Jesse McCartney has long had his feet firmly planted in pop music; from his roots as a boy-bander (Dream Street, anyone?) to his 2004 breakout solo hit “Beautiful Soul,” McCartney has specialized in serving sugarcoated vocals and lyrics. While he continued to attract a loyal gaggle of tween fans with subsequent hits like “Leavin” and “Right Where You Want Me,” following his 2014 album In Technicolor, McCartney took a hiatus from music and to travel and explore the world he had primarily seen from the stage. “When I got back from this amazing trip, I was feeling a little unproductive,” he admits.
His passion for music was reinvigorated when McCartney started experimenting with country-pop music in Nashville. “It was like the bug had bitten me and I was ready to make a record,” he says. Fast-forward to the release of the now-30-year-old singer-songwriter’s single, “Better With You,” a pop-infused jam that those former tween fans are already singing along to. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen a reaction to the new music like this. The audience sings the lyrics by the second chorus. They’re totally jamming with me on stage. It’s really cool,” he says.
McCartney began writing the song nearly a year ago, inspired by the political landscape at the time. “It felt like not a lot of positive things were happening last year, and I wanted to do something that would make people feel good, because I needed to feel good.” With his raw, romantic voice, McCartney sings about taking solace in those who empower you. “[The song is] about finding somebody who, through all the shit that goes on, will be there for you and have your back and make you a better version of yourself. I think everybody can relate to that, or strive for it,” he explains.
For McCartney, that support system lies in his long-term girlfriend, who is often the inspiration for his music. When asked if his girlfriend supports him using their private lives as creative fodder, McCartney giggles. “It depends on the song.” He adds, “She loves this song. Sometimes it’s hard to hear your personal relationship unfold in a public forum but I’m never over sharing in any way.”
Lucky for her, McCartney says he pointedly avoided creating a “cheesy relationship video” when it came to “Better With You.” Enlisting Canadian director Jo Roy, the two came up with a butterfly effect-like concept. “Having something as incidental as having a quarter hit your foot can change the entire outcome of your future,” he explains.
As far as his musical future, McCartney is excited to return to his pop-oriented roots—and to be even more vulnerable with fans. “Especially with this generation, they don’t take any bullshit. They want the truth and they want to hear things that are real,” he says. “[The listeners] have such a strong voice themselves, you either have a voice right now or you’re totally lost. You have to stand somewhere.”
With a string of spring college shows booked and a summer tour on the horizon, it’s clear that young fans are still here for to McCartney’s voice. As far as a full-length album, they’ll have to wait and see.