Singer JoJo On Her Musical Comeback and New Album ‘Good To Know’
“I wanted to go in a direction that’s not as bright and formulaic as what people expect from pop music.”
“Issa comeback, missed your lovin’ so bad,” sings JoJo in her single, “Comeback.” It’s off the new deluxe version of her album, good to know, released earlier this year. “I wasn’t having sex,” JoJo tells Maxim about the song’s lyrics, which get much steamier. “[But] it was very much on my mind. I was just really interested in sensuality and sexuality around this project.”
Twenty-nine years old, beautiful and successful, but no sex?
“I just realized I had been a serial dater since I was 14 and that I haven’t really spent time on my own,” she says. “And I just wanted to see how it was. I always had somebody I could call and have a little make out, a little intimacy. So, I was single and I had made some decisions in my previous relationship that I ended up writing about on the album and feeling guilt and shame.”
Hitting 33 in its first week on the Billboard 200, good to know garnered excellent reviews—The Guardian called the songs “the most mature JoJo has ever recorded.” With the new album and a 2020 Grammy Award for Best R&B Song for her collaboration on P.J. Morton’s “Say So,” you could say JoJo—who at 13 was the youngest to ever debut at number one in the top 40—is indeed making a comeback.
“Comeback” joins the album’s first single, “Man” about finding a guy who can match her in confidence and self-regard, as well as “Proud,” guest-starring Thundercat on bass under a voice message from her mom. “We had just had a conversation and I was beating myself up and venting to her about how guilty I felt about what had gone down in my previous relationship,” she explains. With more to say on the subject, her mom left a voicemail, which the singer saved and later sent to her producer, Lido, who turned it into a beat.
JoJo, born Joanna Levesque, was raised by her single mom, Diana, in New England. Her entry to showbiz came at age 7, appearing on Kids Say the Darndest Things hosted by Bill Cosby, and singing Cher’s rendition of “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss).” After competing on America’s Most Talented Kids, she landed a deal with Blackground Records and Da Family, founded by Barry Hankerson, uncle to the late R&B star, Aaliyah.
In 2004, at the age of 13, she released her debut album, JoJo, which peaked at number four on the Billboard 200 and included her gold-certified debut single “Leave (Get Out).”
Lest anyone consider her a one-hit wonder, the talented teen did it again two years later with The High Road, landing at number three on the Billboard 200 and eventually going gold.
“I felt really silly because I couldn’t go to any of the afterparties. I just couldn’t do anything that I saw my peers doing, my peers that were on the Billboard charts and touring at the same time,” she recalls, amused at her young self. “I was like, ‘This sucks! I feel like such a little kid!’ And I was a little kid and I didn’t want to be.”
The Bernie Mac Show and Hawaii Five-O are just two of the TV shows she appeared in, as well as feature film work opposite Emma Roberts in Aquamarine, and Robin Williams in RV. “He just had such an amazing work ethic and really cared about people. He made you feel like he was really listening,” she says of the late comic idol. “He taught me about really showing up, really being present on set and with people.”
Issues arose over distribution of her third album, which for unknown reasons sat in limbo along with unpublished music by Aaliyah and other artists. She eventually signed with Atlantic Records, and ten years after The High Road, her third studio album, Mad Love, was released in October of 2016 and peaked on the Billboard 200 at number six.
A year later, JoJo left Atlantic to set up her own label, Clover Music, a joint venture with Warner Records. “It’s dope to have a partnership with a major label because they have the resources, they have the whole machine. But I’m able to have this independent spirit with owning Clover Music,” she explains about her current ideal setup.
Re-recorded under the new label were her first two albums, JoJo and The High Road, which had been unavailable to fans during extended legal wrangling with Blackground Records and Da Family. “It was different because now I have these experiences under my belt,” she says of revisiting her albums from her teen years.
“I had my heart broken, I’ve broken hearts. I’ve loved and I’m in the thick of it. So, I’m able to interpret these lyrics differently…. I’ve gone through some really fucked up things, so many things sticking to my skin. And at this point, there’s nothing that could possibly happen that would break me. I’m so much more savvy, so much more grounded than I would be if I hadn’t started so young.”
The years have also brought her a lush mezzo voice better suited to R&B. “I wanted to tell my own story and maybe go in a direction that’s not as bright and formulaic as what people expect from pop music,” she says, reflecting on her current phase.
“I kind of realized that you can’t make everybody happy. You have to please yourself first. So, it’s about wanting to do things that make me feel good, make me feel like I’m growing and like I have some ownership at this point in my career.”