Though she’s admittedly not above having a drunken grilled cheese, JoJo is trying the whole mostly plant-based approach to cooking these days. The Friday afternoon before her latest album, “Good to Know,” is released, she answers a Zoom call from her L.A. kitchen, bowls of ingredients laid out before her as she tries out a recipe for a jerk sauce she found online for plant-based meatballs she has in the works.
JoJo, born Joanna Levesque, has an immediate confidence that indicates she is handling quarantine life quite well, that each word she chooses she means entirely, and that yes, those vegetarian jerk meatballs are going to turn out fantastic.
An early music success, having signed her first deal at age 12, JoJo spent much of her twenties in a legal battle with her former, now-defunct record label. She returned to the scene in 2016, newly signed with Warner, with a new album “Mad Love,” which had a Top Ten debut, before rerecording and rereleasing her first two albums in 2018, now that she was free to do so.
“I’ve been in this game longer than I haven’t. It’s been 16 years — I recorded my first album when I was 12,” JoJo, now 29, says. “It’s just something you can’t take away from me, even if the music isn’t available. I felt like I needed to do something. I was tired of feeling out of control.”
On May 1 she releases “Good to Know,” which in many ways is the album she’s always wanted to make. It finds JoJo in a place of self-love and confidence, and newly empowered to reflect her journey as a woman through the music.
“I feel a lot less stressed,” she says of the album’s release. “I feel more confident and I feel like it’s all good. You know what I mean? That’s kind of where I landed at the end of making this album, and that’s what ‘Good to Know’ means. It’s like, instead of putting a label on every experience, it can just be information. I learned a lot about myself during the making of this and a lot about life: that you can wake up one day and choose to be a different person and choose to say ‘I’m never going back and I’m never going to compromise in that way.’ It’s good to know that I can trust myself and that has been a process and a journey for me, of trusting my heart, my gut and my tastes.”
A prime example comes from the lead single off the album, “Man,” which was released in mid-March and on which she sings of only wanting a partner who “can love me like I love me.”
“This is 2020 — none of us need a man. It’s not about that,” she says. “I do love men and I respect them and I’ve had some wonderful partnerships already and I look forward to having one again. But I needed to get comfortable on my own because I had been in and out of a relationship since I was 14. I had never been truly single for more than a few months — and that was by design because I didn’t really want to face myself. I liked having somebody I could count on. There was a lot of uncertainty in my family life and in my career. And it felt good to me to have the comfort of a boyfriend. So I’m really talking about that intentional journey of figuring out how to be comfortable and confident in your own skin, on your own. It’s not like I stay in that place. You have to practice it and work at it — at least for me. I don’t wake up every day and feel like I’m the baddest bitch on the planet or like I’m worthy of love or any of those things. I really need to work at it and practice self love and being kind and forgiving, to myself and others.”
For many, JoJo is a nostalgic artist, recognized for her early Aughts hits “Leave (Get Out)” and “Too Little Too Late,” but she also has a new crop of fans, who think she’s an emerging artist.
“There are people who aren’t familiar with the loss of that decade or why I went away for a long time, or they don’t even know that I was away,” she says. “I really don’t care. You don’t need to carry this baggage with you to be a fan of mine.”
She’s hoping that her own journey of growing up and learning to trust herself is one that listeners will find relatable — it’s one of the reasons she felt the urgency to release the album as planned instead of holding it for a post-pandemic date.
“I started in the industry so young and you get a lot of feedback and information about how you should trust other people over yourself. It’s a pretty treacherous place for anybody, let alone a child,” she says. “So I think me trusting myself and being more enterprising and more self-sufficient is actually just me returning to the spirit that I’ve always had.”