Ex-teen pop star JoJo hits replay, embarks on new track

Chris Azzopardi
Special to The Detroit News

“My story is quite unique.”

It’s true: Not many artists can say they’ve been tangled in a tumultuous scuffle with their record label for seven years, keeping their music career on lock. JoJo can.

As the 24-year-old reached teen-pop stardom in the mid 2000s, becoming the youngest solo star to hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts with 2004’s catchy kiss-off “Leave (Get Out),” things got ugly. The singer’s then-label, Blackground Records, which she signed with at age 12, kept her bound to a contract. JoJo was left, she says, “trying to get control of my voice again.”

Fans were upset, and a “FreeJoJo” social-media movement resulted.

In July 2013, JoJo smacked Blackground and its imprint, Da Family, with a lawsuit, citing the label’s decision to scrap her third album, even though she recorded more than enough tracks for a release. The lawsuit also alleged that the label failed to pay the project’s producers.

“To just unofficially release music that I wrote with other people and to not compensate them — that is not how I think business is supposed to be done,” JoJo says during a recent phone conversation.

The case was resolved shortly after JoJo filed a motion for preliminary injunction against Blackground Records, according to JoJo and her lawyers. As a result, JoJo was freed from her contract with Blackground and able to sign a recording agreement with Atlantic Records, which plans to release her third album next year — nearly 10 years after her second.

A trio of teaser singles from the as-yet-untitled outing has already been released, including the dance jam “When Love Hurts” and the emotional piano ballad “Save My Soul.” The album’s tracklist also will include a track recorded during sessions with MNEK, the 21-year-old dance master from the United Kingdom known for his work with Madonna.

Though the album’s songs were recorded specifically for the Atlantic release in spring 2014, JoJo says “hundreds and hundreds of songs were recorded in the past few years that people will not be able to hear because of the lawsuit.”

The singer isn’t sulking over the loss, however. She says she’s moved on.

“I really don’t hold onto things like that,” she says. “I’ve learned to roll with the punches. There will always be more life, and as long as there’s more life, there’re gonna be more songs. I’m not attached to the past.”

Now, here she is, back in the driver’s seat. Aside from her upcoming Atlantic release, she’s on tour, stopping at Ferndale’s Magic Bag at 8 p.m. Dec. 16.

“This is a dream,” JoJo says. “I literally get to do what makes me happy. So few people can say that.”

Even while dealing with label discontent, JoJo pressed on. Between her last studio release, 2006’s “The High Road,” and its follow-up due next year, she independently released two mixtapes, including 2012’s heartfelt EP “Agápe.” A track on the album directed at Blackground, “Back2thebeginningagain,” featured the lyrics, “You should make another song / You should make a Katy song / You should put your ti**ies out / Then I’ll put your record out.”

Of her drive to pursue independent projects amidst label struggles, she says, “Music is who I am, and I never stopped.”

Born Joanna Noëlle Blagden Levesque, JoJo recalls singing at age 2, reciting the “Barney” theme song and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Later, she turned to soul music, as well as blues, musical theater and folk, all of which was played at her family’s Massachusetts home. Her father sang the blues as a pastime, and her mother is a trained church soloist.

In 2003, she competed in “America’s Most Talented Kids.” Though she lost to future “American Idol” contestant Diana DeGarmo, she impressed record producer Vincent Herbert (former producer for Aaliyah and Toni Braxton), who convinced her to audition for Blackground.

“I can’t imagine being a completely new artist, trying to break onto the scene now,” JoJo says. “There is a lot of competition coming from all angles, and there’s no one way to get to that result of success. It’s a challenge to not compare yourself to other things that you see and to just keep your blinders on, to keep to your own story without ever looking to the left or right.”

To reestablish her place within the pop scene, she’s calling her latest tour “I Am JoJo” — “a very powerful phrase,” she explains, “that’s saying, ‘This is who I am. This is where I come from. This is where I wanna go. And I’m not going anywhere.’”

Her upcoming album will feature a song called “I Am,” and it will “be honest about who I am at 24. About mistakes I’ve made. About victories that I’ve had.”

It won’t, however, reflect the many years she spent in label captivity.

“I really want to step into the light with this new album. I didn’t want to harp on my frustrations of the past few years. I didn’t wanna be like, ‘Oh, I had to spend all my money and I sued my label.’ That’s not what I wanted to write about. I wanted to more speak about the heart and emotions, and I love this album so much. It really has been everything for me.”

And so, it’s a new day for JoJo. One she’s been “eagerly looking forward” to, a “blessing.”

Just don’t call it a comeback.

“It just feels weird to talk about a comeback for a 24-year-old,” she admits. “But it definitely is the next chapter. I’ve been doing this for so long that when I was away from being on the road and connecting with my supporters, I felt lost. I definitely feel like myself again.”

Chris Azzopardi is a Canton-based freelance writer.

JoJo

with Aaron Camper

8 p.m. Dec. 16

The Magic Bag

22920 Woodward,

Ferndale

Tickets: $20 advance

(248) 544-1991 or themagicbag.com