Fans of killer mid-aughts R&B are more than familiar with the sordid industry tale of JoJo, the youngest singer ever to hit number one on Billboard with her 2004 hit “Leave (Get Out).” JoJo was 13, and signed to Blackground Records for a multi-year, multi-album contract that quickly went bad, with years of legal entanglements as the talented teen tried her best to extricate herself from a label that lost distribution and stifled her artistic expression. (Although that didn't stop JoJo from releasing mixtapes, singles and covers.)
But she's finally free, signed to Atlantic, and clear to make and release music through official channels once again. She's been put through the industry ringer and come out the other side a confident, powerful 24-year-old ready to do things her way.
JoJo will stop at the Emerson on November 19. We got her on the phone before her date to chat about powerful women and Phantom of the Opera.
On listening to music with her mother:
“My mom listens to all different kinds of music. Now she's really into country, but when I was growing up, there was a lot of Motown playing, a lot of show tunes. She was in musical theater, and also she's a Catholic Church soloist. So I'd be listening to her sing the hymns, I'd be up in the choir loft watching her downstairs singing [with the] beautiful soprano voice that she has. Things like Phantom of the Opera, everything from that to George Benson and James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. All types of music, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, some really great female diva vocalists.”
On the weight of titles:
“I'm sure in some way it's affected me. You can't help but be moved and influenced by what happens in your life. But I don't think it's negatively impacted me. I think if anything it's set an incredible foundation for me now as a young woman to know that I've had this success, to know that I want to achieve that again and more. … It's not something that I dwell on, or that gives me anxiety. It's something that I think is amazing, because I think that's it's probably harder to break now as an artist, because there are so many ways to come out. It really gives me an interesting edge to have that under my belt."
On advice for young female performers:
“As women we need to keep our guard up more than men. There's a lot more judgement and expectation that's placed on us, and eyes always scrutinizing. Whether it's the way we look, who we date, how we conduct ourselves, who we choose to sleep with or not sleep with, our team, everything is up for debate. I think it's much less that way with men, still. Being a woman is an incredible gift, but it comes with responsibility. Instead of being resentful of that, embrace it. Know the power that you have. Things are changing, but there still is a need for calling things out when you see them, and double standards still needing to be broken"
On her management team:
“I have a female management team, Gita and Katie, and I've known them since I was 12 years old. To see the way that men are a little taken aback by having to take orders or direction from a woman, it's really great to see the way that they use their femininity and their strength to get what they want – not in a weird way. They don't need to act like bull dogs all the time. It's very inspiring to see strong women and to have them on my team, and it empowers me as a woman as well."
On female pop stars she admires:
“I really love Lorde, Janelle Monae. There really is an incredible crop of female vocalists out there, too, from Jessie J, Tori Kelly, Demi Lovato. There's a lot of space for women right now, and I think that's great. There can never be too many women doing their thing."
On all-ages venues:
I do think all-ages venues are great because I think sometimes kids feel, “Oh, I get left out” or “Oh, I don't get to do cool things with older people.” So I know that when I was a kid, I definitely wanted to go to shows and was bummed out when I wasn't able to. On the other side, I really like 21+ venues, because people are feeling it, they're warmed up, they're loose, they have drinks in their system and we're able to talk shit a little bit more. I have little cousins, so when I see children the office I do feel like I have a responsibility to be a little more appropriate because I do like to talk shit."
On her upcoming album:
“I'm telling stories that come straight from the lives of me and my girlfriends. What's going on for me as a young woman, finding myself. The difference between love and sex and what happens in between. I'm talking about love in all different forms – the good, the bad, the ugly. Self-love, dealing with our childhoods and our adult lives. I have a song I wrote about my parents and how I find myself turning into them – things that as you get older you kind of start to realize."
On overcoming struggles:
“[I want people to know] that my struggle is really no different from anyone else's struggle. We all have hurdles to jump over. Sometimes people will come up to me at meet and greets or at shows or wherever it is, and they'll be like, 'Thank you for not giving up. Thank you for pushing through.' I don't even feel like I deserve that. I don't need a thank you. Thank you God, for waking us up again. I've never had it in me to give up; that's not who I am. This is what I love to do. I'm not good at other things like I feel like I'm good at this. This is what I love to do. There was never a real, real thought that stuck with me that I was going to [quit] and be a teacher, or something like that. This is my number one passion. I just want to tell people that if you love something, don't give up on it. That sucks. That's wack. You gotta stay true to yourself."