loading
drag

Freed from her past, JoJo has come into her own

WORDS BY MAEVE KERR-CROWLEY

The iconic early-2000s singer opens up about her battles with her former music label and the personal growth that’s informed her new album.

I was eight years old when JoJo’s debut single ‘Leave (Get Out)’ was released and shook my tiny little world.

Small, moderately angsty and carrying a child-sized torch for a boy I’d known since kindergarten, it’s unsurprising that I was immediately obsessed with a pretty teenage girl in a ‘Boys Stink’ shirt singing about heartbreak.

And while I’d like to think of pre-teen me as JoJo’s number one fan, I was far from the only member of the club. At just 13 years old, ‘Leave’ made her the youngest solo artist to have a number-one single in America, as well as the youngest MTV Video Music Award nominee.

Throughout the mid-2000s, she blessed us all with two studio albums – the self-titled JoJo in 2004 and The High Road in 2006 – as well as starring roles in iconic 2006 films, RV and Aquamarine.

Then, unless you were paying very close attention, it might have seemed like JoJo disappeared before the decade was through. While the early ’10s saw mixtape releases and a handful of acting roles, her third studio album didn’t see the light until 2016.

The reason for this also answers the question all nostalgic ’00s kids have asked at least once: “Why can’t I find JoJo’s OG bangers on Spotify?” Because she spent a large portion of those years in a legal battle with her record labels, fighting for agency over her own music. Sadly, this isn’t a rare occurrence within the industry, with artists like Kesha, Prince and the Dixie Chicks among the many to have legally challenged their own labels.

But, boys and girls, JoJo’s still kicking. She’s older, wiser and dropping new music, and in the middle of this pandemic-induced quarantine, I got to live out a pre-teen fantasy and ask her all about it.

Grown-up JoJo still sounds a lot like she did when I was a pint-sized drama queen religiously watching Aquamarine every weekend. She’s also incredibly expressive and emotionally intelligent, particularly when discussing the ups and downs of her own personal and professional growth. Of course, having already spent more than a decade and a half in the industry, she’s had a bit of a head start in figuring out how to navigate its rocky waters.

“It’s impossible not to be shaped by what we experience,” she points out. “But I’m thankful that it hasn’t made me angry or resentful or anything like that. Because, if I felt that way, that wouldn’t be the energy that propels me forward.”

Even the darkest parts of her career have been learning experiences, colouring the way she’s tackling the industry as an adult. Having signed her first contract at just 12 years old, she describes her initial relationship with the label as “like family”. Now, she’s intent on approaching things differently, keeping her personal and professional relationships compartmentalised.

As she says herself, “How could you know that as a child?” While many of us saw young, famous girls like JoJo and fantasised about being teen sensations ourselves, the reality of being a child star often means learning harsh truths in your most formative years.

Now on the other side of this journey, JoJo muses, “I used to feel like such an old soul, and now I feel like my age has caught up with my body. I have all this energy and excitement, but I’m wise. You can’t really pull the wool over my eyes.”

Our conversation keeps coming back to this theme of growth and discovery, which features heavily in the music JoJo’s putting out right now. 

If you’ve been checking out new tunes in isolation, you might have come across her latest single ‘Man’. It’s a collaborative effort between JoJo and songwriter Lauren LaRue, born from conversations the friends shared over a wine or FaceTime session. On first listen, the track is sexy and infectious, but after working through the urge to flip your hair and grind alone in your room, you might be surprised by its subversive, inspiring lyrics about self-love.

“Even though the song is called ‘Man’, it’s a little deceitful because it’s really so much less about a man and more about me feeling confident as a woman and coming into my own,” JoJo explains. “I just feel really great enjoying my self-partnership, enjoying my own company, and it’s going to take someone really special to make me want to share this life I’ve created.”

Having explained the message to a number of directors, she was disappointed to receive music video treatments centring her interactions with a man – taking charge and bossing him around as ‘confident women’ are stereotypically wont to do – all of which completely missed the subtleties of the song.

So, taking matters into her own hands, she rented her dream house in California and invited a group of her friends around to drink wine, eat vegan pizza and dance. Invited to this girl’s day were singers Tinashe and Ari Lennox, DNCE’s guitarist JinJoo, choreographer JoJo Gomez and actress Francia Raisa, all of whom JoJo describes as “killing it in their careers”.

Amidst shots of the group, you’ll also see JoJo frolicking across the property’s acres and dancing under coloured lights, the latter of which was a very intentional addition to drive home the message of self-confidence and growth.

“I wanted to bring in some dance elements to it, because I’ve always been a little bit intimidated by dance,” she explains. “If you grew up in the 2000s you felt like you needed to choose between Britney or Christina – like ‘are you a singer or a dancer?’ – now, you don’t have to choose in anything, and I wanted to incorporate some of the stuff that I’ve been doing. I love pole dancing, I love floor work, and I’m just getting more comfortable and confident in my body.”

She assures me we can expect more of this message across the rest of her new album, Good to Know, which drops May 1. With nine highly collaborative tracks (plus some extras if you nab the deluxe edition), JoJo succinctly sums up the project as “pretty delicious”.

“I think that when you listen to it top to bottom, you’ll feel like you were riding shotgun with me on a journey of self-discovery,” she says. “I’m excited to get it out of my own hands and into other people’s. Music isn’t meant to hoard, you know, I just want to put it out there.”

Of course, most of us will be listening to the new release from quarantine and can take comfort in the fact that JoJo is right there alongside us. She points out that she’s listening to a lot of music while confined to her home, and hopes other people are, too. And while I’ve taken up yoga and sugar cookie decorating to pass the monotonous days spent inside, JoJo’s keeping herself entertained and inspired by taking virtual piano lessons, singing with her followers on Instagram Lives and making cheeky pandemic remixes of her iconic hits.

“What’s good is that it’s not like it’s just happening to me, and it’s not like only my shit is getting cancelled. Nobody can take any of this personally because this is unprecedented. I’m just kind of having fun with it, trying to stay flexible and be like water.”

Like many events planned this year, JoJo’s upcoming tour has been postponed until the end of 2020. In the meantime, we’ll have Good to Know to provide us with our JoJo fix, as well as the promise that there are always more projects on the horizon. 

JoJo’s new album ‘Good to Know’ is out May 1. 

Lazy Loading