Nick Jonas, the many abbed former member of the once promise ring-wearing Jonas Brothers, has a new album coming out. You might have heard about it, if only because Jay Z apparently suggested the very special title, Last Year Was Complicated. Or you might have heard about the video for “Bacon,” the Tidal-exclusive clip that features bacon but is not really about bacon. Or, if you’re a gay man, you might have heard about it thanks to the coverage he’s still getting from the gay audience to which he so readily appeals, and to which he has so problematically appealed ever since going out on his own a few years ago.
The history of this gay-baiting can be complicated, but it boils down pretty clearly. In 2014, Nick Jonas nearly broke the gay internet when he came out and said that he maybe-kinda-sort of has had sex with a man. “Who is to say,” he might have said, “if a dick has touched these lips.” It was nuts for this to happen even in the relatively tolerant times of 2014, especially for the former Disney star who had already been battling rumors because of his shirtless performances in gay bars.
Of course, Jonas wasn’t saying he was gay. Sexuality is fluid, and straight dudes are jumping in the sack with one another for fun all the time, right? Regardless, once he grew more comfortable with his solo career, Jonas back-stepped from his statements, saying that, oh, he meant, like, on film! The characters he played — in Kingdom and Scream Queens — those were the people having sex with men. But, you know, they’re his lips and everything, so technically it was Jonas doing the sex. Sorry for the confusion, gay contingent. Didn’t mean to lead you on.
And yet of course he meant to lead us on. If our tried and true cynicism isn’t strong enough proof, the way Jonas has talked about his fan base makes it more than clear that he’s stripping in gay clubs for the money and attention (why else?), even if he tries to paint his outreach as public service, or for the good of the gay cause, just giving the fans what they want. For example, in that same, early post-Jonas Brothers interview with Pride Source, he clearly acknowledged his need to address the gay fans that he and his brothers had accumulated.
“When I was setting up this record and meeting with the team about it, I told them that I really wanted to make an effort to embrace that part of my audience. I’ve known for a long time that it is a great part of the audience, and I just never felt like we made all the effort we could to embrace them. It’s been really fun and really incredible.”
When targeted at the gay community, this type of statement should only generate skepticism. If, for instance, Jonas had said, “Oh, we totally ignored our mom fanbase, and we’re going to really reach out to them, really try to embrace them,” it would be one thing. For starters, most people love moms. And, if you wanted to wade into murkier territory, you could compare Jonas’s pandering to the gay community to the way Beyoncé’s recent efforts have made appeals to black feminism, but Beyoncé is indisputably black, and her feminism is subjective. Nick Jonas would never be mistaken for a mom, and he clearly isn’t black. But he could very well be mistaken for a gay man, and that he chooses to pose as one while either living as a straight man or living as a closeted man is, to be frank, goddamn annoying.
It’s annoying because his music is not good; it’s the kind of R&B-lite, falsetto-heavy stuff that’s all the rage right now, a little bit of Justin Timberlake (Michael Jackson) and Bruno Mars (Marvin Gaye). It’s clear that, in order to reach the weird solo popstar status he’s somehow verged on reaching, he’s depended on catering to the gay tastemakers. That’s gross, but Jonas also deserves props for recognizing the shallowness of gay male consumers and capitalizing on their need for their favorite music to be made by someone they’re able to picture themselves in bed with.
The lasciviousness of this gay gaze is evident in that same Pride Source interview, which just keeps on giving. After Jonas says his Kingdom character goes on an interesting journey, the reporter, Chris Azzopardi, responds, “Considering you’ve revealed there’s a nude scene, we are also excited to go on this journey with you.” This is the type of statement that, if made from a man to a woman, would rightfully send a Twitter mob to the doorstep of the reporter. And yet Jonas doesn’t balk, and answers Azzopardi’s question about what it’s like to film a sex scene. It’s as bland as ever.
And really, when you break it down, the source of Jonas’s continued gay-baiting is in the reporters who continue to insist on questioning him and his sexuality. If nobody asked him if he was gay, or what he did to get that low-fat body, he’d probably stop talking about it. But, then, maybe we’d stop talking about him, too. A cursory glance at Google results for “Nick Jonas gay” reveals the real depths that journalists have mined from this topic; nearly every piece on the singer is about his masculinity or his sexiness. Jonas recently told Complex, “Your sexual preference does not matter to me and it shouldn’t matter to anybody,” and, in May, he covered Out Magazine, and said this about his supposed gay-baiting: “I think it’s really quite sad.”
And maybe it is sad, but it’s even more sad that gays are so easily baited. All Jonas has done is played a few gay characters, performed in some gay bars, and committed his life to the religion of Equinox. And, in return, what? Thirsty reporters giving him free press with questions about his sexuality, leading to increased sales and an uncalled for image of progressiveness. Is this really all it takes to be a gay icon these days? Well, only if being a gay icon means having your career hinge on the support of a community that idolizes you for your Adonis belt, rather than whether or not you’re capable of actually belting.