Photo of JoJo by Ohrangutang
“It’s a lot of amazing, diverse crowds, but I will say that the gay boys come out in droves—I love them. I fucks with them hard,” JoJo says of the boys supporting her comeback EP, III. “They just show me so much love.”
This was especially apparent last week at a special album release performance in New York City. A week out from the singer dropping III—a JoJo-coined “tringle” release of three singles: “Say Love,” “Save My Soul,” and “Love Hurts”—the 24-year-old hit the stage at Space Ibiza for Voss Events’ Zoo, a weekly roving dance party. “Zoo” is fittingly enough just the word to describe the raucous, sold-out crowd. Lights went down in the club and concert venue just after 1am as an enthusiastic chant for “JoJo” rang through the space. Legendary nightlife luminary Amanda Lepore—dressed in leopard print with a cinched waist to make Violet Chachki blush—hit the stage to introduce the evening’s special guest just before the smooth, early-aught R&B stylings of “Leave (Get Out)” took over the sound system. The crowd went wild.
JoJo, dressed in a laced-cleavage white crop top and white denim jeans to match, was clearly thrilled by the hubbub. While she’d been doing press performances at radio stations and morning shows across the country all week, the Space Ibiza performance was her first time presenting new material to a crowd of eager fans. And if their response is any indication, JoJo diehards have long been ready. III marks the R&B/pop singer’s first major label release since 2006’s platinum-selling The High Road, and it’s also her first with Atlantic Records.
At her height in the mid-2000s, JoJo was one of the hottest voices in the business. At 14, she was the youngest pop artist of all time to top the Billboard pop charts with her 2004 self-titled debut. Unfortunately, the years after The High Road and the success of “Too Little Too Late” saw the singer wrapped in a nearly decade-long legal dispute with Da Family and Blackground Records. Now she’s back to making headlines for the right reasons: her music.
“I think that having the scare of not being able to do this ever again and not being able to get out of my contract really freaked me out," JoJo says. "Now that I have the opportunity, I’m just really seizing it.”
Photo by Wilsonmodels
The new EP opens with “Say Love,” a vocally audacious power ballad about expressing how you feel and lovers’ inability to be vulnerable. JoJo notes the track as her favorite. “I actually had a girlfriend in the studio where she was going through that situation of having told her guy she’s in love with him first, and then he didn’t say it back," JoJo explains. "I was kind of feeding off what she was going through, putting myself in her shoes.” The single’s emotional heft was front and center during her chill-inducing performance. “Going from those more laid back, vibey kind of verses into the powerful choruses—it’s a tough song for me to sing, but I like the challenge.”
In retrospect, it’s interesting to consider that despite her being in the national spotlight for over a decade, JoJo is technically a millennial, a subset and culture which for some time has broached love in varyingly untraditional ways (gotta love those dating apps). While “Say Love” details universal feelings related vulnerability and love, it definitely tells a story that’s of this time. The singer and her peers’ dating lives are often enhanced by the glean of a screen and well-lit selfie — an arena where vulnerability often doesn’t have a home.
“People have always been people; they’ve always been scared. Dating has always been scary, but now there’s just so much more access,” she says. “People feel like they’re competing for people’s attention to get likes and to get swiped on and all those things that were never thought about before.”
Following that vein of love-induced tribulation, the final song on Friday’s set list was House-tinged EP-closer “Love Hurts,” which is being pushed as the tringle’s lead single and will soon be paired with music video, now in preproduction. Seemingly a stateside response to the U.K.’s Jess Glynne, the song is a fun, vocal-centric House production that’s built to make you dance. Unfortunately, it simply pales in comparison to said contemporaries and doesn’t leave as great an impression as “Say Love” or III’s second track, “Save My Soul.”
Perhaps the most intriguing of the new singles, “Save My Soul” surprisingly went unperformed Friday. A mid-tempo power-pop ballad, the track sings of wanting what you can’t have and loving what you shouldn’t. “You got what you wanted didn’t you? / Don’t know where your heart is? Well mine’s bruised. / You knew when you started that I’d lose.” JoJo says that “Save My Soul” is ultimately about addiction.
“I grew up in a house where I saw it firsthand,” she says of her Boston upbringing. “My parents are divorced, but they’ve [both] had their struggles with addiction. That definitely affects you as a young kid, not knowing what’s going to happen next, when the bottom’s going to fall out, what you can rely on. And I’ve had my moments of feeling powerless to things—whether it’s people or circumstances or a substance. When you get involved in something like that, it can take over your whole life.”
Luckily for fans, it’s experiences like these that has led JoJo to the formidable multi-hyphenate entertainer she is today. It took an impressive amount of brawn to push through whatever personal trials ailed her childhood, not to mention the legal limbo she’d been stuck in the past few years. Some criticize the singer as being a little too stiff, too flat. To that end, it’s clear this gal takes major pride in what she does, and time and again, she’s said she can when others insist she can’t. It’s refreshing to see such a talent set her shoulders straight and chase the dream; if that means she comes across a little more serious than your average pop star, so be it. She’s fought to be here.
“Sometimes I wish I could come across as just a little more, you know, carefree, but I’m just not carefree,” JoJo admits. “I’ve always been kind of a serious girl. I mean, I have a lot of fun, too, but I think I take it seriously because I don’t really have something to fall back on as far as going back home and going to my parents’ house. I have to make a life for myself. I take it seriously because it’s going to be the rest of my life. This is just the beginning.”
Ill is available now. Listen to "Save My Soul" below: