Magazine Feature

JoJo Gets Candid About Finally Breaking Free After Years of Label Limbo, Losing Her Father & Dealing With a Cheater

Meredith Jenks 

“I’m just getting used to this freedom, and it feels really good,” says JoJo, photographed on Aug. 16, 2016 at Mother of Pearl in New York.

Finally free of a stifling contract, the soulful pop singer reclaims her powerful voice.

By the time that most artists release a first album, they have waited a lifetime to share their music with the world. For former teen pop star Joanna "JoJo" Levesque, it has taken nearly half her life to release her third, thanks to a battle with her previous label, Blackground Records, over a contract that prevented her from selling her own music.

JoJo: The Billboard Shoot

Twelve years after her self-titled debut entered the Billboard 200's top five, JoJo is finally free. She reclaimed control of her career in early 2014, thanks to a loophole nullifying any agreement initially signed by a minor after a seven-year waiting period. "I called my mom and we cried," says JoJo, now 25, who immediately signed with Atlantic Records to record Mad Love, out Oct. 14. "I felt relief from the literal release. And then I had a bottle of champagne with my girlfriends!"

Traces of the old JoJo -- notably her striking, soaring alto -- are firmly intact on Mad Love. The slick, R&B-tinged gloss of her breakthrough single, "Leave (Get Out)," made her the youngest solo artist to top the pop charts and remains on tracks like icy-hot lead single "F-- Apologies" (with Wiz Khalifa) and anti-hater anthem "I Can Only" (with Alessia Cara).

But the distance between JoJo and her doe-eyed past is vast. Expanding on the weightier themes of the free mixtapes and EPs she put out for fans through the years, JoJo grapples with a real-life breakup (with a cheater who, three months post-split, got engaged) on the ­gloomily textured "Honest" and angst-ridden "High Heels."

Kesha Tells JoJo: 'They Can't Break You'

"It shook me up how quickly he moved on, and that ended up giving me a lot of things to write about," says JoJo. Loss is a theme: "Music," the raw piano-ballad opener, is dedicated to her late father, Joel Levesque, who heard an earlier version of the LP prior to his death in November 2015. "He was so moved and thankful that I got the opportunity to continue with what I loved," she says. "I don't think he thought that it was going to be possible, because it just didn't seem like it."

Now, the future looks bright: Currently on tour with Fifth Harmony, she'll ­perform on NBC's Today the morning Mad Love drops and follow that with a solo tour. JoJo now realizes that even freedom comes with ­challenges. "Knowing that now I own my voice, what am I going to do with that?" she asks. "What kind of moves am I going to make? I really do feel like the world is mine for the ­taking."

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 3 issue of Billboard.