Nick Jonas isn’t afraid to admit he’s anxious. The release of his self-titled debut solo album is Monday, and he knows there are no guarantees.
“I’m very nervous, because you never know what to expect,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve done all I can to get the word out. At this point it’s out of my hands. Now it’s about people connecting with the music and what I’m singing about.”
The performance of his second single from the album, “Jealous,” suggests Jonas is on the verge of solidifying a transformation from boy-band heartthrob to solo star. The song landed comfortably in the top 40 of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and a new remix featuring Tinashe released last week gave the track another life. The single is only a taste of the singer’s new sultry sound, which he describes as “a combination of R&B, soul, and pop” with influences from legendary artists like Prince and Stevie Wonder.
Despite his stomach's butterflies over the looming release date, the 22-year-old singer says he’s never felt more confident, and it's showing in how he's promoted the album, including unabashedly courting gay fans. “I’m in a place now in my life where I’m comfortable with who I am, what I’m saying, and what I’m doing,” he says. “And that’s allowed me to do some things I probably wouldn’t have done before.”
For the youngest JoBro, that’s meant branching out in unexpected ways, including a recent homoerotic photo shoot for Flaunt magazine during which the singer-songwriter ditched his shirt, dropped his pants, and grabbed his crotch – a homage to Calvin Klein’s iconic 1992 ad campaign with Mark Walberg.
The snapshots quickly set the internet on fire and secured Jonas’s status as a modern-day sex-symbol. Still, it’s not a title he’s comfortable claiming. “It’s funny. I think if you allow that into your world and own that title it’s kind of lame,” he says through a grin. “While we were shooting it, I didn’t really think about it and I certainly didn’t expect the reaction to be what it was. I just take it with a smile, because I’m happy to show how much I’ve grown in different ways, but that’s not something I’d call myself.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve watched a former boy band member attempt to shed his family-friendly image by souping-up his sound and playfully toying with queer-conscious imagery. It was little more than a decade ago when a 21-year-old Justin Timberlake took his first steps as a solo artist and served his own smoldering homoerotic photo shoot with photographer Steven Klein for England’s Arena Homme magazine.
In October he made a move relatively unheard of from a heterosexual male pop star. During early promotion for his second single, he appeared at Manhattan gay clubs Up & Down and BPM where he danced on stage, flashed his abs, and posed for pictures next to male dancers dressed in underwear. “It was my first time at a gay club, and it was amazing,” he admits. “For me it was really about embracing that part of my audience because I know it’s a big part of my audience. The reception from my gay fan base has been incredible.”
He adds, “I don’t know why more heterosexual male artists don’t embrace their gay fan base, because it’s so important. At least, I feel like it’s such an important part of my fan base, so I wanted to make an effort and it was incredible to be around my gay fans and celebrate.”
Though the New Jersey-raised singer grew up in a faith-based family (his father, Paul Kevin Jonas Sr., was an ordained minister at an Assemblies of God church), there were very few years when LGBT people weren’t a part of his life. By the age of 8 he was performing on Broadway where he landed roles in several shows including A Christmas Carol, Annie Get Your Gun, Beauty and the Beast, Les Misérables and many more. “I developed a lot of close gay friends at a very young age when I was performing on Broadway,” he says. “Being around them definitely shaped the way I saw the world and taught me to accept people from all walks of life. I love that this was a part of my upbringing and my exposure to the world.”
His attitude is one that many in his generation share — an attitude that's blossomed in a generation that has never known a world without positive images of LGBT people in some form. Unlike the rock stars of another era, Jonas doesn’t feel threatened by the adoration of gay fans or worry that embracing it will mean speculation about his own sexuality. Instead, he openly welcomes it because LGBT people have almost always been a part of his life.
It’s something he hopes to highlight in a different way by playing the role of mixed-martial-arts fighter Nate Kulina on the new DirecTV drama Kingdom (currently airing). Shortly before the series debuted, Jonas revealed that his character would have a storyline “revolving around his sexuality” and he says it was one of the reasons that drew him to audition for the part. However, he was almost passed over for the role.
“It was a big fight for me to get this role and I had to work really hard to show them I was capable, because there were some reservations at first – just having come from where I’ve come from and the point I’m at right now trying to transition my career,” he admits. “Thankfully they cast me, but it was a process at first and I worked my ass off.”
A part of that hard work is what transformed him from the pupcake we once knew to the beefcake who’s performing takedowns and T.K.O.s in the series. But for those who have been patiently waiting for Kulina to reveal he’s questioning his sexuality, Jonas promises the bell is about to ring for his character’s biggest fight.
“I don’t want to give anything away, but if you’ve been watching the show, you know my character has had the carpet ripped out from under him,” says Jonas. “He’s picking up the pieces and discovering who he is. That extends to a lot of different areas of his life and the biggest question for him in this self-discovery period is who he is when it comes to sex and his sexuality and we’ll start to see more of that unravel towards the end of the season.”
The storyline should have ample time to develop too. DirecTV has already renewed the series for another two seasons, and Jonas says he’s excited for his character's potential to help further LGBT visibility on TV. “It’s in its earliest stages at the moment and even I don’t know personally where it will all go,” he says.” But for me, I think the writers have done a good job. We’re in a very interesting world, the mixed martial arts world, and that’s going to be very interesting place to have this storyline unfold.”
Jonas is quickly shaping up as one of the best examples of a young LGBT ally now working in Hollywood – and he’s just getting started.
In fact, he’s already putting plans in motion to collaborate with one of today’s biggest young gay music artists. “I’d love to work with Sam Smith,” he says. “I’m a big fan of his and the work that he’s done, and we’ve actually connected over Twitter and hope to meet up at some point and talk music.”
Listen to the "Jealous" remix, featuring Tinashe below.