Jesse McCartney Explains the ‘Timeless’ Appeal of ‘Beautiful Soul’ as It Turns 15 (INTERVIEW)
Jesse McCartney is a Renaissance man. A former member of the boy band Dream Street, in 2004 McCartney broke out on his own with his hit single “Beautiful Soul.” It catapulted him into being a household name. This year, the song celebrates 15 years since its release.
“It is a throwback song for sure,” the Los Angeles-based singer and actor tells PopCrush. “And it’s funny to even say those words because you never think you’re going to say that.”
While many know McCartney for his sweet vocals and his status as a mid-2000s pop heartthrob, he's also been acting since he was a kid. After “Beautiful Soul,” the artist turned back to film and television, including appearing on two seasons of the Freeform sitcom Young & Hungry and providing the voice of Theodore in the Alvin & the Chipmunks live-action animated movies.
In 2018, McCartney returned to the studio to focus on music once more, releasing "Better With You" and "Wasted." In Jan. 2019, he released the delightful soap opera-themed music video for the latter, bridging his music and acting chops.
McCartney, who's currently on his Resolution Tour, recently caught up with PopCrush to chat about his 2019 music plans (including the potential for a new album), the "Wasted" new video and how he feels about "Beautiful Soul" fifteen years later.
What inspired the soap opera concept for "Wasted"?
I wanted to do something outside the box. [For] this project, subconsciously I wanted to unveil my true personality. Now, more than ever, I feel most comfortable in my skin, just being me. People are getting to see that `and they’re connecting with it. “Wasted” was an opportunity for me to do something that was true inside look of what kind of guy I am. I love humor. I love comedy. Sketch comedy is some of my favorite stuff. A few months before I did that video, I did a sketch for Funny or Die where I play myself, my manager and my manager’s assistant.
That was the birthplace for the soap opera idea for the video. I played these different roles. It was a big hit for Funny or Die, so we let that be the inspiration for the video. I said to the director, who came to me with this '70s/'80s bad soap opera vibe, “That’s great, but let me play every character in the video.” [The director and I] came up with a range of characters together with all these different roles. And Katie, my girlfriend, was in it as well. It’s just a way for fans to see my funny bone. And it’s a little different, too. Anybody can do a drinking song with people just getting wasted. But for me, it just called for something a little more elevated than that.
You have done a variety of different roles throughout the years, but this video really puts your comedic chops on display. Did you intentionally choose to show this side of you more now that you’re older?
When I was younger, as much as I love entertaining, it was always about tackling a character or role ... I would get up onstage and sing or act, just for the pure joy of it. Especially when it comes to creating my own content and my own sketches, I’m just wiser, older and have just experienced more. I’ve lived longer. I’ve been in and out of relationships. I’ve just been through more, so there’s more perspective.
I think that translates to my creative process [and] in my writing. It translates in putting together a comedy sketch. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten better at my craft. I’m still trying to master ... So it’s not that I wasn’t comfortable; I was younger and didn’t have as much knowledge of the world. I’m just sort of hitting my stride that’s translating into the creative process.
Why did you take more time than usual before releasing new music, like “Better With You” and “Wasted”? What can you say about your upcoming musical project?
There was almost a four year gap between my last record and “Better With You,” which was released March of last year. There were a number of [reasons]. One, there was a number of acting projects I was working on, like Young & Hungry. I had done some songwriting at that time. I just hadn’t released anything. I was just trying to get better as a writer [and] also figure out what I wanted to write about.
That’s part of being a creative person. You’ve got to create. Do other things and not be afraid to fall flat or do some stuff outside of your comfort zone. For me, that’s what it was about. I spent time on some acting projects and on some guest starring work on TV. I did a Nashville songwriting camp where I focused on songwriting just for country music, something I never thought I would do. The opportunity presented itself, and I was like, “Sure, it sounds fun. I want to try that.” I just wanted to try something that was different. I think when you’re in the pop bubble for so long, it can drive you a little crazy if you’re only doing that one thing...
[Now] I just want to keep trickling out music, and if it’s one song at a time or two songs at a time, that seems to be working with the fans. [But] this year, they’re very vocal about wanting more material all at once. But once you drop an entire project, within a month, they’re still going to want new stuff, right? The audience can never be completely satiated. My goal is to put out a couple of songs at a time right now, see where the wind blows. If it means a full-length album, then great. If not, at the very end of the day, there’s still going to be new music.
Now that you did the Nashville writing camp, will that inspire some of the new material?
Am I going to be touring with Tim McGraw this year? No. [Laughs.] I love country music. I’ve learned a lot about country, especially over the last four or five years. I date a girl from the south, so she was actually responsible for getting me into the deeper country stuff. I think it’s an amazing genre, and I don’t think think I’ll be putting out any country music, but it’s something I would never say never to ['cause] I do love it.
"Beautiful Soul” turns 15 this year. When you released that, did you think it was going to turn into the hit that it became?
The song has really stood the test of time. It’s pretty amazing. It was my debut single. Obviously, it is a strong part of who I am and how I came to be a household name and a part of this industry. It’s a great song. I didn’t write it myself, but I wish I had.
When I play it live, everyone gets into it. It takes them to a certain place in their life when they were younger, usually. It’s amazing to me that it’s turning 15, and even more unbelievable that I’m still singing it. But I think it’s one of those songs that has a timeless feel to it. And as long as I’m onstage singing and moving around, I think I’ll have to play that one.
You've also been doing a lot of voice work, namely for the Kingdom Hearts video game series. What has that been like?
Voice acting is something a lot of people don’t know I have my hand in. It’s a fun job. You can walk into a studio and not worry about what you look like and get behind the microphone and create different voices.
The Kingdom Hearts franchise was a little different in that it started as a Japanese video game, and I had no idea what the game was about really. I’m not a huge gamer, but they told me what it was — the wild fantastical world of Disney characters. To me, it was unbelievable. It goes back to doing new creative things. When they approached me about it, I thought it was really interesting and I had to try it. I had no idea it was going to turn into this huge, international cult following.
I have fans who meet me at my live shows who don’t know my music, don’t necessarily care. They just want to take a picture with Roxas from Kingdom Hearts, so it’s pretty wild ... I'm thrilled to be part of that game and that franchise.
What are your plans for 2019?
More music in the next couple of months. But I also don't know; things could change. Opportunities could present themselves from the strangest of places and at times when you don’t expect them to come. It remains to be seen, but that’s kind of how I like it — to wake up and not know what kind of thing is happening that day.