JoJo has been through a lot. The 24-year-old singer has experienced various levels of fame, heartbreak, and business struggles throughout her career. This week she premiered three new singles—which she has coined "the tringle." There's "Say Love" is an airy ballad over thick 808's, the soaring mid-tempo "Save My Soul" which is infused with an 80s vibe, and then there's "When Love Hurts"—which shows a dancier side of JoJo that we've never really seen before.
JoJo sat down with The FADER last week to talk about about the inspiration behind her new music, what she's learned from getting out of her Blackground Records contract and moving to Atlantic, and the new sound and inspiration she's found from Disclosure.
What was the hardest part of essentially being forced to take some time off since your last album?
The hardest part was trying to explain to people what I was going through while not saying too much because i wanted to always take the high road. I just wanted to rise above the bullshit and wanted to show that I'm not anti-label. I didn't want to bash my label because I knew I wanted to have a new home after that.
I actually can't say that was the hardest though — the hardest thing was staying encouraged and answering to my family and friends who saw me very depressed and trying to explain to them, this is what I want to do, this is what I want to fight for. I'm not going to go to college, I'm not going to choose a different career path this is what I believe in and this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. They were worried and I had to calm their worries for a long time.
And how has it been working with your new label?
It's such a breath of fresh air to work with a company that wants to do business that supports me and my dreams—they're really invested in the long term. That's how I think about it, I want to do this for the rest of my life so this is just the beginning of the rest of my career and it's really exciting to kick it off with a label like Atlantic that has legendary artists on its roster. When I think of performing, I don't think anyone is doing it better than Bruno Mars, just doing it all, and Janelle Monae is a woman who is blazing her own trail and I love that I'm part of a company like that.
You've had some sessions working with MNEK, how was working with him?
He's a joy. That's my homie, I just think he's so incredibly talented as a producer, writer, singer - a very good person. I can't believe he's 20, I want to do a whole project with him. I really think he's the truth.
In 2011, you put out this intense cover of Drake's "Marvin's Room," will we get to see more stuff like that from you?
Once we put this album out I want to be a lot more fluid with releasing things. I want to casually put things up on Soundcloud, remixes or my takes on things. But I just wanted to make sure that we put this out through the label, give it the push that it deserves and then have the freedom to play. Like all the other kids who are my age are doing. I want to play too. There's a lot of rawness on the album, a couple of bad words - you know.
I feel like over the years, you've been through a lot and have never really lost it. Do you have advice for other young singers for keeping a cool head?
I don't have advice because I can only speak for yourself. My set of circumstances and the cards I was dealt are going to be unique to me. I come from a very humble blue collar background, I've seen more of the world than anybody in my family. That kind of informs how grounded I am in reality, so I'm thankful and I just try to live in the moment more. I take things a bit more seriously and think before i react sometimes because I don't have a cushy life to fall back on. This is it for me. I don't come from money, I am what I got.
You just performed these new songs for the first time in Atlantic City. What has it been like to play these dance songs live?
I just kind of put on my house diva hat. I channel these amazing strong females that I looked up to like Whitney and Chaka and Tina Turner. So I'm not doing a 16 count routine, I'm not suddenly going to turn into Janet Jackson—who is amazing—but that is not my strength. I still rock out with a band, it's about finding a cool balance and what works for me.
It's nerve-wracking performing the new records because my comfort zone is performing things I've performed hundreds and hundreds of times, but it's been fun.
And will you be bringing out your older material on this tour?
Definitely. I'm not like, "ugh—I don't want to do my old records, that's not how I feel." I am super thankful for how people respond to them. I think I enjoy doing those records more than I did when they first came out just because they bring out a nostalgic feeling for people and I'm the same age as the audience. We grew up together, so it takes them back to when they were in 8th grade and I'm like "me too!" It's a cool trippy thing. I never shy away from doing those records because it turns into a singalong
What has your favorite part of the response to your reemergence been?
Having that human exchange is everything. I'm a people person, I really am for the people of the people. I want to talk about music, I want to debate and perform it. It's been cool to talk about what I've been working on for the last year and a half and to have answers—to not have to say "I can't tell you about that." I hate that, it's such bullshit and it's not who I am. To follow through on what I'm going to do means everything to me because that's the type of person who I want to be.
A lot of your new material centers around heartbreak—why do you think that's so central to your music?
Even from when before I had even kissed a boy, they were giving me those type of songs to sing and then I guess life imitated art. I just think there's duality to all things with something that's excellent you might have something that's less excellent. The idea with "When Love Hurts" is that when something really moves you to feel a strong emotion, that's when it's something that's worth fighting for.
You've said that some of this new music is inspired by your relationship with your parents. How has your experience with them helped you musically?
They both are singers but have never pursued it professionally. They both have amazing voices. So that's something that even when my relationship wasn't the strongest or they were disappointed, we always bond over music. And even when we can't talk about other things, that is something that we always come together on and that's really nice. They've been divorced since I was five, but the three of us can still come together to this day and jam out to some James Taylor or some Eagles or Sly and the Family Stone and that's something we'll always have.
You said that your new music has been influenced by your love of deep house, who are some of these artists that you're listening to?
I listen to all different type of things. Something that really moves me and pumps me up is dance music right now. So from Disclosure's album Settle, that really swept me up and had me exploring things from the 90s as well like Blackbox and CC Peniston, to Duke Dumont and MNEK today and even to listening to the recordings that RuPaul has put out. They make me feel victorious and I really wanted to feel that triumph and infuse some of my music with that.