and includes a remix from Stormzy and a trap collaboration with Detroit rapper Angel Haze. "I played her [the song] Numb. She flipped out, wrote a verse in 15 minutes and killed it." Jonas turned to alternative R&B -- the likes of Frank Ocean, Jhené Aiko and The Weeknd -- for sonic inspiration. "I also look up to Kanye and Lady Gaga. She makes an impact without being afraid of anything. Unapologetic artistry is the best. You respect the people who are moving and shaking and not listening to anybody's naysaying. That's the kind of artist I hope to be," he says. "With the Brothers, it wasn't always very human. Now I say what I want."
He does what he wants too, albeit in this consistent business-like way. When asked about his July gig in London at G-A-Y, being chained up for a literal performance of Chains by a group of cross-dressers, he responds, "It was interesting." Whose idea was that? "I walked in and they said, 'We want to chain you up.' They thought I was going to say, 'Hell no, I'm not doing that.' But I said, 'Fuck it, let's go.' Actually, it was kind of cool. There was a moment when I thought my circulation might get cut off while I was singing." Jonas's past experience makes him an expert at navigating constraints. Now he wants to let go.
"When I went solo, I figured out what I wanted my opinions to be," he says. "Accepting the gay community was a priority because they've been so accepting of me." He's all for America's legalization of same-sex marriage. "My message is not just acceptance but action. I don't view it as my battle, but I'm happy to raise my voice for a cause that I believe in." The only thing Jonas takes lightly is the stuff outside of his control. Particularly, fame. "Early advice: Never believe your own hype. I don't mean to sound like a dick. Famous people who are frustrated about people's interest in their personal life exhaust me. It's so narcissistic to think that anybody cares."
Aside from Kingdom, Jonas is filming a James Franco production called Goat. He plays a college frat boy. Between that and horror TV series Scream Queens, he insists he's had his taste of college experience. "I once visited Northwestern thinking I'd go there. I'd like to believe I could have been an English major. The dumb part is that I don't enjoy reading that much." He laughs. Finally. For a 22-year-old I wonder: Why so serious? "I looked at the calendar the other day. My birthday is coming up," he says - organized. "I've never felt the age that I am. But now I feel like I'm starting to catch up. Now I'm the age I've been my entire life."
Text Eve Barlows
Photography Beau Grealy
Styling Nicolas Klam
Grooming Mira Chai Hyde at Walter Schulpfer using Chanel Blue EdP and Le Lift
Photography assistance Bummy
Photography technician Ross Morrison
Styling assistance Ali Miller
Nick wears all clothing DSquared2