Rappler Live Jam diaries: Nostalgia à la Jesse McCartney

Amanda T. Lago
Rappler Live Jam diaries: Nostalgia à la Jesse McCartney
What's it like when a 2000s teen icon grows up?

MANILA, Philippines – Jesse McCartney rose to the peak of his fame in the early 2000s, and slowly won over the hearts of many a teenage girl.

As fans, we asked our relatives in the States to send us issues of Tiger Beat with his streaky blonde side-swept moptop on the cover. We cut out his Candy Cutie photo out of Candy Magazine to paste on our filler binders. We rushed home from school and sat through almost the entire Myx Daily Top 10 just to catch a glimpse of his California golden boy smile on screen for several minutes.

At the time, Jesse held our tender teenage hearts in his hands, which, come to think of it, seems a big responsibility for someone who was so young himself. Miraculously he didn’t break them – even when our fantasies of him serenading us with “Beautiful Soul” remained unfulfilled.

After a decade in the limelight, Jesse took a break from the music industry so slowly and quietly, many fans barely even noticed. Just like that, we were left pining for something we didn’t quite know until it made a comeback a decade later, and visited our office on a carmageddony Friday night. ([WATCH] Rappler Live Jam: Jesse McCartney)

Just to be clear, it isn’t Jesse McCartney we’re talking about here, not exactly. It’s not him we have desperately been pining for all this time (though it’s not out of the realm of possibility that his staunchest fans have been doing exactly that).

What we’ve been looking for since he took a break, it’s that…thrill. Of being young and not knowing anything, and being fine with it. Of being curious and excited. Of being so hopelessly in love and shamelessly heartbroken that you can sing lyrics like “just so you know I tried my best to let go of you but I dont want to,” and utterly mean it.

Jesse returned to the music scene in late 2018, and it’s not like he ever truly disappeared from the public eye, but all the same, fans have been reacquainting themselves with the 2000s icon.

COMEBACK. Jesse McCartney talks about returning to the music scene as an older, more experienced artist. Photo by Chili Ramon

These days, Jesse’s side-swept streaky blonde moptop is no longer. There are laugh lines around his eyes and a solidness to his face that were not there before. He is also, arguably, much better dressed, though to be fair, everyone is these days, if the 2000s is our point of reference. He’s on social media now, too, posting not only about his music but about, for instance, the food he ate that day – like a true millennial.

On Live Jam on July 12 – the day before his first Manila concert – Jesse sang only one song. Not one of his early-noughts hits, but his latest single, “Wasted.” It doesn’t take a genius to take apart the lyrics – it’s a straightforward song about someone who only calls when they’re, well, wasted. Before he performed it, I told him that his early 2000s fangirls would not have been able to relate to that song.

“No, but they totally get it now,” Jesse laughed.

And he was right. The fans who used to daydream about being the girl in the car in the “Beautiful Soul” video will now certainly be acquainted with that middle-of-the-night “heeyyyyyy” text from that person who, as Jesse sings, “only calls when they’re wasted.” Those fans may even have been that person.

It’s a much less dreamy picture than the ones Jesse’s earlier stuff used to paint. His comeback single “Better With You,” released in in late 2018, had a ring of real-world heaviness to it even as it told a pretty romantic story.

“For every life there is a silent cry/ For every day there is a darker night/ Sometimes this life doesn’t treat us right/ And I don’t know what to do/ But I know it’s better with you,“ he sings on the track.

Evidently, the music has grown up too.

Which is perhaps why, in this nostalgia-hungry era that gave rise to countless live-action Disney remakes, Jesse’s return to form is one we can actually look forward to. He’s not just spitting out rehashed “woker” versions of the same material. He’s telling different stories.

“I’ve gotten a little bit more perspective over the years than I had when I was 16 years old. I’ve been in more relationships, I’ve seen the world at this point, I’ve learned a lot more about life. It allows you to become a better songwriter, so you know, while still maybe sounding similar, the stories have changed over the years,” he said.

Jesse’s comeback is hinged on nostalgia for sure. But he also gives justice to the growing up his fans have done over the last few years – obviously because he’s done some growing up himself.

Of course, while the material may be different, Jesse has retained the uncanny ability to write what would be an undeniable earworm. “Wasted” for instance, is something you’ll hear once and probably find yourself singing unconsciously hours and hours later.

Also, and amazingly, Jesse has managed to reduce a room of hardened, world-weary adults into giggly teenage girls once again, if only for a moment. When he performed in our office, there was that thrill again. It’s a quieter thrill this time, a more manageable one. It’s not the same thrill one gets from feeling young, and innocent, and curious, and being shamelessly, hopelessly in love.

Rather, I think this type of thrill is from knowing that even if life isn’t so pretty anymore and relationships aren’t as easy, even if, for instance, our capacity to be loved has been reduced to becoming someone’s booty call, it is still an experience that is worth singing about. – Rappler.com

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Amanda T. Lago

After avoiding long-term jobs in favor of travelling the world, Amanda finally learned to commit when she joined Rappler in July 2017. As a lifestyle and entertainment reporter, she writes about music, culture, and the occasional showbiz drama. She also hosts Rappler Live Jam, where she sometimes tries her best not to fan-girl on camera.