My first concert was the Jonas Brothers Burnin’ Up Tour in 2008 in Concord, California. I was a very lucky girl because my parents made a vacation out of driving five hours to the Bay Area so I could bask in the glory of the Jonas Brothers at just 11 years old. Above is a photo of me in front of the stage. They opened with “That’s Just the Way We Roll” and I cried. I also didn’t eat for the following days. And I spent weeks writing in my diary every single second of what I remembered about the concert. It was burned into my brain for years. I held monthly and annual vigils every 17th of the month to remember that I was part of something so sacred. It changed my life forever and took me to a new level of fandom worship, basically. This is the story of how the Jonas Brothers have influenced almost every aspect of my life since 2008. You thought my boyband life started with One Direction? Wrong. Let me take you back to a world before social media, before I was in middle school, before I had a cell phone, before anything in my life ever. The year is 2008, and this is when my life began.
I had a major obsession in fifth grade. I was eleven years old The Jonas Brothers took over my life to the point where my parents had to give me multiple lectures about being a “good kid” and “following the rules” because I was too obsessed with them and they worried that obsession would turn into something more dangerous. But then they got me concert tickets for the summer between 5th and 6th grade to see the Jonas Brothers, and I sobbed, staring into the eyes of my posters, knowing that my life had changed forever. I was obsessed. There is no life before this moment in time for me.
These are the things I remember doing that contributed to my obsession.
I covered every inch of my wall with Jonas Brothers posters.
I only listened to their one album on an MP3 player.
I only talked about them.
I clogged the DVR with any commercial that mentioned the Jonas Brothers.
I religiously read jonasbrothersfan.com and learned their whereabouts every day. I would power up the computer after school and search for any new images that had been taken of them.
I wrote fanfiction about touring with them on the Best of Both Worlds tour with Miley Cyrus. It was the first time I ever wrote fanfiction, and it was long and tumultuous and I felt like I was so engrossed in writing this story that was just pouring out of me. I didn’t know it then, but fanfiction would also change my life.
I remember doing poorly on a math test, and my dad called me in to the study so that he could yell at me. “What’s going through your brain?” he said angrily. I kid you not, the lyrics of “Just Friends” were running through my brain and I tried to think of anything else to get out of that situation.
Overall, they were in my every thought. I dreamed about them every day, every morning before school, during school, at dinner, at night before I went to bed. I craved every unconscious dream that came to me. Most of them were about me meeting the Jonas Brothers but not being able to speak out loud. I was ten, eleven, twelve years old, and they were my entire life, my brain, my dreams, my everything. I only saw my future based off of the Jonas Brothers life, and that led me to have confusing career aspirations because of how badly I wanted to be the equivalent female version of the Jonas Brothers. I knew the only way to get on their level was to be the next Miley Cyrus, and so I planned my life in sixth grade around growing up to be a famous person. I knew I didn’t have musical talent. I knew I was too shy and ugly to be a child actor. I knew I was growing up into an awkward teenager who wouldn’t be randomly scouted at a mall. But somehow my life had to mirror what I was watching on screens. Somehow I needed to be this celebrity persona so that I could be with the Jonas Brothers.
But my teenage years came and went, and I experienced that weird middle school phase where I hated everything and everyone hated me, and everyone hated the Jonas Brothers and I didn’t have any weird possessive obsession at all. And then One Direction happened when I was a freshman in high school. We all know that One Direction replaced that weird, stereotypical, young romantic involvement need for me in high school. I didn’t need anything except social media to take part in this love that lit up my life again. I was able to interact with One Direction like I had not been able to with the Jonas Brothers, and everything in my brain was amazing and stabilized.
But I still wanted to be famous. I didn’t know how. And then college was coming. I knew I had to be smart for my parents. I knew I had to show something to colleges that was more esteemed than just, “Since I was eleven years old, I have been obsessed with boy bands so much to the point that I don’t have a developed identity because my identity was in these bands.” I couldn’t tell colleges that I wasn’t thinking about myself for most of my young life. It was a bit embarrassing because the most powerful love I had felt was for these musicians that had no major impact on my life except emotional stability, and that just was not something I felt I could tell colleges and still have a chance at anything. So I struggled writing about my life, and I was admitted to UCLA as a Linguistics major, but I turned into an English major after one quarter because I knew I would do better. I did.
I didn’t try to do anything creative. I have never really found any outlet that satisfies my need to be obsessive towards something while making me famous, except social media. Maybe I’m addicted to social media now. I think I am. I don’t think it’s a problem but I definitely don’t see myself having a physical life outside of what impacts me in social media (example: I tweet about Harry Styles and in real life I go to his concerts). Maybe that’s bad, but I still work two regular jobs and manage to keep my head down when it needs to be down.
Then the Jonas Brothers reunited, and I felt myself acknowledge that my life is one hundred percent because of the Jonas Brothers. I recently made a commute where I finally vocalized why the Jonas Brothers meant so much to me, and this is my attempt to rewrite it.
I was super obsessed with the Jonas Brothers in a time when kids were finding out about themselves, their bodies, their interests, their dislikes. I didn’t really try to reach out to other people. Instead I harvested this intense love for this band that I didn’t know who I was, and they taught me to be intuitive and support myself. When I listened to their music at eleven, twelve, and thirteen, I felt like they were there for me. No matter how hard my parents cracked down on my grades, or however many people commented on me being the smart kid, there were always the Jonas Brothers who didn’t care about my grades, what I looked like, what my life plans were. I could turn on their music and they would sing about how much they loved me. As a kid with people making decisions for me, the Jonas Brothers also gave me another life through their music. I learned how to dream about my future self. In a time when puberty is making twelve-year-old kids mean to each other, crazy, and sad, the Jonas Brothers were there to stop the madness and comfort me. To grow up and know that music is a cure to hard feelings is a gift from beyond. I feel it. I know that my brother feels it with his music. The Jonas Brothers were my first experience of calmness, my first stress-reliever, the first people who I ran to when I felt scared.
I just took a weekend trip to Anaheim where I met up with my college friend Brenda and danced and cried and sang along to the Jonas Brothers reunion tour. And then the following days after work, I cried at home with disbelief that I had lived out my childhood dream of traveling to see the Jonas Brothers completely on my own terms, and that my friend had asked to see them with me as well. When I was twelve years old and my brain was only for the Jonas Brothers, I felt socially outcast because I was so obsessed and I only wanted to talk about them. But now that I did this with my own money, that I live my own life and I am allowed to make these decisions for myself, and my decision is to honor the young version of me who only ever wanted to see her favorite band forever, I am so grateful for my young self and I am tremendously grateful for my friend Brenda. My heart exploded for hours and days. It was an extremely happy feeling to be 22 and walking to and from a Jonas Brothers concert, because at 12 I didn’t think anyone would care that this is my whole world, and someone actually did.
I am so happy for young me, who stayed up late at night dreaming about being an adult. I am so happy for young me, who put her own hopes and dreams into the success of the Jonas Brothers and watched it play out until it fizzled, and then watched it begin again in 2019. I have so much love for the entities that made me who I am, and I can say that I don’t exist as a person without the Jonas Brothers being a direct influence on my life. I exist as me, as a person deeply ingrained into pop culture, because the Jonas Brothers were the first comfort of my life. I learned about love from the Jonas Brothers. I learned about pain, and social relationships, and success and failure, all from being a kid with a CD and a boombox. They have accompanied me on the weird paths of growing up. They have always been this safe place for me, and I am forever grateful that they have given me this chance to relive this love I grew for them, a love that I didn’t learn from my parents or my friends, and a love that I learned to use for my own happiness in high school and college and that I am using now to keep myself going.
“When You Look Me in the Eyes” is about how I didn’t know how to plan my life but I knew that if the Jonas Brothers existed then I would be okay. I don’t know how I grew up or how I’m still here with a career or how I’m writing a master’s thesis or how I’m a teacher, but I am here, and I feel this love for my world and I am happy to be alive. I am happy I made it through times where people told me what to do and what to believe. I am happy to be on the other side where I can dance under the lights of the Jonas Brothers and tell my childhood self that everything will be okay if you just love who you love.
Thank you Jonas Brothers, for giving me this gift again. Thank you for reaching out to me through your music at all ages of my life and telling me that I am deserving of happiness, life, and love, even when it is extremely difficult to see it through. Thank you for making me unique in my childhood. Thank you for enabling my introspection from a young age, and making me a person obsessed with boybands, truly the first thing that has ever brought me intense happiness above all else.
Looking back at their romantic songs like “When You Look Me in the Eyes,” and “Can’t Have You,” I am re-learning that these songs were so emotionally deep, but I was truly processing them at a similar emotional level that I am processing them now. I remember thinking “Can’t Have You” and “Sorry” were their own personal letters to me, for ending that wonderful summer of 2008 and never reappearing in my life again. I wanted to see them again so badly but I never got the chance to. So that’s why, after coming home from their Anaheim show, I cried at the kitchen table about how getting to travel by myself with my own money to see the Jonas Brothers was the ultimate goal I could have ever accomplished for 11-year-old me. I cried very hard. I was not ready to let it go, again. So I begged my brother earnestly. I called him crying and said, “You grew up with the Jonas Brothers too. I would love to see them with you.” And he said yes. And after a few days of crying and not being able to shake the magic away from that one weekend, I booked a 24 hour trip to Los Angeles to see the Jonas Brothers again.
I cried hard enough that I bought tickets to night 1 at the Hollywood Bowl and I dragged my brother to see them as well. My brother was there through my Jonas Brothers childhood and he is a musician now, so it seemed fitting that he was included in this celebration of life, childhood, music, and girl culture. It was a wonderful night. Big Rob showed up for “Burnin’ Up.” They came into the crowd to sing “Gotta Find You,” “Hesitate,” and “Hello Beautiful.” I spent the night at the Hilgard Hotel in Westwood, which is across the street from the W Hotel which is where a famous paparazzi photo One Direction was created. Two weekends in October were spent on a bus to Anaheim and Los Angeles to see the Jonas Brothers because they were my first love and they made me who I am. I don’t exist without the Jonas Brothers shaping my childhood. Thank you so much for coming back into my life. Thank you so much for bringing this childhood love back to so many people. Thank you for being the first two lift up girl culture in my life, and show me that I am so powerful, even as an eleven-year-old girl. The Jonas Brothers never doubted me as a kid, and I will never forget that.
In the words of Selena Gomez, “I needed to lose you to find me,” I never felt resentment for the Jonas Brothers breaking up and leaving me. I gradually lost interest because I started going through regular life. I went to middle school, things happened, and they were just not at the forefront of my mind anymore. But now I’m in grad school, I’m 22, I am getting ready to change my life again and I have an immense appreciation for the year of my life where the Jonas Brothers were not in it so that I could grow up and figure out that I needed to take more control of my own life before I let a boyband derail it. Then One Direction happened and my life stayed the same. I’m grateful for the love the Jonas Brothers taught me how to feel. I’m grateful that they showed me in the purest way that sometimes you have to make hard decisions in your life. Maybe they are the best example of that weird saying, “if you love something, let it go, and if it was meant to be, it will come back to you.” I guess that’s true. All I know is I think I am a more instrospective person because I grew up knowing that you can love an experience more than anything, and that’s okay. You can love fully without claiming one person or one thing as the only one deserving of your live. I was only eleven years old when my brain exploded because of the Jonas Brothers, but they changed my life to the point where the only thing I have ever wanted to do in my life is go to boyband concerts and be so deeply included in the phenomenon that is boyband culture. I don’t care that this isn’t a job, this isn’t a life devotion, this is not remotely close to what I studied in college, but it’s what has existed within me since I was a child, and I am smart enough to see that this is the only thing I love in the world and the experience that has made me consistently happy for my entire life.
I have so much love for boybands. I don’t even know how to explain to other people that the phenomenon is part of me. I am what makes this experience special. A band is nothing without its fans, and I have supported so many boybands in my short 22 years of life but these fireworks that blast every night are the physical proof that this love is built without fear. The world might be scary of boybands are here for us, and its all because girl culture is the most powerful force in the world.
On another note:
Here are photos of me staying across the street from the W Hotel in Westwood. I miss you so much One Direction but your reunion projection is a lot different that the Jonas Brothers because you don’t have to live with each other for the rest of your lives. But I miss 2012 1D very much.
I will never be ashamed that this is my life. That this is the deepest part of what defines me. I will never be ashamed that in the middle of the night on my worst days, I knew who to turn to. There is a famous line in the One Direction 3D concert movie where a girl being interviewed says, “I know they love me, even [though] they don’t know me.” For me, it’s not about being loved specifically by them, but knowing that a portion of my place in the world is part of this huge international community that only wants to bask in the glory of the power of boybands. Thank you for my life, Jonas Brothers. Since 2008.