Nearly a decade after releasing her sophomore album The High Road, pop star JoJo has finally made her official return.
The 24-year-old, who was locked in a longstanding legal battle with her former label Blackground Records, has released not one but three singles — appropriately referred to as “tringle” — more than a year after inking a deal with her new imprint, Atlantic Records.
“It’s just amazing to be in a new situation where I can move forward and where I can express myself and do the work that I’ve always wanted to do, just be out there doing what I love,” the singer, born Joanna Levesque, tells Billboard. “It’s pretty surreal but it’s starting to feel real now. After such a long time and fighting so hard, I just wanted to feel good. I wanted to reach the masses. I didn’t want to be confined or designed.”
For the three-pronged release, JoJo worked with a team of heavy-hitters including Benny Blanco and Jason Evigan for “When Love Hurts,” notably the most upbeat. “What I listen to in my personal time to get me amped up has been house music, dance music. Going back to the ‘90s, Black Box and CeCe Peniston, to more contemporary dance leaders like Duke Dumont and Disclosure and MNEK. That stuff was really speaking to me, so I wanted to tap into that.”
The mid-tempo, empowering “Save My Soul” explores JoJo’s firsthand experience with witnessing addiction, while the Harmony Samuels-penned ballad “Say Love” is centered on JoJo’s bold vocal performance. “I was doing a lot of listening to the women that inspired me growing up — Whitney, Mariah, Tina, Chaka,” she says. “And just thinking about those vocal showcase records, with great melodies and powerful lyrics… I wanted to have my own moment like that.”
If the trio of singles sounds different for JoJo, that’s because it’s an intentional pivot. She released her eponymous debut when she was just 14, scoring a pair of hits with “Baby It’s You” and “Leave (Get Out),” the latter of which topped Billboard’s Pop Songs chart. The High Road arrived two years later, but she was altogether silenced by Blackground following its release when she went to work on her third album. Legal battles ensued, and she found herself unable to commercially put out music. “I knew that no one was going to reach in and save me,” she says. “I either needed to hang it up and go to college, or I needed to stick it out and fight. Either option would have been fine, going to college is great, but I wanted to seize my youth and take this opportunity.”
JoJo satiated fans by releasing one-off singles and mixtapes, including 2012’s standout R&B-tinged Agape. It was the following year, seven since The High Road, that her lawyers discovered a New York statute that prohibited businesses from keeping someone in a contract for that duration of time. (She had signed to the imprint at 12 years old, and was 22 when the court ruled in her favor.) She almost immediately signed to Atlantic — “I bawled my eyes out,” she recalls — and left the unreleased music, recorded while in limbo, behind her. “I’m not just gonna unleash the vault and put it up on SoundCloud or something like that,” she says. “Unfortunately I have to let those records go, but on the other side of that, I’m comfortable with continuing to move forward.”
With three singles being serviced to radio, JoJo now plans to move forward, filming three separate videos for the tringle. She’s currently at work on her untitled third album, and has already logged studio time with MNEK (Madonna’s “Living For Love”) and Rami (Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time”). And after that? “I just can’t wait to get on the road, bring these songs to life visually.” she says. “That’s what I’m really excited for — just for the opportunity that I haven’t had in a long time.”