An Open Letter to Nick Jonas, Or Whomever Writes His Songs

I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever been a Jonas Brothers fan, but I’ve never actually disliked them, either.  To be completely honest, I’m not overly familiar with most of their music, and I’m not overly familiar with most of the gossip surrounding their careers.  I haven’t heard much about them in the last few years, but I think it’s fine that Nick Jonas, in the absence of a career focused on his family and their singing, is working on a solo career.  Wonderful.  My problem is the songs he is using to do so.

Let’s talk about “Jealous” for a moment, because this song has stirred up a lot of feelings for me, and for others I have talked to about it.  Jealousy as an emotion is fairly normal; I’m not faulting anyone for their occasional insecurity or jealousy in a relationship.  I think it’s a relatable subject, and if that were the core premise of the song, I’d probably be all for it.  The problem is, it’s not.  The song hinges around the lyric “It’s my right to be hellish, I still get jealous”.

You have a right to your emotions, generally speaking.  You do not have a right to take your feelings out on other people, including your intimate partner.  That’s where my problem with this song comes in: this song is about possessiveness (Nick Jonas even says so in the lyrics).  This is a song about a so-called right to ownership over your partner.  It is, in short, a song about glorifying emotional abuse.  Long-time readers of this blog can start, at this point, to imagine the number of problems I have with this as a premise.

Back in February, I had written up a post about how popular culture had normalized abusive relationships, particularly popular media targeting younger people.  This is a frequent concern of mine, given that approximately one-third of all teenagers report experiencing some form of intimate partner violence, and in particular because emotional abuse has become relatively common and is often hard to identify and even harder to combat.  In the absence of actual physical or sexual abuse, emotional abuse in and of itself does not technically constitute a crime in most of the country; it is difficult to gain access to the systems that might otherwise protect an abused individual.  Emotional abuse generally speaking doesn’t correlate with lethality, at least not in the sense that the abuser is likely to kill their partner, but I haven’t had much luck finding much data linking emotional abuse to suicide rates, eating disorders, or other high-risk behaviors which might increase the likelihood of significant health harms among those subjected to said abuse.

So when celebrities like Nick Jonas come out with songs that seemingly glorify emotional abuse, painting it as sexy or otherwise “cool”, it strikes a nerve.  He’s the kind of artist primarily listened to by younger individuals, people who are at a high risk of emotional or other abuse (and it’s worth remembering that emotional abuse is often used in conjunction with other kinds of abuse to keep the victim from leaving).  He’s essentially helping to entrench a problem that is becoming worryingly widespread, and participating in a system that necessarily tells individuals, and in particular women, that controlling, possessive behaviors are normal and reasonable.  They are not.

In case this seems like a one-off issue, let me just mention that Nick Jonas’ other recent single, which I now hear frequently on top 40 stations, also seems to glorify emotional abuse.  The entire chorus is simply, “You got me in chains for your love, but I wouldn’t change this love […] try to break the chains but the chains only wring me”.  What does that translate to? Nick Jonas is saying he feels trapped in a relationship which is clearly unhealthy, but he…wouldn’t change it?  This is, again, not the kind of relationship we should be celebrating.  Relationships that make you feel trapped, stagnated, or otherwise constrained or endangered are not sexy, or cool, or worth emulating.

It’s troubling to me that these songs have become so popular.  I get that they are catchy, but much like “Blurred Lines”, they propagate a truly problematic message that further entrench societal norms around dominance and abuse that make it difficult for survivors to meaningfully identify their situations and gain access to resources.  I’m honestly sick of watching our society celebrate relationships that demean and endanger individuals, while putting down messages of hope, or artistically created testimonials of survivorship.  While Nick Jonas’ “Jealous” is considered catchy, Taylor Swift’s “Dear John” was considered whiny-~-because we are, generally speaking, inclined to prefer the celebratory narrative of the abuser, instead of the emotionally raw, potentially troubling testimonial of the survivor (and if you don’t think that “Dear John” tells a story about an emotionally violent relationship, go listen to it a couple more times).  (Please note: I’m not trying to slap the label “abuse survivor” on Taylor Swift-~-I don’t know that she identifies that way, and that’s 100% her business; I am only saying that the situation described in “Dear John” reflects many of the major characteristics of emotionally violent/abusive relationships).

The reality is that until we stop accepting emotional abuse as normal-~-or, worse, as something we should find flattering (looking at you, Nick Jonas), we are never going to see it decline as a pattern of behavior in the United States, which means that we will continue to face all the repercussions which come with this phenomena.  I think that people deserve better-~-better than humiliation, belittlement, or fear of their partners.  Better than having to worry that innocent relationships with other individuals will be used as reasons to hurt them.  Better than having to worry that the person most likely to harm them in our society may well be the person they care for the most.  This is not something to celebrate-~-it is something we need to fight against, to reject at every level.  Something worth, at the very least, turning off the radio for.


~ by Randi Saunders on May 10, 2015.

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