“I always dreamed of this moment in time where women are much more in the driver’s seat.”
It’s been four years since JoJo released her comeback album Mad Love, and no, she wasn’t “sleeping” on her fans or using the time to relax by the pool with an Aperol Spritz (although she’d love to be doing that right now, and same).
Since 2016, the superstar has flip-flopped between labels, embarked on several worldwide tours, purchased a new home and ended a relationship after ‘cheating’ on her boyfriend, as well as some other “dumb shit”. Let her live!
She fuelled said “dumb shit” into writing sessions for her strongest body of work so far, Good to Know, a nine-track collection of smooth and intricate R&B numbers about empowerment and self-worth.
“This album is wanting to escape yourself but then not being able to, and then realising how important it is to find comfort in being on your own and finding strength in that,” she tells Gay Times.
We caught up with JoJo over Skype to discuss her incredible new album (out today!), how the industry has changed since she told us to Get Out (Leave) in 2003, and the advice she’d give to fans struggling in self-isolation.
JoJo, your hair looks absolutely amazing.
Hi darling! Yo, thank you. If it weren’t for these two braids, I would just be giving you… hat. That’s all I can do! How are you holding up?
I need a wig in that shade. Yeah, I’m doing alright. I’m on Skype with JoJo, so…
[Laughs] You too can have this hair! Trust me, it’s clipped in honey.
How is self-isolation for you?
I’m doing well, my mom is sitting on the couch behind me.
She’s being a lurk. She’s a couch lurker. The timing is good because me and mom actually moved from Boston to LA a few months ago, and then… we got locked down. We’re in this together and it’s cool, I’m on a press tour from home and singing a lot from my couch.
What does a press tour from home look like?
A lot of this, a lot of talking to people like this. I haven’t worn heels in two months, so that’s cool and it’s probably good for my feet because normally, I’m going to a lot of places! So yeah, that’s what it looks like, talking to people from technology.
How does it feel having your first album in four years interrupted like this?
I was just like, ‘Alright.’ You gotta be like water, you gotta go with the flow – as corny as it sounds. You’ve got to go with the flow and you can different shapes, but still be yourself. I love to think about being like water, because water can be vapor, it can be ice, but it’s still water. I was like, ‘Okay, embrace what is.’ Some days are harder than others, because I’m so excited for this music, but I put things in perspective. I am personally consuming a lot of music right now. This is a time where people can really take in the music in a way where there’s no distractions, and there’s real life things going on that are outside of me thinking this is less than ideal rollout situation for my album. People are really struggling, this is not a real struggle – know what I’m saying?
There’s been a few artists who have chosen to delay their music because of what’s happening right now – was this ever an option for you?
No, it wasn’t a thought for me. I love that Dua Lipa released her album during this time, and I think that it’s given people a moment to escape. Good to Know is a lot about to escape, especially the beginning of it, wanting to distract yourself and being drawn towards excess. We’re in a time where we don’t have that, we can’t go and distract ourselves, so this music is actually pretty timely, I think. This album is wanting to escape yourself but then not being able to, and then realising how important it is to find comfort in being on your own and finding strength in that.
You can definitely feel the self-love vibes.
Yeah, it’s not one straight shot to self-love. It’s like a loop that I’ll probably need to make several times, but it is the desire and practice of self-love, for sure.
It is your first album in four years. For those who are unaware, what have you been up to during this time?
I changed labels, twice actually. I went from Atlantic to Interscope and then to Warner, and that’s because there were some moving executives around. I was caught up in label musical chairs and I didn’t end up releasing a project on Interscope because my A&R, and the president of my A&R department, went to Warner and was like, ‘Come with me to Warner.’ I was just caught up in things like that, but I wrote hundreds of songs in the past few years and started my own record label called Clover Music, which is now in partnership with Warner. I also re-recored my first two albums, and in the past four years I’ve been on a few tours, bought a home in LA, ended an on-and-off again relationship, cheated on my boyfriend, did a lot of dumb shit that I ended writing about.
It must be frustrating when fans say stuff like, “She’s doing nothing! She’s sleeping on us!”
It’s unbelievable and that, for some reason, really gets under my skin because I’m such a workaholic. Basically, if I ever were to die unexpectedly, there are countless albums that could come out, know what I mean? It’s never from a lack of work or passion or anything like that. It’s always being caught up in things that are out of my control.
How would you say the recording process for this album differed to previous releases?
I was a lot more intentional with keeping it close-knit. I wasn’t interested on going on 50 first dates with new producers and stuff. I wanted to develop special and creative relationships with the people I was working with, and I did that. I ended up finding that with Lido and Doc McKinney and his crew, and 30 Roc. It was all very collaborative and it wasn’t like, ‘Let me just get one song here, one song here.’ I wasn’t interested in that, I was interested in making a body of work. That was different and also, I’m different. You’re different in your 20s. Every six months I feel like a brand new bitch, basically. I don’t know about you!
Definitely. Especially for you, 16 years in the business…
Isn’t that crazy? 16 years? That’s a grown up! Oh my god.
When you were 13, did you ever envision yourself with your own record label?
[Laughs] Yes I did. I did. I saw it. I always envisioned that. I’m really just starting my journey, but I always saw myself as owning a label and being a part of other artists’ lives. I really desire to find artists and help them develop their own self of self and to empower them; help them maybe avoid some industry pitfalls that I have experienced. So yeah, I always dreamed of this moment in time where women are much more in the driver’s seat.
Knowing your comeback album Mad Love was out of the way, did you feel less pressure with this record?
Yeah, I did. I think that’s also because I consciously worked to shift my way of thinking. Nothing is the end of the world until it is the end of the world, so I just don’t really sweat. I try not to spend too much time freaking out over any one thing. I do allow myself to freak out, I have a day or a moment or whatever and then I’m like, ‘It’s all good!’ I can’t control how you receive something, I can only control how I receive it. If I dig something, I just have to stand behind it. With Mad Love, there were so many different things that contributed to me putting a lot of pressure on it.
I was so looking forward to listening to this album in the sun, and now…
Aww I know! I feel that way too. I was looking forward to seeing girls at the strip club dance to my songs, but again this is all frivolous, silly stuff. This is a real time, but I know! I want to go and have an Aperol Spritz by the pool and dance with my friends, just like we all do.
Some artists are choosing to do at-home music videos during quarantine – do you have any plans to release more videos for the songs on Good to Know?
Thankfully, before the lockdown became mandated, I had already done some visuals with friends so I’m very thankful that we have those in our arsenal. We did a whole shoot for Small Things, Comeback and Lonely Hearts. As much as I can film things here, it’s not as sexy, you know? But yeah, I have been filming a lot of content, if you will, learning a lot of things, playing piano, baking, cooking, meditating, journalling, all types of stuff.
You’ve played with a lot of sounds throughout your career – would you say Good to Know is you at your most authentic?
I think that I’ve tried to be as authentic to where I was at with every project that I’ve released. I would say that my Agápē mixtape was a direct reflection of what I was into at that moment, but that’s kind of been my MO with everything that I’ve released. Even if I, in retrospect, felt like I was comprising, that compromise was true to where I was at the time, know what I mean? Good to Know just reflects me over the past couple of years.
You re-recorded your first two albums after legal battles, something Taylor Swift has also decided to do. Do you think we’re in a new era where female artists are owning their work and saying no to being controlled?
I want to highlight the difference between my situation and Taylor Swift’s situation. Her albums are still available on streaming services, mine were never available on streaming services. She’s talked about re-recording them as a “f you” to her losing control of the masters. I did it out of necessity because my history was being erased. No Blackground artists had their music on streaming services, including Aaliyah, which I think is a travesty to her legacy and she can’t do anything about that because unfortunately, she’s not here. Do I think this will usher in a time of people taking more ownership of their stuff? I hope so, but every case is different.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned since entering the music industry?
You get to choose what type of punctuation you put at the end of your sentence, whether it’s a comma, a period or an exclamation point or a question mark. Does that make sense? It’s not the end until you decide it is. You have to keep going. What I have learned is to not expect anything from anyone, and to really be self-reliant, and to cultivate a spirit of discernment to realise who you should trust and who you should keep close, but not trust. It’s just developing that insight, I guess, but I’ve learned that you can’t be too precious about anything and you have to stay humble. Things will constantly change, and it’s our responsibility to stay flexible and grow. I had the privilege of being at Quincy Jones’ house around the Grammy’s this year, and just hearing him talk, he still considers himself a student. Pharrell, who is tens of years younger than him, a different generation, he is so humble and still wanting to grow and learn. That’s the spirit I want to have.
Because you’re chatting with Gay Times, I have to ask about the gays. I assume you’re aware of your passionate gay following?
What song gets the biggest reaction from the gays at concerts?
It’s usually one where I’m singing, going for high notes or really flexing vocally. I don’t know! I don’t want to put all of my gay fans in one box because it depends from city to city or whether I’m playing at Pride, or if I see a gay couple at my show or whatever. I’ve had some proposals at my show where they’ll co-ordinate with my team. I think I was doing a song called Say Love and a boy proposed to his boyfriend. I think it was in Atlanta.
Do you find that a lot of your fans are people that have grown up with you over the years?
Yes, absolutely. It’s really special because we’re just really starting our lives as adults, like full grown adults in the world. We have grown up together, and it’s a cornerstone of my fanbase. They’ll always have a special place in my heart.
What advice would you have for fans who are struggling in lockdown?
You are not alone. Even if you are completely physically alone, just know that there are so many other people who are going through that. Maybe that doesn’t help, but just to know that you’re not the only one is a comforting thought, at least it has been for me sometimes. Utilise the technology that we have and the ways we stay connected to each other. It’s really important that we physically distance ourselves, but don’t emotionally withdraw. Do what makes you feel good, get that vitamin D and go outside to get some sunshine. I know how difficult this time is for so many people. I hope they would ask for help if they need it and be able to find those resources because I know they are available.
Social media can be incredibly toxic, but times like this remind you of its power for connection.
Yes, and we still need to manage it in a way where it doesn’t run our lives. We need to use it as a tool, and not be used by it. At the end of the day, there are still forces much bigger than us that are collecting our data, tracking us and seeing what we’re looking at. Let’s not be used by that, but let’s use it to stay connected.
I will never forget the time these very peculiar swimming trunks popped up on my phone, just five minutes after seeing them in a shop…
Exactly! It’s undeniable that this is going on. Instead of this feedback loop of like, ‘We need more! We need to consume more and compare ourselves to other people,’ let’s unsubscribe to that and stay connected to each other.
JoJo’s fourth studio album, Good to Know, is now available on iTunes and streaming services.