Joe Jonas on Disney: “I Had to Shave Every Day”

The faces change, but Disney's product — screwed up adolescents suspended in arrested development — remains the same.


If you aren’t quite feeling like time is passing you by, a simple reminder that Britney Spears turned 32 this past Monday may be enough to do the trick.

In a Daily Beast review of her latest release, Britney Jean, Kevin Fallon dubs Spears “the last of the pop goddesses,” thanks in part to her ability to stick to the script as a Disney alumna and Jive Records recording artist: Stay within that fourth wall.

A confessional Britney Jean is not — the album stays within the comfortable place of traditional pop music, requiring little in the way of self-reflection, autobiographical narrative or a declaration of personal perspective. Staying true to this has allowed Britney, despite issues with her health and complications in her personal life, to stay above the fray artistically and continue to make (and be) product. It’s the reason it feels strange to say that Britney is 32. Teen pop stars don’t age; they just burn out.

Surely, the teen (and young adult) pop sensations of Disney fame are exactly what’s being bought and sold for profit, under the auspices of good clean fun. The façade, as we now know, is just that, with more and more Disney stars crumbling under the pressure, and melting down under the bright lights of the Mouse House.

Young people — whether famous or not – experiment with drugs and sex. So taken in isolation, it seems like Disney gives too much, too quickly, to those who are too young. But a closer look may spur questions about Disney’s role in Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Mischa Barton and others wandering that same crooked path to adulthood.

When a bearded Joe Jonas decided to sit down with Vulture with Jennifer Vineyard as his confessor, the fourth wall was ripped to shreds. He confessed to the drugs he’d taken with fellow Disney stars, to the overzealous fans that show up without invitation in his hotel room; to the Disney bottom line cutting into the natural desire to express oneself; and to the frustration and resentment it caused him.

All the things Disney doesn’t want us to know. Or see. Like when Vanessa Hudgens “had to be in the Disney offices for a whole day because they were trying to figure out how to keep her on lockdown.” The stuff that isn’t quite on-message with the dysfunction Disney’s been peddling as Americana.

Teen pop stardom requires a little more from teens that it does the average star. Like a conference about a young woman’s virginity (as with Spears) or,  Jonas having to mask the natural signs of physical maturation: “I had to shave every day because they wanted me to pretend like I was 16 when I was 20 (when the show was done, I cut my hair off and grew as much of a beard as I could),” he said.

As fame demands more, as the studio suffocates the self, the rebellion gets more drastic. “Screw all this, I’m just going to show people who I am,” Jonas recalls saying when he felt he’d “reached his limit.”

The question is when will Disney, which has run a continuous production line of teen sensations since Annette Funicello in the 1950s Mickey Mouse Club, reach theirs?

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