The 'Beautiful Soul' hitmaker was the ultimate teen heartthrob of the early 2000s – then he slipped off the grid. In honour of his viral tweet-fuelled renaissance, we ask: what the fuck has he been doing for the past 15 years?
Once upon a time, everybody fancied Jesse McCartney. Somewhere in the early 2000s, between N*sync-era Justin Timberlake and the moment in history we shall henceforth know as ‘The Time People Wanted to Shag Zac Efron in High School Musical’, this baby-faced, impossibly charming pop star – a recent graduate from failed ’90s boy band Dream Street – managed to cement himself as the ultimate teen heartthrob of his day.
But how did it all happen? Maybe it was his mop of mousey blonde hair that stunned the masses into submission? Perhaps his Clearasil-standard skin and terrifyingly bright smile did the trick? Or maybe it was the one song that, even today, is the only track people can mention when they hear an uttering of his name: the hideously charming ‘Beautiful Soul’?
At the time, every straight teenage girl and gay boy closed their eyes at night and imagined a life spent with Jesse McCartney; contemplating the reactions of their friends as he’d meet them after school, bearing gifts and flowers and promises of marriage. He was the one everybody wanted. Then, merely months later, it seemed like nobody cared.
Earlier this week, we were reminded of all of this. Twitter was set alight with the arrival of a new viral meme. Inspired by M.I.A.’s Paper Planes, the ‘All I Wanna Do Is’ meme uses the song’s famous chorus – ‘All I wanna do is’, four gunshots, then the click of a cash register’ – but replaces the closing line ‘And take your money’ with people’s own novel suggestions. Some used it to profess their love for Julia Roberts, others used it to assess their mental health.
But a 31-year-old pop star, perhaps a little past his prime but still (apparently) making music, used it to single-handedly propel his most iconic banger back into the mainstream. To anyone who hasn’t been a loyal Jesse stan in the past 15 years, his Beautiful Soul-inspired tweet was like a pure reminder of a time in music most of us had started to forget. Perhaps we had falsely assumed that Jesse, too, had forgotten about it as well.
Old school fans were shook. Where had their pop prince been all this time? Why had the man who once shaped their teenage fantasies slipped out of their minds almost entirely?
Well, those desperately praying for a comeback had an even bigger surprise in store: Jesse McCartney hasn’t fucking been anywhere. In fact, he’s been everywhere: acting, voicing video game characters, writing songs for other artists, even creating a bloody perfume! Heck, he’s released three albums since ‘Beautiful Soul’, but you were all too shallow, probably fawning over some new pop thing, to take note.
It was in those final, formative years that he released his last album that people reacted to. We hate to admit it, but there are bangers aplenty on ‘Departure’, his album which spawned the actual hit single ‘Leavin”. He wrote Leona Lewis’ ‘Bleeding Love’. He also managed to nab the oh-so-coveted role of Theodore in those live-action Alvin and the Chipmunks films which, considering they’ve grossed £990 million worldwide, probably translates into a pretty hefty paycheck.
But then, the 2010s happened. After years of doing his thing – just not on the ‘Beautiful Soul’ level we were used to – things started to go tits up. His third record ‘Have It All’, after copious delays, was scrapped. His 2014 follow-up, In Technicolour, shipped barely 7,000 copies in the US. He tweeted, for God knows what reason, a cropped photo of Eva Longoria’s feet (“that woman’s feet are sexy!”), declaring that day ‘Foot Fetish Friday’.
But since then, Jesse’s clearly polished up his social skills, learning to utilise his Twitter feed in a way that has played an integral part in keeping the former teen idol’s career alive. And that poses an interesting question: if it weren’t for the everlasting power of the internet and, in particular, social media, what would stars like Jesse McCartney – adored by the masses for a while before being shipped off to the pop cultural graveyard – do with the final burning embers of their mainstream existence? If Jesse’s career had been kickstarted 10 years earlier, would his bounce back from commercial failure and – god forbid, a public declaration of his foot fetish, have been as smooth as it was now? Probably not.
But clearly, he seems to be doing something right. With a new single, a tour with sold-out dates under his belt and a loyal Twitter and Instagram following of 1.3 million, it seems like the idea of Jesse McCartney’s career being dead in the ground – viral tweet or not – is something we might’ve sided with a little too early. ‘Beautiful Soul’ or not, there’s still life in this vintage pop heartthrob yet.