For one week late in March, the Jonas Brothers were the TikTok For You page. They hadn’t put out a new song or made a special announcement. Their latest release, The Album, which drops today, May 12, was still weeks away. But Nick Jonas had dueted a post by 23-year-old comedy star Jake Shane.
Shane had recently hit it big on the app with a series of bare-bones videos in which he conducts a fantastical one-sided conversation about a moment in history—playing, for example, Diet Coke learning about the existence of Coke Zero. In Nick’s duet (a video reply that plays side-by-side with another video), he played the role of Coke, who was breaking the news of the betrayal.
“IN WHAT WORLD IS THIS ACTUALLY REAL,” Shane commented under the duet, but that wasn’t the end of it. As the days passed, Joe and then Kevin Jonas made their own contributions to the bit, constructing an elaborate cast of characters and a dramatic narrative arc about soda.
This type of niche, metacontextual TikTok interaction is normally reserved for the “regular” people who use the app and is only coherent to those with a thorough understanding of its in-jokes and cultural language. But in the past year, the Jonas Brothers have demonstrated a TikTok fluency unlike any other traditional celebrities. With a combined 13 million followers—and seven million more on the official Jonas Brothers account—and videos that regularly receive millions of views, the Jonas Brothers are the rare stars who can genuinely meet their fans where they’re at online. (TikTok has obviously taken notice: The band was also just announced as a featured artist on the app’s new #NewMusic discovery hub.)
“We’re just having fun and not overthinking it,” the brothers tell GQ in a statement. “We spend a lot of our downtime using TikTok, so the inspiration for new ideas is constantly churning.”
Nick tends to create his videos, like the french onion soup or Dude Wipes clips, on the spot; Joe will often surprise his brothers with the more eccentric things he sometimes posts. The group works with a digital strategist and other team members who send them trending TikTok sounds and videos from fans and other creators to duet or stitch (i.e., use a clip of the video as an introduction to one’s own).
In March 2022, Joe dueted—on TikTok, but also literally—with 23-year-old indie singer-songwriter Katie Lynne Sharbaugh on one of her songs. She says the unexpected shoutout sent tons of new listeners to her Spotify, and that Joe has remained a follower since.
“I remember repeatedly opening and exiting TikTok to [see] the existence of real, digital proof that this legend had somehow taken notice of me on a random day in March,” Sharbough says. “I was, and continue to be, so honored that he took the time to show appreciation for my music to the extent of learning and sharing it.”
As time passed, the collaborations got more creative—and more in the weeds with TikTok’s most beloved characters and jokes.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” actor and TikTok creator Brian Jordan Alvarez says, recalling the moment when Joe followed him on TikTok in the summer of 2022. Alvarez was just then gaining a following for his bumbling character TJ Mack and Mack’s stern but passionate wife, also played by Alvarez. Joe invited TJ Mack and his wife to the Jonas Brothers show in Las Vegas in a comment on a video of Alvarez’s, and insisted he was serious. Joe and Alvarez hung out ahead of the show, and the two ended up making a TJ Mack video together.
“Joe really understood that character [and] he really connects with the whole joke,” Alvarez says. “Joe has a very specific and great sense of humor, and I’m lucky enough to be someone whose comedy he really gets.”
At this point, each member of the band has had their own brush with TikTok’s biggest celebrities, thanks in part to a TikTok summit of sorts in April, in which the brothers appeared in videos by popular creators like Drew Afualo, Brookie and Jessie, Adam Rose, and Max Balegde.
“Oh my God they are everywhere,” a commenter wrote on Balegde’s video.
The brothers have been very online for a very long time, starting on MySpace in 2005, and later with short joke videos on YouTube. In 2019, to celebrate the band getting back together after their 2013 split, they recreated one of their most viral early videos.
“I think they just ‘get it,’” Alvarez says. “Like, they are just legitimately funny guys who know how to make a great internet video.”
“When someone’s online presence consists of only polished material made by their team or vlog-style narration of a lifestyle their fans can’t relate to, it can make fans feel detached and removed from the artist’s daily life,” Sharbaugh says. “The Jonas Brothers do the opposite.”
Digital cultural literacy, and a personality that can play with it, is proving to be the secret to success on an app that musical artists and their labels are eager to crack. A path pioneered by creators like Lil Nas X, Jason Derulo, and Lizzo has been followed by artists like Rina Sawayama and Charli XCX—while openly bemoaned by others like Halsey, FKA Twigs, and Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine. For the Jonas Brothers, though, it seems less like a task on a list of promotional obligations and more like a hobby they’d be pursuing anyways, in between talk shows and radio interviews. In today’s music industry, that hobby might very well be the most important of the three.