by ALEX NAGORSKI
In 2004, 13-year-old singer JoJo became the youngest person to ever have a #1 single on Billboard’s Top 40 mainstream charts with her smash, “Leave (Get Out).” Two years later, she relived Top 5 Billboard chart success with “Too Little Too Late,” the platinum-certified lead single off of her sophomore album.
But then a whole lot of shadiness happened over at JoJo’s label, Blackground Records. And despite her seven-album contract, it was unclear when her fans could be expecting another record from the singer. In the meantime, JoJo starred in a number of films (such as R.V. alongside Robbie Williams), released a mixtape and assured fans that more new music was on the way.
This spring, the wait will finally be over.
Six years after the release of her last official record, the now 21-year-old popstar is set to make a comeback of epic proportions this spring with the release of Jumping Trains, her third official album and her first with Interscope Records.
With lead single “Disaster” currently impacting radio (the music video is posted below), I spoke with JoJo about the creative process and evolution of Jumping Trains, her touring plans, her newfound adoration for Madonna and more.
What does the title, Jumping Trains, mean to you?
Jumping Trains has taken on a few different meanings for me. Relocating from Massachusetts to L.A. was definitely a big transition for me. Then there’s that natural progression of growing from girl to woman, changing labels, leaving certain things behind and moving onto a new chapter, a new season and bringing fresh energy in. When you think of actually jumping trains, it’s dangerous and exhilarating – but if you make it, it’s worth the risk. So I wanted to bring that idea to the project.
The album’s lead single “Disaster” marks the first time you’ve broken into the Top 40 Billboard Pop Songs chart since “Too Little Too Late.” How did you celebrate when you heard the news?
(laughs) Well, I haven’t celebrated it yet. But if it continues to climb, maybe I’ll pop open a bottle of champagne with my team. But there’s still much more to be done.
Based on what we’ve heard so far, Jumping Trains will be a much edgier and sexier record than your previous releases. On your website, you call this directional shift, “pop with an anger-management problem.” Can you elaborate a little bit about what you mean by that and talk to what sparked this musical evolution?
Sure. It was very natural. The recording process has been very organic. Whatever’s going on in my life is going to be reflected in the music. And by the way, I’m still recording. That never stops. I’m constantly writing and this album continues to evolve. But for a great chunk of time, I was in this very angsty place where I felt like I was fighting against the world. I was in a toxic relationship and everything was just dramatic so I did write a lot about that. But now that I’m out of that, this is definitely not going to be a “guy bashing” album or a “me against the world” album. It’s just a really honest representation of a girl trying to make her way through her 20s.
How representative is “Disaster” of the overall thematic structure and sound of Jumping Trains?
That’s a good question. I would say that “Disaster” is one of the more straight forward pop records on this album. I wanted this album to be infused with all the different genres of music that inspire me and keep me going. So I would say that “Disaster” is the most rock/pop record on here. And while there is a lot of diversity on the album, this is the most cohesive body of work that I’ve put out.
So if you had to classify the album with a single genre, what would it be?
I think pop would be most appropriate because it covers such a wide variety of things today. We call Adele, Rihanna and Lady GaGa “pop,” but I think they’re all quite different in the things that they come out with.
The releases of your mixtape, buzz single “The Other Chick” and eventually “Disaster,” introduced your fans to a much more mature and lyrically exposed singer and songwriter than the one we’ve been used to. What about grown-up JoJo will shock your fans the most?
(laughs) Well it might be shocking for them if I curse or if I talk about sex or if I’m opinionated and outspoken. Or even if I’m a little rough around the edges. I’m not really sure what the most shocking thing would be but I just try to be myself because that’s all I can do.
Your cover of Drake’s “Marvin’s Room” exploded all over the blogosphere last year and has hit over 21 million views on YouTube. Were you surprised by the huge reaction the song received?
Oh, I was totally surprised! I had no idea anyone would even want to listen to it. I just really loved Drake’s song. I loved what he was saying in it. I thought he was very vulnerable and honest and I thought it was very bold of him to say the things that he said. So I said to myself, “I’m going to take a stab at this. I’m feeling kind of emo right now and I’ve got some pain in my heart so why not try letting it out?”
The way you discuss the themes of female empowerment in your music call to memory the massive “girl power” movement around the prime of the Spice Girls. What women in the industry inspire you most as both a songwriter and a performer?
Well, I’ve been doing a lot of studying lately. I’ve been obsessing over YouTube clips and Googling things and reading books about people that I consider to be icons. So I’ve been researching people like Madonna and Joni Mitchell and more current day people like Beyonce, Celine Dion and even Alanis Morissette. I’m just really interested to learn about these women who built these empires that kind of transcend music. They’re just all really smart with their money and with their branding. I think it’s a wonderful time to be a woman and I try to take what I can from the people who have come before me. Like I think that Madonna is so brilliant. I have a totally newfound respect for her after I just watched her Truth or Dare documentary. I know that that’s old news and that it came out years and years ago but it was new to me. I was too young, obviously, when it came out and I’m just so, so inspired by her.
That’s so funny that you mention Truth or Dare because I watched that movie literally three days ago with a friend of mine and we were talking about how even if someone is not a Madonna fan per say, it’s a movie so worth watching.
Exactly! I definitely didn’t consider myself a diehard fan or anything like that but after I watched this, I thought to myself that there’s just no denying that this woman deserves her place in history forever.
Absolutely. And speaking of Madonna, she’s going to be playing the halftime show at the Super Bowl next weekend. I know you’re a big sports fan so are you going to be doing anything special for the game? Which team are you rooting for?
Oh, definitely The Patriots. I actually grew up with their stadium in my backyard in Foxborough. So I’m really excited! I’m not sure what my plans are yet. I’m not even sure yet where I’ll be. I don’t know if I’ll be in L.A. or on the road but wherever I’ll be, I’ll be celebrating (laughs).
Last year, you toured with Joe Jonas and Jay Sean, took part in Hard Rock Café’s Pinktober tour for breast cancer awareness and in a couple of weeks, you’ll be hitting the road again by joining Big Time Rush. Which of your new songs are you most excited to perform for a live audience?
Honestly, I can’t wait to share everything with the audience. I’m not going to be playing the whole album yet. I’m obviously a little nervous about that because we’ve had so many leaks. But I’ll definitely play some cuts off the new album because I really do want to share them and hear peoples’ opinions. But I also don’t want the material to be stale by the time the album comes out. I’m most looking forward to when the album is released and being able to perform all of the songs because they really are my babies. Especially the more emotional records or the ones that feel like excerpts of conversations that I’ve had. I’m really excited about that.
What’s your signature ritual to preserve your voice when you’re out on the road and performing so much?
(laughs) The signature JoJo thing is that I take shots of extra virgin olive oil before every performance. It lubricates your throat. It’s so effing disgusting and just thinking about it makes me want to throw up right now. But I do it. I cover my nose and I take shots of it. And then after a show, I like to have a hot toddy.
You’ve been working on this album for literally years now. How have the songs evolved from when you first wrote and recorded them to the mastered versions we’ll be hearing when Jumping Trains hits stores?
I know that sounds like, “oh my god, that’s so long,” but I just never stop, you know what I mean? Since there hadn’t been a release date for so long, I was just like, “eff it, I’m going to stay in the studio.” There’s definitely been an evolution in the lyrical content, in the vocals, in the maturity and a whole bunch of other things. I just experimented with a lot of sounds to see where I felt comfortable, what worked best and what people were responding to. And I think we came up with something that I’m really proud of. In the beginning, I experimented with genres like neo-soul, jazz and things like that. I’m kind of musically schizophrenic and I just explored as much as I could. Right now we have this overall pop record but it is infused with hip-hop, rock and even some country melodies. It’s just a mix of things that influence me.
Aside from being a singer, you’ve also appeared as an actress in quite a few feature films. Can we expect to see you on the big screen again anytime soon?
Definitely. I love to act. It’s just not my main focus right at the moment because I’m so involved in getting this album out and promoting it and making sure that I give it my full attention. But when the right project comes along, I’d love to act again and would love to continue to do it in the future.
As someone who’s spent so much of her life in the limelight, how have you managed to avoid the troubles and downward spirals that so many child stars unfortunately experience?
I find this question to be really interesting because I am not without faults and I am certainly by no means an angel. I’ve had my share of ups and downs – they just haven’t been publicized. I don’t like to make a spectacle of myself – and I’m not saying that these people do – but when I’m going through something, I try to contain it and keep it more within my camp. I think I’m just lucky. I come from a small town in Massachusetts and I don’t want to ever embarrass my family or my friends or my team and I just think that I’m very conscious of the way I represent myself.
Do you already have plans for a follow-up single to “Disaster” leading up to the release of Jumping Trains?
Yeah, there are plans but I’m still really focused on “Disaster.” It’s just starting to kick off so I really want to just stay concentrated on that for now.
And for my last question: if you were running for President of the United States in 2012, what would your official campaign slogan be?
(laughs) Wow. Great question. Hmm … well okay, I’ll say this because it’s the first thing that comes to mind and I just got it tattooed on myself. I grew up in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and it’s the New Hampshire state motto, “Live free or die.” I don’t know if that’s a slogan for a campaign but that’s what I’m going to say. Live free or die. (laughs)
I like that! Thanks so much, JoJo. I’m really looking forward to the new record and it was very nice to chat with you.
Aw, thank you! I appreciate you so much. It was great talking to you.