Jonas Brothers: Pure talent

They're holy and impossibly wholesome, but when Russell Brand thought he could use America's Jonas Brothers for cheap laughs, he got it so wrong. By Esther Walker
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The Independent Culture

Some British things don't translate well in America. A free and universal health service, Marmite and tennis whites have never managed to gain a foothold across the pond. And neither, it seems has Russell Brand, whose now-infamous appearance at the MTV video awards on Monday night was received by the All-American audience about as well as a cold cup of sick.

Most unpopular with the audience was Brand's treatment of the Jonas Brothers, a young pop group trio of squeaky-clean siblings, who wear "purity rings" as a proud symbol of their virginity.

By way of teasing the brothers about their pledge, Brand produced a similar ring onstage and held it aloft, claiming it has been given up by band member Nick, 15. "Nick was a bit reluctant at first," joked Brand, "but after a bit he realised that it was for the best."

The audience of American teens was nonplussed, and Brand was forced to apologise to the audience by American Idol winner and fellow purity ring wearer Jordin Sparks, who said: "It's not bad to wear a promise ring because not everybody, guy or girl, wants to be a slut!"

Watch 'Burnin' Up' by Jonas Brothers

"That was bad of me," said Brand sheepishly. "I didn't mean to take it lightly. I love Jonas Brothers. I don't want to piss off teenage fans."

And well might Brand not want to annoy Jonas Brothers' young fans. They are legion.

When the band performed for an outside broadcast for Good Morning America last month, 15,000 people – mostly girls between the ages of 12 and 17 – packed into New York's Bryant Park before 5am. It was Good Morning America's largest ever live audience. They have also played three sell-out shows to the 60,000-seater Madison Square Gardens. Where has this phenomenon sprung from?

Kevin, 20, Joe, 19 and Nick, 15 grew up in Wycoff, New Jersey. Their father, Kevin Jonas Snr, is a pastor and their mother, Denise, used to be a sign-language teacher; both are amateur musicians. There is also a younger brother, Frankie (aka "Bonus Jonas") who is seven. As befits their religious background, none of the brothers swear, drink, do drugs or plan to have sex before marriage.
Watch footage of Jonas Brothers

Despite being the youngest in the band, it is Nick who is the inspiration behind this band; he was discovered while singing in a barber shop at the age of six and sent to a talent agent. By the age of seven, he was performing on Broadway.

He had a brief solo career, releasing a single co-written with his father "Joy To The World" ("A Christmas Prayer") and an album, Nicholas Jonas, co-written with his two brothers.

Jonas Brothers (originally called Sons of Jonas) made their first album, It's About Time (2006), with Columbia Records, who dropped them in early 2007, whereupon the brothers signed up with Hollywood Records, the music arm of Disney. Columbia Records must be kicking themselves now. Since joining The House of Mouse, their career has taken off.

It's About Time was soon followed up by Jonas Brothers (2007), which sold 1.4m copies and their latest, A Little Bit Longer (2008), has sold more than 1m copies so far. They made the front cover of Rolling Stone in July of this year.

They are rumoured to have earned $12m in 2007 and give 10 per cent of their earnings to their own charity, Change For The Children. Awh.

"They're actually quite edgy, with an indie, guitar sound not unlike Busted," says Samantha Wood, celebrity editor of Sugar magazine, whose main demographic, 14- and 15-year-old girls, are pretty wild about the band. "They're very wholesome at the same time as playing quite punky music. There's nothing dark about them at all and actually a lot of teenagers really like that."

But will UK's pre-teens take to the brothers as enthusiastically as our American cousins?

James McMahon, features editor of NME, thinks not. "The UK is too obsessed with sex for Jonas Brothers to be really popular. That wholesome thing, there hasn't been anyone like that since Cliff. Even Take That was all about raunch. I think they're quite sinister, actually. Really creepy."

Although purity-ring wearing hasn't taken off quite as vertically in the UK as it has in the States, Jonas Brothers are still enjoying a surge of popularity among teens here, thanks to the Disney Channel, which comes with most UK satellite television bundles.

Capitalising on their musical success, Disney executives decided to cast Jonas Brothers in their own TV movie, Camp Rock. The trio arrived in the UK yesterday for the premiere event tonight at the Royal Festival Hall to celebrate the release of the same movie on the Disney Channel UK on 19 September.

Camp Rock is a follow-up – but not a sequel – to the hugely popular High School Musical, also a Disney Channel TV movie. The film's soundtrack debuted at No 3 on the Billboard 200 with 188,000 copies sold in its first week.

"High School Musicals 1 and 2 both did incredibly well in the UK," adds Wood. "I think Camp Rock is going to make Jonas Brothers absolutely huge this year."

With both God and Disney on their side, how can they fail?