When her debut single Leave (Get Out) tore the world’s charts into shreds in 2004, JoJo was just 13 years old – barely a teenager, and mega-eager to learn the game of the music industry. Now 29, the Vermont-born, LA-residing musician is releasing her fourth album Good To Know. She isn’t shy about speaking on the years she suffered having her confidence crushed almost clean away by her former label, who controlled her eating habits, which projects were released – and eventually, completely owned her music.
So a few years ago, when she was finally released from the vice grip of that label – Blackground, for the record – she decided that if she didn’t own the rights to her old music, she was going to re-record it – all of it, with no masters to refer to. “I did it out of what I felt was necessity, because I hated not being able to come up with a solution for my fans, and wanted to have those albums – that they grew up with – available to them,” the vivacious and eloquent vocalist explains. “I just hate feeling like there’s nothing you can do – it’s obviously not an empowering feeling.”
The mention of her fans isn’t glib; JoJo’s army have been behind her every step of her career, beginning with those songs from the mid-noughties, continuing through the #FreeJoJo movement of the twenty-teens. Does she think that revisiting those songs was a necessary step in this journey, bringing her to the release of her excellent new album Good To Know? “Revisiting those songs that I made when I was 12 and 15 was actually really cool and cathartic,” she agrees. “The songs, lyrically, are much more appropriate for an adult than they were for someone who was as young as I was. So, now I’ve had relationships, and I’ve had a broken heart. I was able to put that into singing those lyrics that I just related to more, now.” But of course there’s some nostalgia there, too. “I remember how joyful and easy it was – and that’s how it should be! This is music; we’re not doing facial transplants or connecting nerve tissue, we’re really just doing something that should be fun, y’know?”
JoJo says that while the recording of Good To Know certainly was fun, it was also cause to confront some difficult things about herself. That came courtesy of her producer, Lido, about whom she is absolutely full of warmth. “It didn’t long for us to see each other, and for him to make me feel really comfortable to share things emotionally,” she explains. “I was in a place where I really wanted to break through and to feel confident again. I really lost my confidence or a while, after different experiences… In [my] last relationship, I cheated, and felt like an awful person – a bad woman. I felt a lot of shame, and I had to unpack why it was that I made the decision I made. I beat myself up to the point were my confidence was gone and I just became a shell of myself, pretty much. [Lido] was able to see what I was doing, the walls I was putting up, the way I was beating myself up, and he just called me out in a way that I understood, and that resonated with me – he asked me the questions that kind of unlocked some truth for me.”
In the studio, this made for a visceral recording experience: consider the lyrics for the delicately powerful single Joanna: “Do you still have the same range as you did when you were 14?… Nobody likes you in Massacheusetts… You should probably date somebody famous… Heard your story before, it’s not unique… You peaked.” What emerges as vulnerability becomes one of the most quietly triumphant moments on an album full of victories, many hard-won.
But there was plenty of time for play and experimentation, too. On Lido using a half-empty Coke can as a percussion instrument, JoJo says: “I love stuff like that – I just think it’s hilarious. He opened it and started drinking it and was like, wait, I need to drink more of it to have the exact timbre that I want! We played around with a lot of different random things – samples, as well. In the deluxe version of [single] Man we sampled some chimes that I would hear every night when [I was in] my favourite city in America, which is Arizona. I wanted to bring in some of the things that are part of my healing journey.”
In contrast to Lido, she admits that sometimes people “aren’t real” with her. “Maybe I could do a better job at expressing my needs, or even identifying my needs and actively seeking out a solution, or just a strategy,” she says. If that sounds like someone who’s interested in self-analysis and -answerability, you’d be right. JoJo is currently super active online, checking in with her fam and fans through videos that show how creating a schedule helps her, thanking those who work in essential services, and showing that a little kindness can go far.
“I think that in posting about it and sharing it with people on social media it’s a way to keep me accountable as well!” she says. “It’s not like I’m any type of authority – I’m just trying to figure it out – what works for me, and trying to be responsible for my own well-being and happiness, and focusing on what I can control.” One of her methods is making a list of things to do and physically ticking them off: “I practised my piano, I took my dog out, I did a home workout, tried a recipe I wanted to try – whatever it is, it feels nice to check things off, especially when we’re in this unusual world and this unusual experience.” She pauses and adds: “Not only unusual. It’s unprecedented – we’ve got nothing to compare it to. I’m just trying to humble myself every day and ask what I’m supposed to do to mean well.”
(In one of JoJo’s Mental Health Check-In vids, we get a glimpse of her Gratitude List, one of the top entries on which is ‘Agape.’ “That’s my dog!” she laughs. “It’s a Greek word, that means ‘priceless love’. I’m not Greek, but I love the word.”)
And the people that are real with her? Don’t worry, there’re plenty: some of JoJo’s closest friends aren’t in the music industry at all, she says, but there are some who are – and will be there when she needs to make a neat clip. “Fun fact: I am allergic to nature, so the first thing that we shot was in the grass and I broke out in hives all over my body, so we had to cover me up with makeup for the rest of the video,” she laughs of the gorgeous clip for Man, the album’s first single, which sees JoJo hanging with pals Tinashe, Ari Lennox, Francia Raisa, Jinjoo, and Jojo Gomex in a beautifully airy house – and, of course, its surrounds, in which JoJo’s wearing a very Britney-in-Sometimes-esque outfit of baggy white pants and white cropped top.
“We were definitely paying homage to that ‘90s feel,” she smiles. “I felt comfortable and confident, ‘cause that’s what the song’s about – it’s about feeling great in your skin and feeling sensual, so I wanted all the materials to be really sensuous, and things that feel delicious, so you’re almost like, ‘Am I high?’ Y’know, when you rub a fabric and you’re like ‘Woo, that feels good as hell!'”
Yes girl, we very do. Get in on it with Good To Know, out right now via Warner.
Good To Know by JoJo is out now via Warner.
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