Bringing Jesse Back

However irregularly this blog has been updated over the years, I have nonetheless managed to single out a couple of recurring characters who have been given extra attention. There’s Hanson, of course, to whom we will hopefully return shortly for a post on this summer’s release of Anthem. In the early years, I also had a watchful eye out for Hunter Parrish and Emile Hirsch, both to chronicle how they graced screens of all kinds, and to chart their continued quest for the top of the then-regular Sexiest Males Alive list. But one of the sad stories of the last couple of years has been the near disappearance of another in-house favorite: Jesse McCartney.

I verbalized my drooling over him when the video for Leavin’ came out back in 2008, and after he netted several top finishes on the SMA, I described him as one of my most formative Early Gay Crushes the following year. There I also heaped praise on his third studio album, Departure, which I still consider a masterpiece of danceable pop music, and which I included as an honorable mention on my Favorite Albums of the Decade list. Unfortunately, his music career was stuck in limbo for years, and although I would not hesitate to credit his presence in Summerland with making me think harder about I might be gay, I always liked him better as an singer,

But every time the promised sequel to Departure was thought to be forthcoming, it was soon followed by another announcement that the tentative release date was replaced by a less definitive “coming soon”, to the point where it just as well could have said “never”. Sure, my boy Jesse kept busy writing stuff for others; the appeared in a couple of forgettable movies, and he got a part in Army Wives, but it felt like he was mostly killing time, waiting for a return to music.

I got my hopes up a little about a year ago, when he sanctioned the online leak of the song Out Of Words and – again! – hinted that more new music could see the light of day before the end of the year. That was not to be, but at least now we knew that he had not totally given up hope on staging a comeback. Of course, this wouldn’t be easy, considering how his previous competition for the youth pop vote – people like, say, Justin Bieber, Jonas Brothers or Miley Cyrus – had never really been on hiatus like had, but if that was what he wanted to go for, the only answer was to make the best pop songs he knew how to.

Maybe pairing up with Backstreet Boys for their summer tour signals a different kind of ambition – particularly considering the mind-numbing muzak nature of the Florida foursomes latest release, but I was still somewhere between pleasantly surprised and deeply shocked when I realized that Jesse had actually released a new single last week. Having waited for something like this for five years, I didn’t even notice it until a week had passed.

More than anything, the new song, Back Together, reminds me of a Michael Jackson cut, which was probably intentional. The infectious chorus is likely to get into your head, and less likely to get out of there anytime soon. Although it has no obvious sister track in Jesse’s discography, it doesn’t stray to far from what he attempted to do on some of the non-single tracks on Departure and Right Where You Want Me (I also, randomly, was reminded slightly of this song), which seems like a sensible place to start for an artist who needs to reconnect with his old fans, while trying to win some new ones. The key to this in the longer term, however, is to start releasing songs on a more regular basis, and in that sense it is probably a good thing that Back Together was released independently.

I would have been happy to see any sign of life from Jesse. That’s the kind of loyalty that setting in motion some pretty significant self-realization and releasing a song like How Do You Sleep buys you. And he’s still beautiful, in a more distinctive, less pop star obvious way. I guess Early Gay Crushes die hard, too.

It’s good to have you back, Jesse.

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