Long before #squadgoals was a trending hashtag, back in 2004, JoJo, barely a teenager, dished out pretty straightforward relationship advice with her track, “Leave (Get Out)” while dancing around with a gaggle of girlfriends in a high school hallway, sporting a “Boys Stink” tank top. The song rapidly ascended the Billboard charts, making her the youngest solo artist to have a No. 1 single in the U.S. She was 13 years old.
For more than 10 years, she mostly remained in our collective consciousness as another teenage star singing saucy, R&B-infused pop music of the early aughts. Throughout her adolescence, she starred in a couple of movies and recorded music that never quite took off like she’d hoped, but like so many of us, being a teen was difficult, especially as hers was fraught with the struggle to make new, relevant music while trying to sever ties with Blackground Records — a battle that took seven years to win.
And, like many young women, regardless of whether or not they are in the entertainment industry, JoJo also struggled with body image issues. In a letter published on Thursday through Time’s platform Motto, the artist addressed self-acceptance: “The road to accepting yourself is paved with reasons why you shouldn’t,” she wrote. “It can be a real roller coaster ride processing and compartmentalizing all the images and opinions we are confronted with every day.”
The letter reveals that she was pressured to diet as a teenager and discusses the effect it had on the way she viewed herself:
In my early career, I felt like a product. When I was 19, that feeling was confirmed. I was told that I didn’t look good enough to sell the music I was making. Other female artists were brought up and my image was compared to theirs. The president of my former label sat me down and told me that losing weight was ‘about my health.’ But we both knew it wasn’t.
She signed with Atlantic Records last year, newly able to focus on her career and shed the pressures of maintaining her appearance to fit someone else’s criteria:
The possibilities are endless, really, when you accept how you were made and are able to celebrate your unique beauty, and find it in everyone you meet. When we focus mostly on our outward appearance, we neglect the important inner-work that must be done and the beautiful life-changing connections we can build with people.
Now, at 25, she dropped her new album Mad Love on Friday morning with 15 tracks, including the single she released over the summer with Wiz Khalifa, “F*** Apologies.”
With Mad Love and a newfound confidence, she’s able to demonstrate her prowess as a mature adult artist with a pop-infused repertoire and smooth vocals. Part pop, part R&B, the album features a blend of motivational anthems (like “Rise Up”) with love songs (“Good Thing”) and catchy collaborations with Remy Ma (“FAB”) and Alessia Cara (“I Can Only”). Best of all, it asserts her empowerment, as well as her musical ability as she begins the next step in her career.