New Jersey, 2002. My friend and I were waiting for Incubus to take the stage (can’t begrudge a Cali girl some Brandon Boyd), while we talked about having just moved to New York City, how Jersey didn’t seem as bad as people made it out to be, and all the hot, straight men we imagined NYU totally, definitely, absolutely be chock full of. And then, all of a sudden, we heard it. That awful sound. A horrible, screeching wretchedness pumping out the venue speakers and assaulting the audience. “Uggghhhh, what the fuck is that?!” we screamed, clutching our young hands to vulnerable ears. Though we didn’t realize it then, the answer to the question was 30 Seconds to Mars, a massively crappy band still in its infancy, led by none other than my childhood crush, Jordan Catalano – I mean Jared Leto.
At the time My So Called Life was on the air, Jared Leto — despite his choker necklaces, his baggy ‘90s plaid, and a shearling coat on loan from Melissa Etheridge — was so strikingly beautiful he made me wonder if I, just ten years old, was a really lesbian. His nose was too perfect, his eyes too blue, and godfuckingdamn… those eyebrows. No boy at my elementary school came close to the effortless perfection that was Jared Leto. No boy ever could. Because young Jared Leto looked like a woman. You know, in a way I’d still definitely have sex with. Hence my lesbian suspicions.
Instead of pulling me out of the closet, the onscreen relationship between Claire Danes and Jared Leto singlehandedly shaped my future relationships with men. When I say “shaped,” imagine a drunkard with massive, bumbling hands at the helm of a potter’s wheel, mashing all the malleable stuff without grace or nuance until all that remains is a heap of useless, wet crap. Danes’ character Angela Chase was bright, thoughtful, and sensitive, and all she wanted in the world was a beautiful idiot.
“I can’t believe we have to use all those words in a sentence. I mean, not all in the same sentence, but, uh, still.” – Jordan Catalano, scholar, 1995
It took me twenty years to realize that JC, pretty thing that he was, had the reading skills of a third grader and the IQ of a mole. But even as he stood above Angela Chase, milking a half-formed apology out of his stupid brain, all while simultaneously outing himself as a dude bound for junior college, all I could think about was the sexy way he pulled on the sleeves of his sweater. Marry me, Jordan. MARRY ME.
No matter how stupid, flippant, or game-playing he was, Jordan Catalano could do no wrong. And, on account of my childlike misperception of character and actor so inherently entwined, neither could Jared Leto.
After My So Called Life ended, cancelled well before it could teach me more bastardized examples of heteronormativity, Jared Leto went on to sort of/not really crush it in the movie biz. He nailed the pervy ‘70s mustache vibe in Prefontaine, played a gorgeous junkie to Jennifer Connelly’s gorgeous junkie in Requiem for a Dream, brought the ‘70s stache back for a turn in Girl, Interrupted, playing that guy Winona Ryder tried to have conjugal visits with in the psych ward. Even when he gained one million pounds for that movie no one ever saw, I stood by Jared Leto every step of the way.
But with Thirty Seconds to Mars, I had to draw the line.
No amount of blue eyes, chiseled cheekbones, or perfect ombre hair could save that band. Even at a time when I was still listening to the likes of Zebrahead, Vengaboys, and Third Eye Blind, I recognized TSTM as being unequivocally not good. I consoled myself with the belief it was an actor’s passing side project, just like Kevin Bacon, Keanu Reeves, Johnny Depp, Bruce Willis, and every other male actor who started a band after realizing that, no matter how many millions they raked in, at the end of the day they were still just actors — emasculated industry puppets for the behind-the-scenes string-pullers. TSTM would be a flash in the pan, I told myself, nothing but a bad memory of my college days.
But then that “Bury Me” song came out in 2006, and it was wildly successful. Overnight, Jared Leto forced the world to get used to the idea that Jared Leto The Musician would be around for a while, and, seven years later, his band is still at it.
Having reached well beyond headliner status, TSTM is bigger and popularer, apparently convinced that just because they fill up stadiums in Europe that they’re making music that matters. The sound is bigger, filled with the soaring epicness only U2 can be afforded without criticism, but, you know, missing things like decent lyrics.
To further substantiate themselves as “serious musicians,” the band has been releasing “short films” for their album LOVE LUST FAITH + DREAMS, each started with the self-important opening credit “THIRTY SECONDS TO MARS PRESENTS” and running an average of eight agonizing minutes. “Films” is really a misnomer in this case. These are really just pensive, annoying music videos exploiting things like people’s failed dreams and dead dads, while cutting away to TSTM concert footage and Jared Leto riding roller coasters, reaching into the sunset, or singing another song about nothing original. The cheap solicitation for sophomoric emotion makes it even more obvious that TSTM is simply cookie cutter pop/rock crap, attempting to appeal to young girls who are about the same age I was when I first fell in love with Jordan Catalano. Only now Jared Leto is, like, way older. (Still looks bangin’, tho!)
Ultimately, I recognize my annoyance with Thirty Seconds To Mars can largely be attributed to the fact that Jared Leto The Musician will always fail to live up to Jared Leto The Actor. For a pretty boy, he routinely goes after challenging roles, forgoing turns in blockbuster garbage like G.I. Joe for playing the likes of a gay transvestite in Dallas Buyer’s Club. His music might be absolute garbage and it might make my ears bleed, but I can’t begrudge him his acting choices. I just wish he’d shut that fucking noise off so I could stare at him in peace for a while.