The last time pop artist JoJo was a household name — thanks to hits like “Baby It’s You” and “Leave (Get Out) — the music industry was a lot different. But the now-24-year-old star is more than ready to embrace the changes in distribution and marketing brought on in the digital age.
It’s been almost a decade since JoJo’s last album, The High Road, due to a contract battle with her former label Blackground that kept her from making new music. But she made up for lost time in August, releasing a surprise “tringle” — not one, not two, but three new singles.
“When Love Hurts,” “Save My Soul,” and “Say Love” prove she has grown and evolved as an artist since she got her start as a young teenager. Now that the legal nightmare is over, Atlantic Records has since come to her rescue and she plans to release her third album next year.
In the meantime, she’s hitting the road for her self-described intimate “I Am JoJo” tour, which includes a stop at Milwaukee’s Turner Hall Ballroom on Nov. 16. Before the show, WiG caught up with the singer to talk about the tour, her tringle and healing from years of struggle to sing again.
How’s rehearsal going so far? It’s going great. It’s really fun to flesh out ideas and see them come alive and try different things. I’m having fun with it.
Your “I Am JoJo” tour kicked off on Nov. 2. What about being back out on the road and performing again in front of a live audience are you most excited about? I love traveling and getting to do it with some of my favorite people is just icing on the cake. I love my team and I don’t mind being in closed confines with them. It’s fun in each city and it’s hard for me to choose a favorite city because people are awesome everywhere. I love every night to get the opportunity to connect with audience and to have a shared experience. It’s special.
By now, most people who’ve read about you know that you were in a battle with your old record label Blackground. What did you take away from that experience? I think I learned how to separate personal and professional a bit more. The label that I was signed with, I got involved with them when I was 12 years old, so they were pretty much father figures and very good to me. It was particularly painful to sever those ties because it felt like family. I think the next chapter of my career, it’s kind of important to separate those two and to realize that business is business and to really keep them a distinct thing.
I know it’s been a little while since you’ve been out of the media spotlight with new music and everything, but were you nervous at all about returning? Absolutely. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t nervous. It’s always anxious when you’re putting something out when it’s been such a long time. The Internet really kept me going and kept me afloat in terms of connecting with fans, but other people thought that I fell off the face of the earth. So, to get the chance to come back and have all this experience while still being so young is pretty awesome.
That’s great that you used the Internet to let your fans know that you haven’t really gone anywhere, you just haven’t made music in awhile. (Fans) orchestrated a “Free JoJo” campaign to raise awareness to what was going on so people didn’t think that I left music or whatever the case was. They were just everything to me and continue to be, so “yay” for the Internet and “yay” for Team JoJo!
Since “Leave (Get Out)” came out, a lot has changed within the music industry in terms of the emergence of new artists, to how music is made and released, all the way to how music is discussed, especially in social media. How has this change affected you as an artist and how will you embrace this change? Content is so much more freely given today than when I first came out. It’s important to stay active. Taking time off was a very calming thing. I think there’s a fear of becoming irrelevant now that most artists probably feel more than they did 10 or 15 years ago just because our attention spans are getting shorter all the time.
There are so many ways to get music and there are so many options. It doesn’t freak me out because this is my generation, you know what I mean? I’m surrounded by forward-thinking young people who grew up with the Internet, so it just makes me feel like I want to look less to the label to tell me what to do or what’s cool and really just do it.
You’re making up lost time with what you call the tringle: “When Love Hurts,” “Save My Soul,” and “Say Love.” It seems that love is a continuous theme. How do you think love has influenced you and your music? Love is one of the biggest influences, if not the biggest. You know … having it, losing it, taking it for granted and shitting on it (laughs). Self-love, lack of love, familial love … it’s all fair game and definitely represented on the album that’s coming out next year and on full display on the tringle. It sounds like I’ve been in all of these terrible relationships. But really, I’m a lover who loves love and I’m always in it.
The name of your upcoming tour, “I Am JoJo,” suggests that this’ll be more of a re-introduction to your established fan base and an introduction to people just discovering who you are. What can your fans, both old and new, expect? It’s starting from the beginning and there are chapters in the show. From my old hits starting 10 years ago through the mix tapes to where we are now and even a couple of new songs that no one’s ever heard from the upcoming album. It’s fun, it’s energetic; it’s going to be intimate. I want to be vulnerable and strong at the same time. It’s kind of just a nostalgic intro all the way to a really fun present.
You’re working on a new album that’s coming out next year. What can you tell me about it? It’s been a long time coming. I started from scratch when I signed a new deal because I wasn’t able to take any of the old material that I worked on. I just stepped into it with fresh energy and an open mind and open heart and wanted to try different things that I’ve been loving and listening to and infuse them into my own stuff. You can definitely hear the influences of stuff that I love to listen to like hip-hop, dance music and R&B. I wanted to sing about love and other things that can make you feel high. It’s coming together and I’m really excited. We’re not fully done, but we’re almost there.
You said in a recent interview that music has healing qualities. Do you feel that, after recording music for the new album, you’re healed from your unfortunate experience with Blackground? I think the experience absolutely helped me grow as an artist. Am I fully healed? No. That’s not just from my experience with the label. I have healing to do. Period. You know what I mean?
At 24, I’m starting to unearth some issues from my childhood, including the label situation, that are affecting me today. Does it help me get through? Absolutely, because I feel more connected when I’m singing even when I do when I’m talking. To explore my range and get those feelings out through song is definitely therapeutic.
You’ve been in movies such as Aquamarine and RV. Would you ever consider taking on more movie roles? Maybe a sequel to Aquamarine? Probably not a sequel to Aquamarine, but I definitely want to get back into acting. I love it and I’ve been doing that since I was a little girl. When time allows, I’d love to.
JoJo will perform at 8 p.m. on Nov. 16 at Milwaukee’s Turner Hall Ballroom, 1040 N. Fourth St. Tickets are $23 in advance, $25 day-of-show. Call 414-286-3663 or visit pabsttheater.org to order.