You Should Still Crush on Jesse McCartney

You Should Still Crush on Jesse McCartney

We talked to the ex-teenage heartthrob and realized he's now an adult heartthrob.

We talked to the ex-teenage heartthrob and realized he's now an adult heartthrob.

Text: MATHIAS ROSENZWEIG

Jesse McCartney's name rings a lot of different bells for a lot of different people. Perhaps most famously, the singer-songwriter serenaded his way into millennials' hearts with his debut solo album, Beautiful Soul. But before that, the now 31-year-old hit his stride on the soap opera All My Children as well as the boy group Dream Street. His solo career has since launched six studio albums, a fragrance ("Wanted by Jesse"), and an acting/voiceover career that's prolific enough to make one wonder how he finds time to write music or go on tour, the latter of which he'll be doing in 2019 with the Resolution US Tour.

And while most of us got to know McCartney in his earlier years, his recent work maintains his flair for pop music while exploring more adult subjects.

We spoke to McCartney about hitting the road, starting to work at a young age, and how things are different now.

You're heading on tour soon. How is life on the road for you? 

Great! I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve been doing a lot of college shows in all different corners of the country, so I’m taking a lot of airline flights, sometimes on back to back days. I’ll admit that kind of travel can be draining. The Resolution Tour will be different because it’s a bus tour, so we literally travel while we sleep! I also love the sense of community on a tour when my band, crew and I all have one goal—to put on the best show possible every night. The peak of each day is the show itself when I get all the great energy of the fans. It’s a huge adrenaline rush and I'm super pumped after each show.

Do you have any preference between engaging with your fans in real life during shows versus engaging with people on social media? 

There’s no question that real life is better. Social media is a great way to engage with fans, and in some cases, it ’s the only way to connect with fans who can’t get to the shows, but to me nothing is better than face-to-face.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how social media has changed the culture. Some people are so connected on socials, they stop being fully present in their lives. I’m more of a real-life person and if I wasn’t a “public figure,” I think I might not even be on social media. However, I know it’s an important connection between me and the fans, so I go with it.

You've worked in this industry from a very young age. How do you think things might be different if you'd started a bit older? 

That’s a good question. Starting young gave me an edge because I think I was the right age to appeal to adolescent girls, a fanbase that is probably the most passionate and their attachment can stick for life. That phase of my career catapulted me into a new level of fame that opened up more opportunities. The downside was that the teen idol image was hard to shake. It was an extra hurdle to gain credibility as a songwriter and artist when I was no longer that teen boy. If I had started when I was older, I wouldn’t have any outdated perception of me, but I might not have had such a catapult either. No regrets, man.

What subjects do you find yourself often writing about now? 

With some songs, I draw from my relationship with my girlfriend, like in “Better with You”. On other songs I’m writing fiction and mixing it with real-life experiences. I’ll let the fans guess at whether there was ever someone who only called when she was “Wasted”. ;)

Sonically, how has your music changed over the years? 

I started with a pure pop sound on Beautiful Soul. It was the right sound to launch my career. My next album Right Where You Want Me had an electric guitar pop-rock feel, although the title track did have a funky R&B verse. Departure was made with the top R&B writers and producers at the time and I had 3 big singles: “Leavin’”, “How Do You Sleep”, and “Body Language”. My next release, In Technicolor, took a more retro, old-school R&B turn. After that I took a break to regroup.

When I came back with "Better With You", I brought it full circle. The song has an acoustic guitar-centric verse that was reminiscent of Beautiful Soul, but then it hits you with a modern, almost EDM-influenced drop in the chorus.  “Wasted” is a newer sound for me using some of those pop EDM influences.

How do you define success for yourself when it comes to releasing new music? 

My first goal is to connect with my core audience and fans—always. The ones who have kept my career going. The other goal is to convert new listeners to true fans. To the degree that I’ve done both, that's success. But I’m not just measuring success by stream counts or chart positions. Are the offers to do live shows getting bigger and better? By that measure, this has been a huge year for me.

What's your particular process for pairing music with visuals (album art, music videos, etc.)? 

For covers, I’ll brainstorm ideas with a visual artist who I've chosen because their style fits what I want. Then I’ll get “comps” (composites) which is what we call sample cover ideas. I’ll choose and fine tune with the artist until it’s right. Sometimes it’s a longer back and forth and sometimes it’s super fast.

When I make videos, the usual process is having video directors submit treatments, which are like a script but with images to illustrate the action, colors, lighting, story and follow along with the words of the song. The treatments themselves can be a work of art! I’ll choose which director captures the song in an original way or go out to more directors for more submissions. My last video, "Better With You", was a first in that I collaborated from start to finish with the director, Jo Roy.  It was by far my favorite experience and my favorite video. My next video for Wasted will be more lighthearted and comedic, so I’m using a director that has a knack for comedy.

When you're on stage and you look out into the audience, what type of person are you seeing? Can you describe the person who you think connects with your music? Day 1 fans, new fans, etc. 

I can’t generalize the fans but I can say the majority are more female than male and probably around 18-35 years old, though there are younger and older people who come too. I notice more guys in the audience than before.  Fans have come onboard in so many different ways. Day 1 fans from Dream Street or Beautiful Soul are in their late 20s and I’ve scooped up college-age fans from later hits. I also see more than a few fans at meet and greets who say they first heard of me because I voiced a character, Roxas in their favorite video game, Kingdom Hearts, or because I voice Darkwing in Young Justice. I also see old school All My Children fans from when I was on that show from 1999! And then a few fans are actually bringing their kids. A new generation. It’s crazy!

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