A Voice That Was Locked Away
How singer JoJo went from having her voice suppressed by her record label to winning her first Grammy.
Written by: Reem Abumeri
Joanna Noëlle Levesque, known professionally as JoJo, always knew she wanted to pursue music. And no, don’t get her confused with the also really cool Jojo Siwa — they are two completely different people, and this JoJo was the OG of my childhood.
Her raw talent at age 11 was breathtaking.
Raised in Foxborough, Massachusetts, JoJo grew up poor. She was close with her mom, who always supported her in her pursuit of a singing career. She landed an opportunity on a competition show called “America’s Most Talented Kids.” Her raw talent at age 11 was breathtaking. While on the competition show, JoJo lost to a violinist, but luckily people in the crowd still saw her talent and knew it couldn't be wasted.
Not only had they put out amazing singers like Aaliyah, but the studio finally offered stability in JoJo’s life.
Eventually, JoJo and her parents flew out to LA and met with various different labels. JoJo was getting into a whole new world when she was just under 13 years old! JoJo recalls in a documentary with UPROXX Studio how she and her family knew nothing about the music industry and had no connections. JoJo would eventually sign on to her first label, Blackground Records. Not only had they put out amazing singers like Aaliyah, but the studio finally offered stability in JoJo’s life. The label felt like family, even buying a house for her and her mom. By 13 years old, JoJo had famously recorded and released her first hit single, “Leave (Get Out),” which became a number-one hit. JoJo started performing and opening for artists like Usher on MTV, writing more hits like “Too Little, Too Late” or “Baby It’s You,” and she started branching out and did some acting. Some of her notable movies include “Aquamarine” and “RV.” It was the beginning of the rest of her life — until her label completely changed.
“It's not meant for people with a sensitive soul,” JoJo said...
In the documentary, JoJo recalls learning of internal problems developing at her label and people telling her to leave as soon as she could. Even JoJo’s mom, who was also her acting manager, became vocal about her hatred for the music industry. Concerned her mother might risk her future, JoJo made the decision to let her mother go as her acting manager. “It's not meant for people with a sensitive soul,” JoJo said, sharing that the decision was the hardest thing for her at the time. Things didn't stop there: as JoJo became more successful, the label became greedier for her earnings. When she was around 15 years old, the label altogether stopped pushing out her music.
He asked her to look healthier, but in reality, he was just asking her to become skinnier.
Her life reached a turning point at 18, when she met with the president of Blackground Records. He asked her to look healthier, but in reality, he was just asking her to become skinnier. She was paired with a nutritionist, put on a 500-calorie per day diet and given injections that purposely suppressed her appetite. Unsurprisingly, JoJo rapidly developed body dysmorphia and began to rely heavily on drugs and alcohol. While all this was happening, she thought that it was her own fault that her music was not being released, and that maybe, if she looked a certain way, people would respect her again. Time and time again we as consumers feel like we deserve the content that celebrities put out. And we tend to forget that some of these celebrities are literally minors, who are developing much quicker than we ever had to, all under the spotlight. Once we do find out what they have gone through, it’s often too late.
It wasn’t the money JoJo cared about, but the ability to connect with her fans again through her music.
At this point in her life, JoJo and her team wanted to back out of Blackground Records, but legally, they owned her voice, and she could lose the rights to her songs. It wasn’t the money JoJo cared about, but the ability to connect with her fans again through her music. The hashtag #FreeJoJo became very popular among her fans and the rest of the world. Her ongoing legal battles came to an end when her lawyer found a New York law stating that a minor can’t be kept in a personal service contract for more than seven years. Blackground Records would eventually settle, and JoJo was finally able to put out music again!
In 2016, JoJo released her first album in over 10 years, titled “Mad Love.” She also re-recorded some of her older songs, so she would have the rights to them again (similar to Taylor Swift). One track from the album, “Joanna.” This song not only shows how talented of a singer she is but also is able to capture the raw emotions she has been holding in for so many years.
JoJo is an artist you will not want to miss!
Flashing forward, JoJo has now won her first Grammy in 2020, has a much happier support system, and has recently announced on Instagram that she is now engaged to her longtime boyfriend, Dexter Darden. I, like many of her fans, are incredibly happy for her and have never given up on her. I can’t wait to hear her new music in the future, and if you haven’t caught my message yet, JoJo is an artist you will not want to miss!
“But these days
You don't really sound the same
Do you still have the same range
That you did when you were 14, girl?”
Sorry to get deep, but
Heard your story before, it's not unique
You're sounding resentful, take a seat
It must be something that you did”
“You were supposed to be somebody
You were supposed to make more money
Make us proud
Nobody likes you in Massachusetts
You should just hurry and drop your new shit
Hurry and drop your new shit”