The powerhouse vocalist shares her thoughts on writing about depression and anxiety in her music.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, JoJo, the chart-topping R&B singer-songwriter and actress, was eager to talk about her upcoming EP as she looked casually chic amid the background of her cozy looking living room. In her laconic voice register, she candidly spoke of the moments that brought her to making this record, which acts as a time capsule of where the singer was mentally and emotionally during last year. "I started out 2020 pretty freakin' hopeful and excited and like a lot of us, I think we were optimistic that a new decade, a new year, would be our year. We were like 'Okay, we got this!' It was the last year of my 20s and I was like 'Oh, I'm about to fuckin' set myself on fire and go to the moon. This is about to be awesome.' And then life happens. And we were all faced with the realities of the pandemic and lockdown and I was releasing an album that I was really proud of. I'm very grateful that I had that to promote last year. Even though it was different from the promotion that I'm used to because it was mostly like this, talking to people virtually from my living room, I'm grateful that I got to connect with people in that way because that kept me feeling not alone." That virtual promotional tour wasn't enough to keep JoJo's thoughts at bay, though. "I've noticed that when I am busy I'm not ruminating or thinking and my mind can't go to those negative places. Those distractions sort of fell to the wayside towards the end of last year—that's when my baseline kind of came to the surface and all my fears, hang-ups, anxieties, and depressive tendencies did rear their ugly heads again."
After turning her tea kettle off, she elaborates further. "Because I was scared. What's next? Are we ever going to be able to tour again? All of the things we were thinking in our own ways as people who provide for themselves. We're like, 'Fuck. What does the future look like? I had felt that way before and the addition of this very tangible reality of COVID-19 was another addition to that. I shared my thoughts with my manager and some people closest to me and I was met with a lot of compassion and understanding and them saying 'I feel a lot of the same way.'"
"When I'm not being creative, if I'm not getting outside, or working up a sweat, journaling, filling my mind with good, positive things, I can take a turn real quick. So, I was like 'Let me try to at least write through this.' And I got together with some of my favorite collaborators and even though I felt like I had absolutely no energy, I was able to write from that place. That's where the intro 'World of Sunshine' came [from], it's where 'Fresh New Sheets' came from, just that beginning process. The song 'Lift,' which is the last song on the EP that I wrote in Nashville, and that was me deciding that I was going to get back on antidepressants. I had tried 'be tougher, Jo and do this yourself and I was like 'You know what? I need a little help,' and that was where that came from."
Born Joanna Noelle Levesque—JoJo comes from a childhood nickname— was born in Brattleboro, Vermont and raised in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The award-winning vocalist is an industry veteran at only 30 years old and 17 years into her career, she's overcome significant obstacles. JoJo first appeared on the talent show Kids Say the Darndest Things: On the Road in Boston hosted by comedian Bill Cosby at age seven and went on to audition for the talent show Destination Stardom, and performed on a "Kids with Talent" episode of Maury at age 11. She burst onto the scene at 13 years old with her breakout hit "Leave (Get Out)" off of her self-titled debut album, making her the youngest artist to ever have a debut number one single in the U.S. JoJo went on to sell four million copies and "Leave (Get Out)" became her first platinum record, which she followed up with a string of hits including "Too Little, Too Late" and "How to Touch a Girl." Following 10 years of legal battles with her record label Blackground Records that prevented her from releasing new music, JoJo returned with her third studio album Mad Love in October 2016 , which debuted in the Top 10 of Billboard's Top 100 chart and is known for songs such as "Fuck Apologies" and "FAB" ft. Remy Ma. In 2018, JoJo re-released her first two albums, JoJo and The High Road, under her own label, Clover Records. In May 2020, JoJo's fourth studio album, Good to Know, debuted at number one on Billboard and garnered widespread critical acclaim marking her exultant return to the industry.
JoJo is a "big fan of therapy", saying "sometimes it's really helpful to have an outside party who has nothing to gain from your fortune or misfortune or whatever. They're professional. There's nothing you can tell them that they'd be like 'Oh my god, I can't believe it. What an idiot,' not at all. I think just to have that perspective shift is really helpful."
This record sees JoJo feeling liberated in what kind of music she can make. "This project gave me the opportunity to really curate something that was exactly how I was feeling at the time." When asked about why she couldn't make this album until she got those feelings off her chest, she tossed to her (adorable) dog, laughed, excused her allergies that were "going bananas" and elaborated on it. "I just felt like I realized when listening back to some songs I'd written for the past few years, I've been writing about depression for a long time. I haven't always put those songs on the project that I'm writing so this has been a theme for the past decade, the sliding scale of self-esteem, wellness, feeling anxious, sabotaging things. I was like ' I would like to share the concept of my experience with depression and anxiety.' Because I just wanted to clear space creatively and in my mind for whatever the next album is. I couldn't do that without writing through this."
JoJo hopes that this project makes people who are struggling with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues feel seen and validated. Outside of hoping for these things, JoJo also wants people to feel "comfort." "I just hope that they feel some comfort. I felt like this process was comforting to me, even in starting to trust myself again as a creative and following my energy or seeing that build. I hope that there's a song that would make someone feel that they're not alone, like 'Oh, Jo went through that and if she went through then I'm sure some other people went through it too. Because I think that we tend to feel like we're the only ones who've felt something or gone through something. While the circumstances are unique, the feeling is shared. We can relate from that aspect. I definitely hope that people feel validated, but I also want them to feel encouraged to find the silver lining in it, to find that maybe there's actually a community of people who feel the same way."
Photos: Courtesy of JoJo
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