‘Camp Rock’ Sorta Sucks, But I’m Still Going 180 On Jonas Brothers

Now I finally know what all the fuss was about. Disney Channel’s Jonas Brohers promo vehicle Camp Rock premiered here in Norway last week, and is sure to make them a household name in contemporary Norwegian pop culture, just like High School Musical did to the once obscure Zac Efron. The most important thing I took away from it, however, was not the fairly average Camp Rock itself, but rather an actual interest in The Jonas Brothers, with whom I’ve previously confessed deep scepticism. Once the movie ended, I for the first time made a serious effort to look beyond the insanely successful commercial branding of the family trio, and searched out what put them in this position in the first place; their music. If two months ago I would admit to no more than failing to hate them, now I’m gonna do a complete reversal. I love them. Sort of.

So, what happened? First, I don’t really think it’s JB’s fault that Camp Rock is bad even by Disney Channel standards. Nothing wrong with formulaic and predictable HSM rip-offs, but one piece of advice: Then don’t be ashamed about it! In Jonas Brothers, Disney Channel has a trio of band members with obvious screen presence (one of them is even funny, at times), but instead of cashing in on that, they ship two (Kevin and Nick Jonas) of the three people that make up the band Camp Rock is supposed to promote off to supporting roles, and make the final one (Joe) suffer through food fights and endless staring at the sunset for the chance to play one song. I hoped and expected Camp Rock to be a cheerful and goofy musical, or at least a film about music and/or the Jonas Brothers, but instead I got the framework of HSM with crappier songs. With this rant out of the way, now to the reason that I’m still likely to see it again sometime.

The Jonas Brothers number in the movie is, if not exactly groundbreaking, a good, clean piece of punky pop music. After falling in love with much of their music, I realize this should have been at the center of Camp Rock, too. 2007’s The Jonas Brothers, to my surprise, turrned out to be chock full of deliciously straightforward, yet unabashedly lighthearted rock music, in the vein of Green Day, Busted and Blink 182, with a little Hanson and even Westlife thrown in for good measure. The Hanson comparison is as predictable as it is unavoidable (three brothers and all), but as faithful readers of this blog should know, I mean it as a compliment. It basically means their music get stuck in your head, and after a while you stop feeling ashamed about it and start actually enjoying it.

For instance, take That’s Just The Way We Roll. In what seems like a nod to the preceding Tulsa Three – battledance against Hanson – the establish a self-awareness that’s not cocky, so much as it is self-deprecating. All their references to being free and independent spirits can be tiresome, but who the hell care when they’ve coming up with songs like Still In Love With You, the ultimate non-threatening rock song, complete with clapping and foot-stomping insistence? Or Australia, combining their Franz Ferdinand feel with richly ridiculous lyrics (I know she won’t break my heart/’cause I know she’ll be from Australia); the soppy but well-crafted Westlife-y ballad When You Look Me In The Eyes; channeling The Coral on Goodnight and Goodbye; or Kids Of The Future, which would be far more wisely spent as Disney Channel’s official theme song, than in that dreadful animated movie.

Their third album, A Little Bit Longer unfortunately also is a little bit weaker, songs-wise, but it still has some quite decent pop-rock moments. Shelf probably gives the young teen audience a sense of real rock, and surprisingly, taken together with the slightly Hives-ian One Man Show its a perfectly understandable guilty pleasure for all of us whose tastes are supposed to be more refined. Same goes for Sorry, a song that could easily be written off as a intolerably grandiose power ballad. Once you give it a chance, however, you may discover the small synth details and vocal quirks that lifts it above its peers. Also, for a loyal Fanson it’s nice to see that Nick Jonas can do a respectable Taylor Hanson impression, like the title track, A Little Bit Longer.

The best surprises are those that are unexpected. Maybe that’s why right now, love doesn’t seem to be too strong a word for how I feel about Jonas Brothers. Oh, and Joe takes his shirt off in Camp Rock.

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