The story of JoJo, briefly: A musical career that started in her early teens, with a trio of Top 40 hits before she turned 16. Then a years-long (and still ongoing) battle through record-development hell, her third album shuffling concepts, producers and release dates too many times to count. Finally, a creative rebirth through a series of self-released passion projects, culminating in the recent mixtape Agápē, timed to the R&B singer’s 22nd birthday.
As fans of JoJo since the “Leave (Get Out)” days, we were understandably jazzed to hang out with her as she made the promotional rounds for Agápē last week. Over a wide-ranging 45-minute conversation, we got to hear JoJo’s views on everything from Joni Mitchell to the peculiar charms of Boston cab drivers, and our days were much improved for it. A rundown of the lessons we learned:
1) SHE’S LOOKING FORWARD TO HER FIRST REAL TOUR
JoJo: I’ve never really done a full tour before. This will be my first time really going out and hitting it hard. So we’ll see if I survive.
Popdust: What were your tours like when you were younger?
Very tame. Lots of McDonalds and fast food and good times. I think I take it a lot more seriously now than I did. I don’t think I enjoyed it. I was really scared. I always felt like I was going to pee my pants on stage.
2) SHE HAS NO ISSUES WITH PLAYING THE OLD HITS
I do my old stuff. Gladly. I want to take people on a journey. I typically start my show going back to the beginning, start it off with “Leave (Get Out)” and then end with “Too Little Too Late,” to bookmark it. I don’t want to do a show that’s self-indulgent, that’s all obscure DeAngelo covers. I really want to give people an enjoyable experience.
3) SHE ABSOLUTELY LOVES TWITTER
I don’t remember life without Twitter. It has changed many things for me. It’s such a cool way to interact and develop relationships, and create an atmosphere of what’s important to you. I feel like people got to know me.
My fans on Twitter help me in more ways than I think they have any idea. Maybe I don’t express my appreciation enough because i feel so corny. I don’t want to come across as a big softy, but I am. They really have kept me positive. and pushing and wanting to do this. It can get so exasperating.
4) SHE’S AMBIVALENT ABOUT GIVING HER FANS A COLLECTIVE NAME
Do your fans have a hashtag?
I was thinking about that. #TeamJoJo. Nice, simple, clean. I’m not going to call them a name. I don’t want to make them feel… I hate that shit. They’re people! I’m not going to clump you in with your group. You guys are all individuals.
[JoJo did take kindly to Popdust’s suggestion of #Jonuts.]
5) SHE HAS NO IDEA WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL THOSE SNEAKERS IN HER MTV CRIBS EPISODE
I loved sneakers. I don’t still love them. I was very “urban” back then, and I really identified with a certain lifestyle that I don’t subscribe to any longer, because I just … don’t. I don’t know what happened. I have big Baby Phat jackets. Just like, that was so stylish.
How would you describe your current style?
Expressionist. Whatever that means.
6) JOJO SORT OF REGRETS SAYING SHE WANTED TO RECORD “GENRE-LESS MUSIC”
I felt like that came across as such a douchebag quote. It’s so overly ambitious. I’m just this little girl from Massachusetts, I’m not going to change the world with my “genre-less music.” I just wanted to not be limited. I wanted the room to do whatever I wanted. It’s just so boring to label things. It’s harder and harder to do that with music right now. Nothing is strictly one lane. There’s such a melting pot.
It’s interesting what is considered pop. We had this perception that pop was just this bubblegum thing, but it’s not. It’s not anymore. During my “urban” phase I was very offended at the term “pop.” “No I’m not, I’m R&B!” Now I don’t give a crap what you call me. I just hope you think I’m talented, that’s all.
7) THAT “MARVIN’S ROOM” COVER WAS BORN OUT OF THE WORLD’S WORST HANGOVER
I was really hungover one morning, and very miserable in New York. I was very sad, going through a stupid situation with a stupid boy and I just wrote exactly what I was going through. My friend called me up and said, “Have you heard Drake’s new song ‘Marvin’s Room’? It reminds me of you; it’s super emo. Check it out.” So I did. It’s something that I do as a writing exercise. I listen to a song that inspires me and think, what would I say on this? Let me write another verse to that. I flew back to LA that night, called up my friend who has a studio and just laid down my version. I called up my manager, “Is this something I should put out? Is this going to destroy me?” Legally, I don’t know. The fact that people have dug it is surprising and awesome.
8) THERE’S A SIMPLE EXPLANATION FOR THE “CRANBERRY STOLI” REFERENCE IN “WE GET BY”
9) HER HOMETOWN OF BOSTON IS A HUGE INFLUENCE ON HER WORK:
I’ve been living in LA most of the past three years, but I’ve never really left Boston. People from Boston are just great. I love them. We’re just different. We’re a little rough around the edges, we’re outspoken. We have a lot of people who love to drink, and get loud. They’re very passionate people, but not in that sexy Latin passionate way. Just in a really aggressive way.
10) IF YOU SPEND TIME WITH JOJO, YOU’RE PROBABLY GOING TO GET RECORDED
I have mad voice notes on my phone. Things that I find interesting, conversations. People don’t know that I’m recording them, so I asked permission, before this mixtape. [Agápē features a series of interstitial snippets drawn from these recordings.]
The best one was, I was on a date with this guy in Boston. We were in a cab, but the cabdriver was drunk and he was very loud. He just decided to talk to us, in the back, so I recorded the conversation. His name was Sully O’Leary or something, and he was telling us about his neighbor. He was like—excuse my language, I’m just repeating what he said—”These fucking cocksuckers over here.” He’s got this gravelly voice. “I just said, ‘Motherfucker, if you knock on my door one more time, I’m gonna kill you!’” And this cabdriver was talking about how he went and beat up his neighbor. Because we just drove by his place. He was like, “Right there! Right there! I told that cocksucker.” I was like, “Wow Sully, you’re quite a guy. You don’t shit, huh?” And he was like, “Nope! Not no way, no how.” So that was cool, I recorded that.
11) JOJO IS A WAY BIGGER JONI MITCHELL FAN THAN YOU
I’ve seen every possible Joni Mitchell interview, from every decade of her career. I’m obsessed. The whole Court and Spark album really speaks to me. She doesn’t notice the affection of all these men, because she’s too busy being free, and she’s not focused on them, she kind of uses them as she wishes. She’s strong and powerful and vulnerable and messed up.
Would you ever do a cover album of Joni songs?
Yeah, but didn’t Herbie Hancock just do that?
It won best album!
12) SHE FEELS WEIRD ABOUT KARAOKE
I feel so uncomfortable. I love to sing, but sometimes I’m the only singer…I want to be modest.
You could do rap.
I could do rap. [Biggie voice] “To all the ladies in the place with style and grace.”
13) JOJO IS A JOKESTER
What makes you comfortable in the studio?
I like to have very tall, nude modelesque women laying around. Just very drunk. I like them all very drunk. Just teetering around.
Why tall? It’s a little heightist.
Because it’s something that I lack. They are making up for my insecurities. I feel like I’m Kanye West.
14) SHE KNOWS AS MUCH ABOUT HER NEXT ALBUM’S PROGRESS AS WE DO
Where are you with the album?
Really nowhere with it. I’m just recording and staying creative.
Is “Demonstrate” going to be on it?
Who knows? Who knows?! I dunno! It’s not my desire to have this long break between albums. I’m not Dr. Dre, this is not Detox. I’m a young singer who wants to release music. I’ve learned to deal with it by putting out music on my own terms. I don’t even remember what the process of recording an album feels like. It’s been that long.
Is there ever a conflict between saving songs for the album, or putting them out yourself?
I ain’t saving shit! There will always be songs. That’s how I think about it. As long as I am breathing and have control of all my faculties, I pray to God that He will continue to bless me with ideas.
15) JOJO WILL POSE WITH ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING, EVEN THE NEW OFFICE SODA MACHINE THAT YOU ARE SUPER EXCITED ABOUT