Good Times with Nick Jonas
Pop’s dreamboat on standing up for LGBT rights, his ‘very welcoming’ gay club experience and his man bod
By Chris Azzopardi | Photos by Yu Tsai
Boys do Nick Jonas sometimes, but it’s mostly girls.
They dress up as the pop star, emulating his rousing onstage persona and donning denim that looks practically painted on. Yes, if we needed further proof about why the 23-year-old former Jonas Brothers is a celebrated beacon in the LGBT community, for his abs and for his advocacy – for standing up against the North Carolina “bathroom bill” by canceling two upcoming gigs there – look to the drag kings. Those kings are sure to find even more fodder for their glitzy acts on Last Year Was Complicated, Jonas’ second solo album.
In our new interview, Jonas talked candidly about last year – his year of “growth.” And although he was congested – yes, even the perfection that is Nick Jonas deals with allergies that are “terrible” this time of year – he was more than happy to dish on LGBT rights, the night he and brother Joe ended up at a West Hollywood gay bar, and touching his… face.
I’ve never asked a guy this question – I’m always asking female artists who are being impersonated by men – but there are Nick Jonas drag kings, so we must talk about this.
I know, right? What’s it like to know that lesbians are dressing up in Nick Jonas drag? Also, what tips do you have for a Nick drag king who wants to perfect their Nick Jonas drag act?
Well, it’s an honor, you know, first of all. I feel very honored! (Laughs) I think the tips would be, make sure the jeans are fairly tight – not too tight, but tight enough. And I do a lot of face touching, I’ve noticed, so maybe incorporate that into the act and it’ll all work.
When do you touch your face the most?
When I’m singing, when I’m talking. It’s kind of a strange thing I do.
I spoke to your brother Joe recently and he mentioned getting down at the gay clubs with you. What’s a night with you and Joe like at the gay club?
It was very fun! We were out at The Abbey in LA.
Good place, good drinks.
Good drinks! And it was just a good environment overall. People were very welcoming and we had a good time and we hung out and had a couple of drinks. And they played our music too, which is always nice when you’re at a club. The DJ was being friendly. (Laughs)
Was this a promo obligation?
No, it’s just where we ended up. It wasn’t promo at all.
Who gets hit on more: you or Joe?
We were kind of isolated, in our own sections off to the side, so we weren’t able to interact that much, but I’m not sure. He was also with his girlfriend at the time, so maybe he was getting less attention.
What would you say to straight guys who might not feel as comfortable going to a gay club as you are?
In the same way I feel like there’s no difference with my fans, gay or straight, the same thing applies to the club. And you can have a good time anywhere you go if you just choose to have a good time. I think it’s a unique environment to be in – and it’s a fun place and they play great music, (laughs) and as long as you’re willing to go in and have fun, I think it’s all good.
Some straight guys worry they might be the object of some man’s affection.
Insecurity drives a lot of really poor decision-making. I think as long as you can be confident and comfortable in your own skin and who you are then you don’t really have to be worried about that.
When did you become comfortable in your own skin?
It’s a continual thing, continual growth. Just like everybody else, there are some days when I don’t feel great in my skin. I do my best to grow. But I think when I came into my body, you know, and started building muscle and realizing that in a lot of ways physically I had become a man, that’s when I became comfortable and confident. Getting into fitness was helpful.
When did being accepting and loving to the LGBT community really become important to you? Was there a person or a moment that really drove you to become the advocate that you are?
It was my early Broadway days and being kind of immersed in the community at an early age and really seeing that there was no difference. The key was accepting and loving people from all different walks of life. It was just a priority at an early age and also because my parents were really open and loving and laid it out for us that there was no difference. I think that was a healthy environment to be in at an early age.
What do you make of speculation that you are gay?
I think people are gonna make their assumptions regardless, you know? And I’m a heterosexual male who’s playing two gay characters on TV shows and really doing my best to be the most accepting and loving person I can be because I think that’s the way we all should be. So, if people have opinions or thoughts on my sexuality, that’s on them. I know who I am and I’m comfortable with who I am.
You stepped in for Iggy Azalea last year and headlined Pittsburgh Pride when she canceled her headlining performance after LGBT groups pulled out in protest of her past homophobic tweets. What was it like playing your first Pride event?
It was a lot of fun! I think there was a real warmth because of the fact that I kind of jumped in last minute and covered, so I think people were really pumped about that. The show itself was great. It was a lot of LGBT community people and it was good. They were a great crowd. And I’ll tell you what, I think it was one of my favorite shows of last year. There’s something to be said about surprising people!
Last year seemed to be pretty darn good for you, but your new album, Last Year Was Complicated, begs to differ. What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome last year?
It was a real year of growth, going from being in a group with my brothers for years to traveling alone, being alone all the time – it was intense at first. Then, on top of that, the breakup I had last year was, well, complicated (laughs), it was tricky. It required me to really dig in deep and lay out all my thoughts and feelings in my music, which, for me, is the best outlet possible.
Beyoncé is obviously experiencing this with her new surprise album Lemonade, but I wonder, for you, how do you feel when you release a body of work and the public dissects it and relates it back to your personal life?
I can’t comment for Beyoncé or speak for her, but as an artist I think it’s so important to lay your heart and feelings out in your music, and if you want to be an open book in that way, it’s a great outlet to be able to do it. For me, I’m just thrilled to have that outlet to pour my heart into because it’s a good way to process my feelings and emotions.
Do you keep the gay community in mind when you make music?
I think you have to create and have it be authentically you and kind of worry about what people are going to think afterwards, or who might be listening. That’s what I’ve tried to do: tell the stories the best way I can first, (so they) are the most honest. If I have to go back and edit afterwards, I will, but for the most part what I write in that room that day is what ends up on the record.
Outside of Scream Queen and Kingdom, do you see more gay roles in your future?
I think it’s about the material. If something comes up and has a great script and a great creative team, I would definitely do it. It’s all about the script though. That, for me, is the focus.
When I talked to Joe he said he was working on music with you. He also alluded to the possibility of there being a Jonas Brothers reunion down the line, saying, “It could easily happen.” What’s the status on the new music? And how do you feel about a Jonas reunion?
Well, he and I live together now. We just moved in together actually. So yeah, we have a music room in the house and we’re always writing, whether it’s for us, for (his band) DNCE, for my stuff, or just writing for other people. I’m definitely trying to always create. But I’m not sure about a Jonas Brothers reunion. I think that we’re all very happy doing our own thing. And our oldest brother, Kevin, is expecting another baby with his wife, so it’s exciting times for everybody.
When might we hear some of the music you’ve been making with Joe?
It’s gotta be right first, so if we get something done and it ends up on a project, that’d be great. But I’m not sure about anything coming out very soon – it’s gonna be a little while.
Following in the footsteps of some defiant tour cancellations in North Carolina to protest the state’s “bathroom bill,” you and your tour-mate Demi Lovato also took a stand, nixing both of your dates in the state. Why did you decide to cancel your shows there instead of, say, going the route that Cyndi Lauper did, which was to keep the show but donate the proceeds to LGBT causes?
It’s an incredibly tough situation overall and one that we thought really hard about. Speaking with Demi and the whole team, the thought was, we needed to do our best to take a strong stand, and although it’s difficult and it’s gonna be a disappointment to our fans who were looking forward to the shows, we feel that it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes you gotta go with your gut feeling and do your best to help a situation. Hopefully our fans understand and stand with us. We’re trying to do our humble part. A change would be good.
Cyndi Lauper on fame, going country and her dream to be in ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?’ with Madonna
By Chris Azzopardi | Photos by Chapman Baehler
It’s not just about having fun anymore.
For Cyndi Lauper, music runs deeper than her ‘80s-era eccentricities may have seemed to suggest. A collection of classics from the Great American Songbook, deep Memphis-based blues, the feel-good Broadway romp Kinky Boots, which won her a Tony in 2013 for best score – Lauper changes musical guises like she changes dye jobs.
The 62-year-old singer takes another sharp turn on Detour, her latest reincarnation, this time as a full-on Southern belle. The spunky pop priestess trades in her pink for plaid and saddles up with a slew of Nashville mainstays, including Willie Nelson, Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris, to sing signature mid-20th-century country ditties.
To talk about her twangy transformation, Lauper called just as she was leaving Los Angeles, where she recently received her much-deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Lauper was her usual chatty and chirpy self as she dished on longing to be the “unknown singer,” shoe struggles and forever wanting to take on Joan Crawford and Bette Davis’ infamous revenge relic _What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. How exactly? By starring in a version of it alongside Madonna, of course.
I love the irony of you, mega LGBT activist, taking on a genre that’s not historically known to embrace the LGBT community.
There are a lot of LGBT people who love early country music! They love Patsy Cline, they love Loretta Lynn. I loved Loretta Lynn when I was little and when I heard her sing “The Pill” (a cheeky take on birth control) it was like, “Holy cow!”
But I just know that when I went to Nashville everyone was very kind and they were sweet to me, and it feels like a small town and it doesn’t seem like everybody is like that – it just seems like they don’t talk about it a lot. I talk about it because we did a lot of research about the kids running away, the homeless LGBT kids (in 2011, Lauper opened a homeless shelter in NYC for LGBT youth). We found that if the parents just said, “You’re my kid and I love you and you gotta give me a minute to get my head around this gay thing,” because where the heck are parents gonna go? You can’t go to the preacher man because he’s gonna condemn you and your kid to hell. You’re not gonna go to the school and out your kid. You can’t go to the neighbors. So, where do you go? You have to have an outreach program for the parents and the kids, but you have to have the information to help parents because, you know, I think most parents just love their kids, and when they’re teenagers, you’re gonna fight about everything – I know, I have a teenager. You fight. Hell, that’s the dynamic.
I didn’t think about that when I did this. I did this for the love of music. I did this because I saw a segment on CBS’s The Early Show about all the great Nashville session players. One group was called the Nashville Cats and they played with everyone back in the ’60s and ’70s, and I was a little jealous because I felt like I missed out. I saw the Muscle Shoals documentary and I kind of wished sometimes – I felt like I was born in the wrong time. I was so busy being famous that I missed out on all these wonderful things. I just wanted to go back. In the beginning everything is, “You can’t do this! You’ll be ruined!” And you believe it!
At what point in your career did you feel creatively liberated?
I guess in 1991. I wanted to work with Muff Winwood (English songwriter and record producer known for his work with Dire Straits) and he believed in me as an arranger and as a producer. You know, I should’ve moved to England but I didn’t. I loved New York. I was born there and I would’ve missed my family and my friends, so I didn’t go. But it was a lot easier in England; the English people were different. And he wanted me to do this thing for him. It was around that time that I realized, “If you’re gonna be doing this, maybe you should start practicing the rhythm of your own beat and sing your story, not try and do a story with other people’s stories,” which is OK because that’s what singers do, but at that point I wanted to do that and then I wanted to work with (Detour producer) Seymour Stein. I wanted to go and do a blues record. I wanted to do the blues since 2004, and then when I finally got to do it in 2010, you know, I felt blessed because I was able to do something I really wanted to do as a singer. And then I wanted to do this country record, and I hoped that I could sing as best as I could sing. I wanted to do a good job.
You’ve called your new label, Sire Records, your “dream label.” And actually, Madonna’s self-titled debut was released on the same label in 1983. Do you think you and Madonna might have done a duet if you’d been on the same label back in the day? Was there ever talk of that happening?
Oh, not by business people. You know, I always felt for me, I would’ve loved to do _What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?_ with her… ’cause I think that’s very funny! (Laughs hysterically)
Which part would you play?
Come on! Who do you think I’d play? I’d play Baby Jane – I’d be torturin’ her. Because she’s always viewed as the bad girl, you know! They’d make her the good girl and I’d be the bad one. Or (we could do Joan Crawford’s 1954 western-drama) Johnny Guitar – she’d be the righteous one (laughs). But whatever. Who knows! For me, all I wanna do is a good job. I wanna be a great singer. I wanna learn. I wanna always learn. I study music constantly. I try and listen to what’s happening. I try and listen to what’s happened, to what I might’ve missed. I think music is… I love it and I think it lifts people up. I think I finally did a record that makes people happy, ya know? Maybe I learned that from Kinky Boots.
Pop, rock, country, blues. Is there anything you can’t sing?
Really, this is the roots of rock, that’s what I sang, you know what I’m sayin’, hun? It’s all the roots. The blues was the roots of what we sing and so is this. There was a time when country and R&B were very linked. The songs would go from R&B to country, country to R&B. A perfect example of that would be the Wilma Burgess hit “Misty Blue,” that was a hit in 1966 and then in 1975 for Dorothy Moore. But they were pop songs.
When I was little, Patsy Cline was on the radio. She was not country radio – she wasn’t segregated to country radio, and neither was Loretta Lynn and neither was Johnny Cash. Those guys were on the pop stations. And we had three AM stations, and everybody was on ’em in New York. You know, some of the stuff, especially “Funnel of Love,” it was a rockabilly song and Wanda Jackson was one of the earlier rockers, and when I was in Blue Angel (Lauper’s pre-solo career rockabilly band) – oh, she was prominent on my playlist because she was an early rocker and there weren’t a lot of women rockers that you listened to, but you always listened to her. You listened to the amazing Brenda Lee, but Wanda Jackson was just a little dirtier.
Do you have your cowgirl boots picked out for the tour?
I’m having trouble with shoes – a lot of trouble. I think some of the shoes I wear are ugly but they don’t hurt. I just don’t want my feet to hurt anymore. You know, I just want a nice pair of wide combat boots and I’d be happy. But I don’t know. I’ll probably find somebody who can actually make me shoes that don’t hurt so I can dance! I don’t want to dance barefoot anymore because I think I beat my feet up that way too.
How about some comfy slippers?
Slippers aren’t strong enough. We do rock. When you slam your foot down, you gotta have some weight to it. You can’t just have a little slipper on.
Why is it important to you to still perform in North Carolina despite the state’s new discriminatory legislation known as the “bathroom bill”?
North Carolina is a very important place to go because once people are disenfranchised the way they have been, it’s very important to bring light to a place where people have none and also educate people on what the real concerns are and get people involved in their own destiny.
It’s hard for me to even string these words together, but because you were on Celebrity Apprentice: What if Donald Trump becomes president?
Ugh. Everybody keeps asking me the same question. I don’t know. I really don’t know. I wouldn’t feel that good about it. I don’t think people should campaign to stop Trump. I think people should vote, for one, and vote for the person they feel is most responsible and can really understand the way the government works right now and make it move forward instead of stopping it every frickin’ two minutes and costing people who pay taxes a lot of money. It’s a little disconcerting – the whole frickin’ thing – and it’s gone on for too long.
You’ve won just about every major award – so, then, what does getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame mean to you?
It’s funny because I had been approached a few times over the years and this time felt right. It was surreal – and to get a star on the same day as my good friend Harvey (Fierstein) felt awesome.
It’s been seven years since Bring Ya to the Brink, your last full album of original non-musical material. Do you write? Are there plans to release original material under your own name?
Well, I’m probably gonna write another Broadway show.
Oh, you are?!
Yes. I think if I wrote (for a solo project) I’d probably write under a pseudonym and sing under a pseudonym because it’d just be a lot easier to have it be received better.
Why do you say that?
Oh, you know, I like good music (laughs). There’s a really great sound coming out of California – the Southern Bay area has a whole kind of surf, kind of rock sound. Little bit of what we did on “Funnel of Love,” but there’s a whole resurgence and group of people doing that kind of surf bass-y sound but rock.
Why can’t you put your name on it?
I don’t know. Because I don’t want to be judged. I’d rather do new music with a paper bag over my head and be the unknown singer. (Laughs)
But you’ve been in the spotlight for almost your entire life. Aren’t you used to critics?
No, I know, but there are things that I can do as Cyndi Lauper and things that I can’t. Just ’cause I can’t doesn’t mean I won’t. I just won’t do it in a conventional way.
You never have, though! That’s why you’re so adored.
Well, thanks. I mean, with this record, I was very fortunate to have some really incredible people on it. I don’t even know – it just happened. It snowballed and the producer, Tony Brown, knew somebody and I knew Emmylou Harris and wanted Emmylou Harris to come and sing. It’s a kind of small town, so I had met with (songwriter / producer) Buddy Cannon who was working with Alison Krauss and Willie Nelson and all of a sudden it started to come together just like that.
I had gone to see Vince Gill and kind of knew him through his wife Amy (Grant) when I did a concert years ago and he had liked a song that I did called “Water’s Edge.” I went to go see him with the Time Jumpers, and when I went to do Detour I felt like if we had him lay down the track with a couple of the Time Jumpers it would really make sense and feel right because they understood real cowboy swing. Tony contacted him and he said he would come in and he did. It just fell together. And if you went to see him with the Time Jumpers, you wouldn’t believe it because he’s really that good. I just thought to myself, “Oh my god, these musicians are great – pinch yourself now because you’re actually really doing this.”