Eight years ago, few might have predicted that the fresh-faced stars of the hit Disney Channel musical Camp Rock would go on to freely discuss sex in their work, become outspoken proponents for the LGBT community and, this year, mount a joint tour inspired by Bruce Springsteen.
But the Boss is just who Nick Jonas said he and Demi Lovato had in mind when they conceived their relatively stripped-down road show, Future Now, which launched in June.
Specifically, Jonas explained, it was Springsteen’s run of concerts last spring at the Los Angeles Sports Arena – along with a Billy Joel gig he caught at New York’s Madison Square Garden – that made this former tween idol want to turn away from the pop pageantry with which he’d made his name as part of the Jonas Brothers.
“I left that Springsteen show and was like, ‘We’ve got to think like this’,” he said, sprawled on a couch next to Lovato in a dressing room before a show in Boston, Massachussetts.
“Just to go onstage, no theatrics, and pour your heart and soul into the music – that’s what we wanted,” Lovato added as her small black dog scampered around her legs. In truth, the Future Now tour isn’t exactly a no-frills jam-a-thon.
In Boston, the two performers, both 23, were accompanied by sleek visuals and wore outfits considerably more involved than Springsteen’s faded dad jeans.
And the songs, of course, were flashy in their own way: Stomping electro-pop tunes like Lovato’s Confident and moist R&B come-ons like Jonas’ Chains.
But if it’s true, as Jonas said in a freewheeling conversation, that the pop world “is pretty oversaturated these days” – packed with high-tech arena spectacles from Beyonce, Justin Bieber and Madonna – then this production, with its emphasis on live vocals backed by a muscular band, does feel like a different animal. These are excerpts from our talk.
How often do you think about Camp Rock?
Lovato: I don’t, to be honest, unless somebody brings it up.
So what’s coming to mind now?
Jonas: Schooling. We were both 14 or 15 when we filmed the movie, so they had a teacher on set, and you had to do a certain amount of school each day: four hours of school, six hours of work. By the second (Camp Rock movie), Demi and I had both tested out of high school in California, so we were riding high, enjoying life.
Does a kid in show business learn anything from an on-set tutor?
Jonas: From some of them, no. But there was this girl Laura, who actually really helped me prep for the test, because I was not prepared.
Lovato: Mine was Marsha. But other than that? Some were literally just like, “I can’t help you with anything – let’s watch a movie and say you did some studying.
Talk about moving out of the kiddie phase of your career. Is it a transition you have to manage carefully?
Lovato: I kind of cheated – I went to rehab.
Lovato: A real FastPass.
Jonas: I think we had two very different journeys. I was in my transition from adolescence to adulthood while also trying to manage being a family and having our business kind of fall apart.
So, I made a conscious effort to push myself and collaborate with different people. The word “intentional” is dangerous, but it was about intentionally doing certain photo shoots and things that would give people a better idea of who I am today as opposed to their first introduction when I was 14.
Quest for freedom
As individualised as their journeys have been, one thing that’s united the two singers is the way they’ve handled sex in their work – which is to say, the enthusiasm with which they’ve handled it.
A certain amount of lustiness is crucial for any former kiddie star looking to leave the past behind; it’s part of the script followed by Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus and plenty of others.
Still, Jonas and Lovato have gone further than most, in songs like his comically lewd Bacon and in revealing photo shoots like the one Lovato did last year for Vanity Fair that had her naked in a hotel bathtub.
Yet it’s not mere titillation or shock value that they appear interested in but something deeper, something almost philosophical about the nature of desire – and of being desired.
Is it part of this overall quest for freedom?
Lovato: It’s definitely liberating. I mean, for someone who’s had body image issues to be able to go onstage in a thong – it’s not just me trying to be sexy. It’s “Look how far I’ve come – I can now show off my whole body and be confident.”
Jonas: As a songwriter, the minute you start having sex, you can totally see the difference in the writing. You become an adult – that’s kind of the whole backbone of it, really, your identity as a person and what sex means to you.
Because you both approach sex candidly, you know the experience of being ogled. The idea of your body becomes public property in a way.
Lovato: I look at it as I’m sharing my experience with my body with my fans, and that’s why they relate to me so much.
Does that encourage people to expect certain details and images from you?
Lovato: There’s an expectation today because of the access to celebrity that this generation has. When I was dreaming about becoming an artiste, there weren’t camera phones; now people get offended if you say no to a picture. The reaction people have when a celebrity enters a room, it blows my mind.
Do you think about the effect a specific act might have? “If I post X on Instagram, then Y will happen.”
Jonas: Of course. When I was younger, that used to really shake me. I was kind of living in fear.
Fear of what?
Jonas: Disappointing people. I didn’t ask to become a role model, but it was thrust upon all of us, regardless of whether you acknowledge it. You have to come to a decision as an adult and say, “I’ve got to live my life.”
There’s nothing wrong with thinking ahead and being aware of how it might affect somebody – everything from a post to where you have dinner to who you’re with. But these aren’t things you can let consume your life.