After her career jump started in the early 2000s as the youngest solo artist to score a number one single in the US at only 13, Joanna "JoJo" Levesque was one of pop's most promising talents. JoJo's second album, The High Road, came out in 2006 backed by her biggest single to date, "Too Little, Too Late," but no subsequent albums have been released in the last seven years. While her infamous label drama has kept her from releasing an album, JoJo has fought through the past seven years by releasing mixtapes, covers, and engaging with 'Team JoJo' via social media. In a situation that would have broken many, JoJo pushed on and has managed to cultivate a strong following of fans who have grown with her through the years. During a trip to NYC reading for a Broadway musical, she took some time to chat about her latest mixtape Agapé, her craft, her amazingly loyal fans and her upcoming headlining tour.
What is your favorite part of tour life?
My favorite part of touring is absolutely being on stage and performing and connecting with people. I love getting to see everyone and doing meet and greets. There's no disconnect. I don't see them as fans, for example. I just love meeting new individuals. The fact that we bond over music and share experiences and stories, it's… it's a thrill. It's a joy for me.
I saw your set at the FADER x Vitamin Water #uncapped performance in which you did a Kendrick Lamar and Sade cover. Are there any exciting covers prepared for your upcoming tour?
Yeah! Some things that people wouldn't expect. I think I'm going to do an Avril Lavigne cover, actually. I just love music period. I love great songs, and there are songs that I wish that I had written or I wish that I had recorded that I just want to take a stab at and I think live performances are a really great place to do that.
It's no secret that you love covers. If you could pick anyone to cover one of your songs, who would it be and what song?
Oh shit! What a great question! Um.. Gosh, I don't know. I think it would be cool to see a rapper do a version of one of my songs… to kind of take it from the pop world to a different genre, but also I love country too so it would be cool to hear it with that kind of flare.
So, you released your last project Agapé last December, by the way - how is Agapé doing?(we were asking about her dog, but she understandably thought I meant her mixtape)
It's doing great! I mean, I'm really thankful that it has touched people the way that it did and [I'm] just kind of letting it organically go where it does and reach who it may.
How is Agapé, your puppy, doing?
Oh, MY BABY! MY BABY! I'm like 'Agapé's cool!' *laughs* My baby is perfect. When I got her from the shelter they said she would just stay around the weight she was - she was like 12 or 15 pounds or something - but she kept growing so she's like… 25, almost pushing maybe 30 maybe ! She's a big little girl and I just love her so much. She has really changed my life.
More to love! This is a bit of a fan question… but are we ever going to hear a full version of "Thinking Out Loud"?
Yes. Absolutely. I recorded it. I shot a video to it. Because of the legal situation I'm in right now I don't want to put out any new material at this moment, but once situations are resolved I really want to put that out. I love the song and my supporters deserve to hear it. I know that it got a really nice response from the mix tape.
Having all of this fan support without releasing an album in so many years must feel pretty amazing. Do you ever reflect on how these people are still Team JoJo after all these years?
I reflect upon it all the time. It blows my mind. It really kind of ignites that fire within me to - especially when I feel weak or when I feel like the fight is too hard or too ridiculous, or 'maybe I should go to college' or figure something else out - knowing that there are people out there that really ride for me or really championing for me… it really does keep me going and keep that passion alive. It's that support that makes it worthwhile to me… to know that I'm fighting for something other than myself. If it were just for myself, I probably would have stopped, to be honest with you, because it has been difficult.
That's amazing. It's inspiring, as a fan, to hear that we can really impact an artist and push them to keep going.
It is. Again, I'm not strong enough. I'm not able to share, of course, every single detail of what I've gone through with my supporters, but um… I'm not strong enough on my own. If it weren't for social media and having that interaction with people… I don't know where I would be. It's been absolutely priceless for me.
In a world with social media where so many artists are growing up so publicly and under so much scrutiny, and feel they must "shock people" to prove they've grown up… How much of a benefit to you do you think it has been to grow up off camera and come back as wise and mature as you are?
I really am thankful for it. I think if I had sustained the type of spotlight that I was in from a young age, I don't know the type of person I would be. I don't know if i would be someone that i could look in the mirror and be happy with, and go back to my family in Massachusetts and have still Thanksgiving with them… you know?
The industry is different from real life. Hollywood is a bubble. It's totally different, and I feel like you get cut off from what reality is and I'm thankful that Ive been able to make my mistakes away from the scrutiny, pretty much, and get to be a young adult on my own and not have to feel that pressure of always being followed by people, and paparazzi. I've had a relatively normal… well, I say relatively because it's NOT normal… but it's more normal than maybe some others have experienced. In retrospect, I'm thankful that I haven't had the wild success and the 'yes people' around and the crazy money, because I don't know what that would have done to my brain.
Now, at 22, I have ten years of experience under my belt, being signed. I have ten years in this industry. I feel I have the hunger of a new artist, but the experience of a vet.
To have ten years of experience in the industry at such a young age is pretty incredible. How valuable do you think that experience is?
I think it's been extremely valuable. I can't really take it for anything else than what it is. It's a fact and it's how my life has panned out and I'm thankful for it. I feel like our perspective is our reality, so I keep my perspective in check at all times. I'm thankful for the experience instead of looking back and feeling jaded or feeling like I got the short end of the stick or feeling victimized.
I could certainly play into those things, but I really try to focus on the positives that I've taken from it. I've gotten to really understand what's out there in terms of fame, success, and traveling the world, and I also have a good understanding of reality and what's important in life. I think that its easy to lose that when you're very famous very young.
You've put much more focus recently on writing than you have in your earlier years. How do you feel about writing for other artists, and how hard is it to give up one of your babies or let go of one of your songs after pouring so much love into them?
I haven't really had to go through that where I've had to give away one of my songs to someone else, but the way i look at it is… as long as I'm still alive and as long as I'm still connected to my higher power and as long as God is blessing me, then I don't really worry about inspiration coming. I don't really worry about creativity. I think as long as I stay focused, I don't need to worry. I think that the songs will continue to come.
I definitely want to write for other artists. I have done that before, and I want to be eventually someone that labels or other artists will call and say 'hey I want you to come in for my session, I want you to come help me with this song.' Like, I love how Ne-Yo has his career as a songwriter and his career as an artist and they're both equally important to him. I think thats cool. I respect that.
I haven't really encountered it where its like 'giving away a baby' *laughs* but honestly… I think I'd be tripping for a little bit, but I'd be on to the next thing. I'm pretty good at keeping it moving.
Speaking of 'keeping it moving', what other plans are lined up for 2013? What should your fans be looking forward to?
I'm moving apartments! I'm getting a new place, which I'm really excited about, in LA. I'm doing this Jawbreaker thing, which after the presentations tomorrow and Friday we'll get more understanding of what's happening there. I'm continuing to write, doing this tour, and then hopefully expanding this tour from the west coast to the midwest and the east coast. I'm just staying creative, continuing to develop my artistry, continuing to read, continuing to take voice lessons and yoga and just… trying to be my best self. Even if it's not JoJo, the artist that you may be seeing in the forefront, my concern is just fortifying myself and growing as a person as much as I can in 2013.