JoJo on releasing Good to Know album during COVID-19: 'Music is not meant for us to hoard'
JoJo didn’t want to wait.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many musicians, Lady Gaga and Sam Smith among them, have decided to forgo their planned spring/summer releases and push their albums to the fall. It’s hard to perfectly execute a promotional campaign for a project while self-isolating. But the 29-year-old singer decided to forge ahead with unveiling her fourth studio album, Good To Know.
JoJo’s self-titled debut was released in 2004, when she was just 13-years-old, jump-starting a career filled with highs and lows, including a drawn-out legal battle with her first label, Blackground Records. At one point, Blackground legally owned her voice and prevented her from releasing new music. After filing a lawsuit and spending years in court, JoJo was officially released from her contract in 2014. Now she's embracing that freedom and gifting fans with new music during uncertain times.
Good to Know not only shows off the more mature side of JoJo, it also reveals a woman who is liberated and empowered, having taken the time to reflect on her choices in relationships. During the recording process, she even made the decision to remain celibate. “I’ve been in relationships since I was 14,” she tells EW. “I was like, 'Wow, I’ve never been lonely and I really need to [be].’”
EW had the chance to speak with the star about the album's influences, her career thus far, and re-recording her old music.
What does it feel like to be releasing an album while other artists are pushing back their releases? Was there any apprehension on your part?
No apprehension for me because I have been in a holding pattern for so much of my career where we have to change the plan or derail. It was really important to me that I give my fans this project and that I start on the path of releasing music consistently. I want to see people dance to it, I want to see people get on the pole to it, I want to see people drive to it. Music is not meant for us to hoard.
How long was the recording process for this album?
I started writing like a year ago. I haven't really taken any time off from writing or recording. No, like conscious time. I'm always in and out of the studio, and trying different things. It started to make sense after I went to Toronto with Doc McKinney and that’s where we did “So Bad” and “Lonely Hearts” and some of the stuff you’ll hear on the next project.
Were there any albums or songs you were influenced by that you wanted Good To Know to sound like?
My inspiration was a lot of hip-hop, sonically. I was definitely influenced by some of my favorite Canadian artists like The Weeknd, Tory Lanez, and Drake. Toronto’s impact on the music scene can’t be understated. Thankfully, I was working with producers that I really trusted like Coc McKinney and Lido and 30 Roc. I knew I needed a lot of bass, I knew I needed s--- to hit hard. I’m a very sensual person. I need to feel it.
This album feels very R&B as most of your recent stuff does. But, a lot of things you released early on were very, very pop.
I don't really think about genre that much. I think people bring up genre with me much more than I really bring it up to myself. A few years ago I released some stuff where I was trying to fit into a pop mold because I had no more fight left in me. I felt backed against a corner and I didn't know how to say, “I don’t love this and I don’t want it to be a part of what I’m putting out there.”
It’s interesting that when you feel like you had no more fight left in you, that you just went and tried to fit into the pop mold. Most people would have quit or just tried something else completely in the music industry.
I can't go on social media without people encouraging me and telling me how much my music has changed their life. I know that I was put here to communicate something to people and I think that that's it. I knew what I wanted to do since I was a kid and I don't see it any other way. I've seen so much of this and there's no going back.
Mad Love was released in 2016. You’ve taken longer gaps before between alums. Did any fear or pressure creep in before you got to this point in the process with Good To Know?
The biggest hurdle was putting out Mad Love. I made a lot of records that I'm really proud of, I made compromises, and I learned about what I will and will not compromise on. My fears ride like this rollercoaster. Sometimes I’m like, “I’m fearless b----,” and other times I’m like, “Oh my god. What am I going to do.” Was I scared that people weren’t going to give a s---? No, because I sell out my tours. I’m so grateful for my fanbase who are so passionate and show me time and time again how incredible they are.
You’ve re-recorded some of your older songs from when you were signed to Blackground Records and now own the masters to them. What was the incentive behind that?
It felt like an opportunity to reclaim my time and make sure that my history wasn't erased. All my peers' music is easily accessible. There’s literally no reason why anyone shouldn’t be able to listen to what they want to listen to from when a label puts it out. I just wanted to take back my story a little bit. I also wanted the writers and the producers who made the music to start getting royalties; they were missing out on a lot of back catalog stuff. By owning these masters that means I am now in control of syncing and licensing with these new versions. It’s not that I’m a control freak, it's that I wanted the music to have an opportunity to keep living. And it's not that I want to be revisionist and keep going back because honestly, I'm so f--- sick of the past. I'm only interested in the present and the future. Like. I don't relate to my 13-year-old self at all. I'm a grown-ass woman, it felt like a boss b---- move.
Your past label situation with Blackground was so horrible. You’re with Warner Records now, how do you not walk around with a chip on your shoulder and not be paranoid that you’re going to get f--- over?
I'm not looking for these people to be my family or to be my providers. I'm looking for them to be my partners, that's why I decided not to go independent and decided to get into another contract situation. But, I've definitely learned from my past and that's informed certain things I asked for contractually or certain things that I expect or don't expect from a relationship professionally. It's also the difference between being 13, being 12, and being 29.
Earlier this year, PJ Morton won the Best R&B Song Grammy for the song he did with you, “Say So.” You didn’t get a Grammy despite being featured, right?
Yeah, PJ had already written that song before I got on it. That’s his award, I don't know about a certificate or anything like that. That was my first time at the Grammys, I promised myself I wouldn’t go until I was nominated. It was such an incredible moment for me and sharing it with PJ? I’m just so happy I’m on this journey with him.
We’re all stuck in the house, how have you been keeping yourself sane in the midst of this worldwide pandemic?
My mom is out here, she just moved from Boston like six months ago and moved in with me. So we're very, very, close right now. [laughs] I have been cooking and baking a lot. I've been practicing piano and taking lessons on YouTube and asking my musician friends to send me videos of their hands breaking down chords. I want to come out of this feeling like I didn't just dive into the depths of my Netflix.
This interview has been edited and condensed.