Jon Bellion’s message is consistent: be genuine, be great, be humble, treat others with love, and believe in yourself.
It’s an hour before doors open in Nashville for the Jon Bellion, SonReal, and Blaque Keyz show and my girlfriend and I are sitting on SonReal’s bus. We start off with a long overdue catch up with him and his team hearing about SonReal’s success in his homeland of Canada (he has the #5 most Shazamed song in Canada, and a 6 week stint on the radio charts). Quickly, conversation veers from SonReal to praise about Jon Bellion and the Beautiful Mind (his 9 piece band).
From talking about how Jon has the best kinds of fans (dedicated, engaged, and open), to every member of Bellion’s camp being genuinely kind, it is evident that in just one week of touring with Jon Bellion that he has profoundly inspired SonReal’s camp. The main inspiration comes from a message that is consistent with everyone that is lucky enough to meet Jon Bellion and The Beautiful Mind: be genuine, be great, be humble, treat others with love, and believe in yourself.
As show time approaches and Blaque Keyz gets ready to take the stage, we walk around back to see the most important artist of our generation taking a nap by himself on the weathered couch in the green room. Why is this unassuming guy one of the most influential and important artists alive right now? Let’s start with 7 basic observations about Jon Bellion.
1.He may have the best album of 2016
I do not say this lightly. There has been an influx of great albums this year from artists such as Chance The Rapper, Kanye West, Beyonce, and more … but Jon’s is a stand alone piece of art from start to finish. Every song is powerful. It is the best mixed/mastered album of the year, the attention to detail is unparalleled, and the fusion between genres creates such wide mass appeal that kids and adults will enjoy it. I mean, who else has the top country producer and Illmind working together on one song? I encourage that before you read the rest of this article, you buy (or stream) the album to hear for yourself.
This is not just my opinion though, the numbers speak for itself. In his first week, with his debut album, he was sitting at #5 on the Billboard Top 200 list (behind Drake, Nick Jonas, Hamilton The Musical, and Beyonce but ahead of Rihanna, Twenty One Pilots, Adele, and more). For someone that many people, including Sway, are just finding out about, this is an amazing accomplishment. And it is every bit deserved.
2.The album is completely reimagined for a live performance – the opposite of playing songs exactly as you heard them on the recordings
With such a great album to tour on, it would be easy to play every song the way fans are used to hearing it; however, Jon Bellion and the Beautiful Mind did the exact opposite. They have rearranged and reimagined each song to be a completely new experience. The result is a continually engaged fanbase through every second of the show that can still sing along to the words, but erupts in cheers for every little display of musicianship they were not expecting. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Jon created parts of the album specifically for a live show (especially the choice to stay away from 808s except the beginning to He Is The Same which he wanted to keep to start his live show off with a bang).
What does come as a surprise though, is that in 7 years of going to hundreds of shows for GMAD artists, I have never witnessed someone take this approach. I’ve seen people add jam sessions, perform parts a capella, or change bridges/choruses … but never change everything from start to finish. Why? Because it is super risky. You have to keep the songs the same enough that fans can still engage and love the songs they’ve been playing on repeat, but add elements that only make the song better. It makes a live show a truly memorable experience.
3.He uses God in an inclusive, not exclusive, way
This is the most inspiring thing about Jon Bellion. He uses his belief in God (and many of the band members share it with him), to create a message of unity and inclusiveness. During his set he said (and I’m not going to get this right or do it justice) “how beautiful is it that we are all here right now, we are all experiencing this together, no matter your beliefs/race/etc we are all unified in this very moment through music” and got the crowd to chant about how what happened in Orlando and Christina Grimmie was not okay in any regard. It was a powerful experience that would make the least religious person feel connected to something greater.
Too often is religion used as a way to unite people who think like you, and ostracize the people who don’t share your views. Not with Jon. His message is one of universal love, finding the common human elements in all of us, and at no point does it sound preachy. It’s authentic love. The best kind of love.
4. His band, the Beautiful Mind, have inspiring chemistry and attention to detail
It seems like a cool idea when a group of ten 18 year olds tell each other during their freshman year of college that if one of them starts to “make it”, they will bring everyone else along for the ride. However, that seems like something out of a fairytale and not reality. But this amazing group of young men have done just that. They have kept each other grounded, stuck true to their words, and continued to inspire each other every single day.
The bond they have together is evident in the ways that they interact backstage, and undeniable from the moment they take the stage. It’s inspiring to those watching, and it leads to a level of authenticity that is all too rare as artists reach stardom.
5. His shows are played at the right venues
Nashville was the smallest show of his tour (at Exit/In), but there was a very calculated reason for each venue on tour. They want every show to sell out because that kind of “experience” at a live show that can make a good one, great. The energy is palpable. The voices seem that much louder. Rather than making extra money by playing a bigger venue and risking having empty space, they want to ensure that each show is memorable for everyone inside.
When talking with his manager and founder of VMG, Chris Zarou, we began talking about which venue he was going to play next time in Nashville. After having the #5 album on Billboard, it would be expected for him to jump at least 2 venue sizes in Nashville. But Chris was very adamant about always playing it safe to ensure that the fans are having a good time. It’s not about the money or selling the most tickets, its about the music and the feeling it brings. It is about the experience. About making that one hour, the best hour of everyone’s life.
6. His humility is genuine
I’ve been very fortunate to talk to countless artists as they experience “fame” for the first time. While most artists will try to display humility, very rarely have I seen it as authentically delivered as I did with Jon and his crew. Part of it comes from being surrounded with people who knew you before you were famous, part from still living at your parents house and taking out the trash, but a large part of that can’t be taught. This group of guys could not be better human beings, and if one starts to get a big head, they are there to remind each other of how fortunate they are and how the music comes before any person.
7. His music is unable to be categorized – the closest you’ll come is Disney(Pixar)-pop/hip-hop
It started with an interview with Rob Markman at MTV years ago when he said Jon’s music sounded like “Disney meets Dilla”, and Rob hit the nail on the head (why he is one of the best journalists in the music industry). But this sound is no accident. Jon plays Pixar movies 24/7 in the studio, while having Dilla play on vinyl. He even spent $50k of his own money to hire an Indonesian graphic designer to design Pixar-esque artwork for every song on the album. Not just the album cover, every song on the album.
The result is magical. It’s only a matter of time until Jon really does score or executive produce or star in his own Pixar film. But until that day, he is already paving his own lane in the music space and you can feel the influences in his sound.
By the end of the night, the show has ended and Jon and I are able to talk about his attention to detail, how floored I was by his inclusiveness when talking about God, and how excited I am for his future.
When he started his set, their was feedback in the speakers and the song sounded off. So, Jon did something I’ve never seen. He started the intro all over again. He walked off stage, turned the lights off, and proceeded to recreate his entrance, feedback free. The energy was at a level I have never seen, and it stayed this way for the rest of his set. This is just one example of how he and his band are perfectionists when it comes to music. They have a very clear picture of how they want things to sound, how they want to make you feel, and they will do everything they can to ensure that they get that message across.
Is Jon Bellion the most important artist of our generation? I think it depends on what you define as important – but for me, he just may be. Important means someone that takes pride in creating the best product possible (the highest quality of art), wanting to share a universal message that can reach people of all beliefs/ages/races, and connecting with anyone and everyone willing to listen. It’s music that makes you feel things. It’s a live show unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s a group of guys having fun and making history. It sure would be hard to put anyone in the same league (other than maybe Chance The Rapper who shares a lot of these qualities – especially the inclusive idea of God and who keeps his day 1 friends around to create music together), however, there is no comparison to artists who have come before him.
If you buy one album this year, and go to one show, Jon Bellion is worth every dollar and every second you give him. And the scariest part is, this is just the beginning.
*Thank yous: Thank you to Dexter Findley for the pictures (and helping shape Jon’s creative vision), to Chris and Harrison from VMG for the passes and friendship, to Jon and the Beautiful Mind for opening up to me and making me feel at home, to Byron and Aaron for the hospitality, and each fan that made this night one I’ll never forget. Much Love.