Last Friday night (no Katy Perry segues, please), MuuMuse contributor Sam Lansky and I had the great pleasure of attending the She’s The First: Girls Who Rock 2011, a benefit concert to raise money for the Arlington Academy of Hope in Uganda.
After munching on some free Pop Chips and taking shots of some of the other talent set to hit the stage that night including Nina Sky, Nikki Jean and Kimberly Nichole, Sam and I settled into a nook in the back of the Gramercy Theater press room to have a brief chat with the one and only: Queen JoJo.
For those unaware, a ridiculously brief summary: JoJo is a teen pop star who first rose to fame when her 2004 single “Leave (Get Out)” catapulted up the Billboard Pop Charts, making her the youngest solo artist to have a #1 in America–ever. She later burst even bigger with 2006’s “Too Little, Too Late,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100 at #3 and spawned her Gold-rated second studio album, The High Road.
Back in September of 2010, JoJo released the semi-experimental Can’t Take That Away From Me to Rap-Up–a mixtape featuring some of her latest cuts with acts including Jordan Gatsby and Beau Dozier. From that release came “In The Dark,” a dark, drippy electro affair that came coupled with an equally risque video, as a blindfolded JoJo gets extra sinful with male model, Luke Gulbranson. “How hot was that?!” she suddenly exclaimed after we began gushing about the song. (I believe I called it my personal anthem of 2010.)
Now, JoJo sets her sights on her new project: Her upcoming third LP, Jumping Trains. “The album is more cohesive than the mixtape,” she says of the upcoming release. “The mixtape was kind of a compilation of songs from different genres that we put together, which I loved. But this album is more of a journey in my mind, the sound I like to describe as ‘pop with an anger management problem,’ so it’s aggressive, it’s edgy, it’s…woo! It’s a little kooky! But it’s still a pop album but it still has that feminine vulnerability and that transparency that I wanted. I want it to be honest, and I wanted it to just be truthful. So um, the album is just a more purpose-driven project, whereas the mixtape was more… just an assembly of songs.”
As for what’s next, JoJo confirmed to MuuMuse that “The Other Chick”–a track which recently leaked last month, will now only serve as the buzz single from the singer’s forthcoming studio album. “It’s something cool that’ll introduce people to a more mature me, I suppose. It’s edgy, but it’s a buzz single.” Instead, the album’s official first single will be released in the summer (which JoJo claims she’s “stoked about”), with Jumping Trains to follow in the fall.
The singer also revealed some of the producers working on her long delayed, much anticipated third studio album: “We’re whittling it down but…some of the first names that pop into my head are Rodney Jerkins, Danja, some new guys like The Interns and The Messengers — the Messengers have done a lot of work with Justin Bieber and Chris Brown—so it’s a nice mix of really established veterans in the game and just some new cats that are super fresh and exciting.”
At just 20 years old, it’s remarkable to hear how well-spoken and passionate JoJo speaks of her intentions as a recording artist. Given the well-publicized strife she’s had with former record labels (including continuous release date setbacks and contractual clauses that kept the young singer from being released to another label) she’s also been dealt an unusually keen insight into the less glamorous aspects of the recording industry for several years.
So what has she learned thus far? “I would say make sure that your team is super solid,” she said with stone-cold sincerity. “Make sure that you really, really trust them, if you have any doubts, then you need to look into those doubts. Have a great lawyer. Management is necessary. And it’s just important to have honest communication with your team.”
And it’s not always about having a team that knows what they’re doing–it’s about knowing your own limitations as well: “What I’ve also learned is that you don’t know everything,” she explains. “You need to ask the opinions of people that you trust who know more than you in a certain area, because you just don’t know everything.”
And it’s exactly that humble attitude (and tremendous business acumen) that’s led her to her most recent feat as a recent signee to Interscope Records. “I love Interscope. I’m so happy to be there,” she says of her new home, “I think that they’re a wonderful label and a true machine that–once the wheels get turning–there’s no place like them. I feel that we’re gonna do great things.”
While the album shapes up for release later this year, JoJo’s been keeping busy recording with several artists and producers, including “Sucks To Be You,” an almighty kiss-off club anthem by fellow Boston native, Clinton Sparks–which wasn’t even meant to happen.
As JoJo recounted, the Boston-based producer/DJ was working on the track at the same time that JoJo was in the studio. “While he was recording it I decided to write a verse. It’s funny because he didn’t ask me to be on it until he finished his verse, and he was like, ‘Yo, maybe you should get on this,’ and I was like, ‘That’s funny because I wrote a verse,'” she said of the semi-accidental collaboration with a laugh. And just as quickly, JoJo soon became a part of Sparks’ newest club banger.
Not, however, that the club-pop anthem will be the sound she’s exploring on her upcoming LP. “I might explore it, but that sound isn’t necessarily represented on this album—that specific type of dance—but there’s a lot of songs you can dance to on the album.” And with producers like Danja (Britney‘s “Gimme More”) and Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins (Lady Gaga‘s “Telephone”) as producers–there’s no telling where this album may lead.
After talking to us, JoJo went on to close out the show–and truly bring down the house–with an absolutely stunning headlining performance of hits including “Leave (Get Out),” Can’t Take That Away From Me‘s gut-wrenching “Boy Without A Heart,” her 2006 smash “Too Little, Too Late,” and the first-ever premiere of the title track from her forthcoming album, “Jumping Trains,” which I hurriedly fumbled to capture in full:
In all honesty, I’d venture to say that JoJo delivered some of the best vocals I’ve ever experienced live. Ever! Flawless and effortless. If you told me the girl has never needed to do a second take in the recording booth for a song, I’d believe it without a doubt. I can safely speak for Sam as well–who spent a majority of the concert flailing his hands about his face, gasping and “I can’t!”-ing on repeat–when I say I think he’d agree.
And now, a crystal-clear video of JoJo’s entire performance. Watch now!
The She’s The First organization seeks to provide funding to girls across the world and provide them with the tools necessary to further their education. (For more information, please check out their website.)
Thank you to everyone involved in running the She’s The First: Girls Who Rock 2011 event, to JoJo and her management team, and to Sam for joining me in this truly out-of-body Jo-tacular experience.