For Joanna Levesque, who performs as JoJo, the freedom of her new album was over 15 years in the making.
JoJo was just 13 years old when her song “Leave (Get Out)” hit No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts in 2004. At the time, she was the youngest artist ever to hold that spot. “Too Little Too Late,” the lead single for her second album, made it even further to No. 3 on the Hot 100, and in 2008, JoJo promised fans on her Myspace page that her third album would arrive in time for her 18th birthday.
The album never came. In 2013, JoJo sued her label, Blackground Records and Da Family Records, and was released from her contract the following year. In 2018, she re-recorded and re-released her first two albums, JoJo (2004) and The High Road (2006), after they had been previously removed from streaming services. (Taylor Swift, who likewise doesn’t own her masters, has stated she’ll make a similar move in November.)
Her new album, Good To Know, is out now and is the third release from Clover Music, JoJo’s imprint with Warner Records.
“I made this album from where I was at,” she says. “I was on a journey, wanting to accept myself and not keep running away from being alone.”
JoJo spoke to NPR about feeling powerless during her struggle with her former label, taking personal stock at 29 and being adaptable while releasing an album during a pandemic. Listen to the radio version in the audio player above and read on for highlights of the interview.
On learning to trust herself through writing Good To Know
I was kind of a casualty of some industry things that were out of my control and some bad business and I really hated feeling so powerless. In this album and on this journey through the writing of it from the inception to the end, I found my voice. I found my power. And that feels so exhilarating and intoxicating.
I did internalize a lot of things that were happening, and ended up being a product of the environments or the situations that I was in. And it wasn’t just the situation with my former label. I hate the fact that part of my story really is a lot about industry politics, and moving musical chairs and executives. That is so distracted from what I’ve always wanted to do, which is just make music. And unfortunately this is a business and this is not just about music, because I’m the kind of person who takes a lot of accountability and wants to think “What could I do different?” or “How could I have contributed to this situation?” — it made me be like, “There must be a problem with me.”
On the song “Pedialyte” and overdoing it
I remember when I was around college-age, just hearing that people were using Pedialyte as a hangover cure, so I figured that would be the right title for the song about the morning after a big night, when you’re looking at yourself and you’re like “Damn, what did I do? What am I doing?”
I wouldn’t even really identify my addictive tendencies as one particular thing. It’s been love, attention, substances, food. I’ve overdone it because I’ve felt a void. I’m just being transparent about it. I felt a void that I think a lot of people feel and maybe don’t get to address. But I’ve done a lot of deep diving over the past couple of years, and just really wanted to work on myself and come out of my 20s feeling like I’m the best version of myself on all levels. A reckoning needed to happen. An inventory needed to be taken.
On how the pandemic has changed her album release and relationship with fans
My connection with my fans has been central to my survival, not only as an artist in this game, but as a person. It really has fueled me and given me confidence and courage. So to not be able to get out and energetically exchange with them in the same way is just different. But everybody is going through that adjustment, and our industry is having to adapt.
But thank God for technology. I’m really grateful that we can interact on social media and through different apps, because it keeps me feeling not alone and like this music is reaching people at a time where I think we need music more than ever.
NPR’s Janaya Williams and Tinbete Ermyas produced and edited the audio of this interview. Cyrena Touros and editorial intern Jon Lewis adapted it for the Web.