By Erin Cabrey
When our generation thinks about the best throwback pop songs, JoJo’s “Leave (Get Out)” is always a contender. The 2004 single, definitive of the much-missed MTV staple TRL, was once in heavy rotation on iPod nanos across the nation. After 10 years of career-halting label disputes, JoJo, now 25, is back with her new album Mad Love, proving she’s more than a throwback track.
All Grown Up
JoJo’s new music is far from too little, too late. On Mad Love, she ditches her signature lovesick pop songs to cover everything from love to depression, excitement to angst. She draws from the struggles during her inactive years, including body image issues, a cheating boyfriend and the loss of her father. JoJo has plenty to sing about after a tumultuous decade that left her promising career in limbo. Her record label, Blackground Records, became inactive in 2009, and legal disputes left her unable to release new music. She filed a lawsuit in 2013 that finally released her from the label, allowing her to put her music career back in motion.
Her new album’s lead single, “F*** Apologies,” is a declaration of a new chapter in her career as she reclaims control over her music and an industry that tried to silence her for so long. “Usually I’d go on and take the blame but not this time, not this time” she sings. This is an anthem of her growth since we last heard her on 2006’s The High Road – her voice is more mature, and this time, she’s singing over EDM beats. What might seem like a plea for radio rotation is far too sincere to be labeled as such, as powerful and often clever lyrics give the tracks just enough pathos to surpass guilty pleasure listening.
From TRL to TBT
JoJo’s rise to stardom began at a young age, when she placed second on “America’s Most Talented Kids in 2003” and was then invited to perform on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” This led to a recording contract with Blackground Records.
In 2004, her debut single “Leave (Get Out)” rose to number one on the Pop Charts, making JoJo, at 13, the youngest ever US solo artist to have a No. one single. The song also peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 list, with its music video spending 50 days on the TRL countdown and receiving a nomination for Best New Artist at the 2004 MTV Video Music Awards. Her debut album JoJo reached number four on the Billboard 200 chart.
Her career was skyrocketing so much that she turned down the offer to play Hannah Montana (imagine how different the world would be). In 2006, she starred in tween classic Aquamarine and Robin Williams’ comedy RV. Later that year came the release of her gold-certified sophomore album The High Road featuring “Too Little, Too Late,” her highest charting single to date. Her label disputes began soon after this. Despite not being able to release an album, she released two mixtapes, Can’t Take That Away from Me in 2010 and Agape in 2012. Her true comeback to the mainstream wasn’t until the release of “F*** Apologies” this past summer and Mad Love on Oct. 14, this time through Atlantic Records.
In 2006, I read an issue of Twist magazine featuring JoJo looking back at her favorite outfits over the years. One was a dress she wore to the premiere of Aquamarine. She said she loved it, even though it landed her on several worst dressed lists. A similar thing happened with the dress she wore to the VMAs, which she said was dubbed “too boring” by critics. I haven’t seen that article since 2006, yet I oddly remember many details about it. She exhibited a sureness of self by wearing what she felt comfortable in despite what the tabloids said, which I admire now looking back.
During her time away from the spotlight, her label began pressing her to lose weight. Worried for her career, she gave in to their ridiculous requests. “And instead of rebelling or saying ‘Go f*** yourself,’ I wanted to make myself into a better product,” JoJo wrote in a letter on Motto, TIME’s advice website. This resulted in her taking unhealthy measures to lose weight, including supplements and injections.
Her label tore her from confident to insecure, but all I wanted as an 11-year-old girl, and really, all I want from artists now, is for them to be honest and comfortable in their own skin. Luckily, JoJo fought back after going to therapy and channeling her energy into music. “When you accept who you are, it’s only a matter of time before others have no choice but to follow suit,” she concluded in her letter.
Now, as she unapologetically tells her stories on Mad Love, it’s clear she’s shed negative voices in her life. As she boldly told Lenny Letter, “You don’t have to like the decisions that I make. You don’t have to understand them for them to be right for me. I am the one who has to live with my choices, with my life.” With the release of her new album, JoJo is back in more ways than one. She’s put out a killer collection of honest yet infectious songs after a decade-long hiatus but, most importantly, she’s reassumed control of who she is and what she does. At 21, listening to her new music for the first time, I’m confident that the tween I was, hanging on her every word inside the pages of a magazine would be incredibly proud of the tenacious woman she’s become.