Joanna Noëlle Blagden Levesque is only six years old when she’s offered her first record deal. Her mother decides she’s too young to start a music career. But after six more years, there’s no stopping her and she signs with Barry Hankerson’s Blackground Records. Within twelve months, Joanna releases her first single under the better known name JoJo. Leave (Get Out) turns out to be an enormous hit and JoJo becomes the youngest solo artist ever to top the Billboard’s Pop Song chart. A bright future lies ahead, but in the music industry a career can be over before you know it, and you have to start all over again…
The dream beginning of a music career
There’s no way to have a better start of your career than a number one hit single. But, as many artists know, the second hit is always the hardest.1 For JoJo, it’s not that big of a deal. Gold-selling second single Baby It’s You, with fellow youngster Lil’ Bow Wow, doesn’t make it to the top spot, but does manage to reach the top 25. When JoJo is mentioned by Eminem, you could say she has made quite a name for herself. A third single is released, but can’t make any impact on the charts or the radio. That means it’s time for the follow-up album.
JoJo works with all the go-to producers, i.e. Scott Storch, Ryan Leslie, Swizz Beatz and J.R. Rotem, and the result is called The High Road.2 Even though she releases a top three single (Too Little, Too Late) and a successful second album, these are not the most life-changing events in 2006 for JoJo. In the same year she turns sixteen, Disney makes her an offer that would’ve changed her life forever. If she’d said yes, that is. JoJo is the first choice of Disney to play the role of Hannah Montana, but she refuses. You can’t be sure the show would have been as successful with JoJo as it has with Miley Cyrus, but it’s very likely it would have transformed JoJo from just-another-teenage-popstar to super celebrity.3 Her saying ‘no’ to Disney has more to do with her ambitions than just not wanting to act. The same year JoJo makes her debut on the big screen, in a horrible movie called Aquamarine.4 She does a little better in the Robin Williams-starring flick RV, but a successful acting career is not (yet) in the pipeline for JoJo.
Leaks, label-drama and delays
So ’06 and ’07 were, overall, some pretty good years for JoJo. Two albums deep, she starts recording her third album, with even more top notch producers and artists (like Bryan Michael-Cox, Tank, Marsha Ambrosius and DJ Toomp). JoJo writes almost every song she records herself and the forthcoming album is heading to be her most personal record to date. But then the trouble begin. First, some demo’s leak to the internet. This happens pretty often and is not that big of a deal, you might think. And you’re right. Only when you’re Kanye & Jay-Z it is possible to keep your songs from leaking. And JoJo is nowhere near that status, but when twenty songs of your upcoming album leak, you really do have a problem. Even though she claims that the leaked songs are not ending up on the album and do not represent the sound of the record, it is not a good thing. Second, no official single is released, which means to the public, there will be no album anytime soon. And that turns out to be correct. In August 2009 it is reported that JoJo has filed a lawsuit against her record company. The company won’t let her out of her contract, but won’t let her record and/or release an album either. That’s a textbook case of how-to-ruin-a-successful-career. The musical limbo ends a couple of months later, when Blackground reaches an agreement with Interscope. She is released from her contract and Interscope becomes the distribution partner for her album (which, at this point, is called All I Want Is Everything). Problem solved.
In 2010 JoJo releases a mixtape, Can’t Take That Away From Me. It was supposed to be released one month before the release of her official third studio album. But, again, no album is released. This goes on and on, almost like her version of Detox.
New direction with a more mature sound
Meanwhile, JoJo does everything she can to stay relevant in an ever changing world. She is pretty active on Twitter and YouTube.5 In a tweet in May, she let’s the world know she has no idea about the status of her own album, only label Blackground has:
curious 2know the status of my album? tweet BlackgroundMG. They control the $ & album date. In the meantime, I'm gonna keep working LoveUAll
— JoJo (@JoJoistheway) May 27, 2012
So the label-drama clearly isn’t over. But when she hijacks Drake’s drunk-dial-anthem of the century Marvin’s Room, things are looking up.6 The slow and somber beat make a perfect match with JoJo’s soft and seductive voice. The lyrics are proof of the fact that JoJo is not a little girl anymore, singing: “Fuck that new girl that’s been in your bed / And when you’re in her, I know I’m in your head”. That’s one hell of a way to reintroduce yourself to the world.
Even the producer of the original song, Noah ’40’ Shebib, thinks she did an amazing job, considering the fact he produces the first single of JoJo’s third album.7 On Demonstrate, Shebib sets the mood with yet another down-tempo beat and JoJo sounds like she’s been singing songs like this since the beginning of her career. But the thing is, she hasn’t. It’s only her second song where she does something else than the usual guitar-pop-singles she’s released before.
She continues this ‘new’ sound on the mixtape, Agape.8 Two songs from the tape, We Get By and André, were already circulating the internet and the whole record was released for free on December 20, her 22nd birthday. According to the singer the mixtape is “meant to be experienced when you have 27-28 minutes to go on a little journey with me and listen to some stories. There are interludes, outerludes, random shit, my dad playing harmonica, and a conversation between my whole family at thanksgiving.” Judging by the tracklist, which is absolutely no basis for any solid judgement – but I’m going to do it anyway, she’s on her Kanye (White Girl in Paris), Musiq Soulchild (Back2thebeginningagain) and some Frank Ocean (Thinking Out Loud) shit. It looks pretty good.
— JoJo (@JoJoistheway) December 20, 2012
Enjoy Agape. It’s no official album and there still isn’t a release date for that third album. At least you can play this new mixtape while the world is falling apart.
- This is true for a lot more things than just singles. It goes for books, movies, championships, girlfriends, whatever. The second is always the hardest. ↩
- Remember, this is ’05/’06, a time where Storch really was THE go-to guy for a hit. How things can change in just a couple of years. ↩
- She later claims she has absolutely no regrets on this decision. Yeah, just like Ben Affleck has no regrets making Gigli or Will Smith passing up the chance to play Neo in The Matrix, just to make his worst movie, Wild Wild West. ↩
- The IMDB synopsis? “Two teenage girls discover a mermaid in their beach club’s swimming pool”. Still no regrets, JoJo? ↩
- She’s also active on Tumblr. The name of her page? Haveyouseenjojo. Go figure. ↩
- This is not the first time JoJo’s made a response-song. She did it in 2007 with Sean Kingston’s monster hit Beautiful Girls. ↩
- Disaster was originally the first single of her new album. After the positive reception of Marvin’s Room and Demonstrate, she wisely decided otherwise. ↩
- You can find 182 different meanings of that word, but since Google is my best friend, I stick with “Christian love”. It’s also the name of her adopted puppy. ↩