The Jonas Brothers Just Brought Back 2008 YouTube Absurdity
My name is Bridget, and I suffer from OJD.
Or, I did, back when I was an overzealous middle schooler and the cultural zeitgeist, myself included, had not yet acknowledged the deep-rooted ableism in a term like OJD: Obsessive Jonas Disorder. Regardless, in the summer of 2008, I plastered every inch of my bedroom wall (and the sides of my furniture, and briefly, parts of my ceiling) in Jonas Brothers posters, primarily from tween magazines like J-14, Twist, and POP! I spent many an afternoon in my parents’ basement, crafting elaborate posters to enthusiastically thrust in the air at The Jonas Brothers’ concert in August (which were sadly confiscated before I could enter the venue #rip). Perhaps most interestingly, I spent hours online watching and re-watching YouTube videos posted on their official channel.
These videos, especially when viewed in 2019, are, for lack of a better term, weird. Perhaps the one that most epitomizes the unusual style is “Killing Time,” posted in 2009 to promote their upcoming concert documentary: The Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience. The 63-second video begins normally, depicting Kevin and Nick as they pursue ordinary activities: pinball and guitar. However, it then transitions to Joe, dressed in all black and sunglasses, taking a clock off the wall and violently smashing it with a baseball bat. Abruptly, the end credits roll, claiming: “No clocks were harmed during the making of this video. Joe put that one back together with tender loving care and super glue, hand wound it back to the correct time setting, and returned it to its original place on the wall. It took him 4 days.” But while this needlessly dramatic behavior and reliance on simple puns seems particularly strange in 2019, “Killing Time,” and similar absurdist short videos like “Jonas Brothers Nick Jonas show,” “Your Daily Dose of Jonas,” and “Scratch and Sniff Jonas” completely embody the 2007-2009 era of YouTube culture.
Being a fan in 2008 was a strange time. Everyone had access to the internet, so there were message boards, fan pages, and YouTube accounts, all drowned in Jonas Brothers content. However, at the same time, social media sites like Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr—now home base for online fandoms—either had not been created or were not widely used. There was less connection between artists and fans as there is today; artists regularly follow fans on Twitter or host Instagram Live sessions to offer an peek into their lives. Nevertheless, in ‘08, we entered into a time where this kind of connection was beginning. They were no longer untouchable idols.
And so, there was YouTube: a mysterious new website where anyone could post videos of themselves—whether goofing around with their friends or posting serialized stories created on OneTrueMedia that told scandalous tales of Disney stars dating, cheating, and everything in between. (These are real, I spent an embarrassing amount of time watching them, and you can check out some prime examples here.)
What’s particularly interesting about YouTube culture in 2008, especially when compared to our ultra-glossy online personalities in 2019, is how amateurish and crude the content seems. These videos were designed to be a glance behind the curtain, revealing that these were just regular, relatable boys who liked to goof off in their downtime (between playing shows to tens of thousands of adoring fans). And, while they likely were part of a larger strategy employed by the band’s PR team, the detailed social media strategies of today, like Taylor Swift wiping her social media accounts to signal a new era or Louis Tomlinson teasing new music on his Instagram stories for well over a month, were still a ways away. The Jonas Brothers’ videos just felt like the same badly shot, badly acted, absurdist videos that everyone was putting out on YouTube at the time. Who’s to say if it was a premeditated strategy or just three boys goofing around?
No matter if they were strategic or spontaneous, these early online interactions completely redefined how artists engaged with fans through social media. Musicians took the intimacy these videos radiated and ran with it. For instance, One Direction, who gained massive viral fame on Twitter during The X Factor, approached these social engagements differently. Their X Factor “video diaries,” were arguably the closest comparison, especially with some of Louis’ more ludicrous behavior. Nevertheless, these videos were still about answering fan questions, promoting their music, and asking viewers to vote to keep them in the competition each week. The Jonas Brothers’ videos weren’t blatantly promoting anything—they were just weird, absurdist peeks behind-the-scenes of life on the road. Similarly, when Ariana Grande rose to social media fame in 2013, she allowed fans an inside look into her private life, but she did so in an age where that precedent had already been set. With that precedence in mind, everything about her presence, like everything posted today, was carefully curated by social media professionals. After the rapid growth of social media sites following 2008, we’d never see the type of truly candid and unabashed content the Jonas Brothers provided again.
Until now, that is. to announce their return and comeback single “Sucker,” the Jonas Brothers posted a simple video to Twitter and Instagram, recreating the famous “oh how the tables have turned” meme from “Your Daily Dose of Jonas.” Later that day, in the hours leading up to the song’s release, they held an impromptu Instagram Live session in their car, joking with one another and playing 10-seconds of “Sucker” for fans to salivate over. During the song’s marketing campaign, they’ve brought back the absurdist, off-the-cuff content they were known for at the height of their career.
Of course, there is a singular difference: this time, it is very clearly a marketing strategy. There was a team of professionals to strategize the best way to drum up nostalgia in dormant fans. They decided the best way was to recreate one of their most iconic memes. Additionally, the medium has changed, with the band favoring Twitter and Instagram for these announcements, rather than YouTube. But, despite the premeditated nature of the marketing campaign, it’s clear the Jonas Brothers are returning to their roots in terms of humor, and that, at least, is something to think on.