By Jack Irvin
In the months leading up to the release of JoJo’s album in April 2020 Good to know, the singer-songwriter was liberated at her best. The ultra-introspective collection, co-written and produced almost entirely by the artist herself, was her first original project to be released on Clover Music, her own label launched in partnership with Warner Records. The release was a long way from being barred from releasing music for nearly a decade due to a contract dispute with Blackground Records settled in court in 2014, as well as the creative differences she endured with her next label, Atlantic Records, during making 2016 Crazy Love. Additionally, “Say So,” her collaboration with PJ Morton, won a Grammy for Best R&B Song in January 2020, further proving that JoJo’s perseverance throughout her more than 20 years in the entertainment industry was worth it. “[It] gave me a sense of validation that I didn’t even know I really yearned for,” JoJo told MTV News via Zoom.
But Good to know was released as the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing and the promotion cycle was clouded by the political and social chaos of 2020. Like many artists, JoJo had to cancel her tour. Although the album received critical acclaim and topped charts, it failed to produce a hit comparable to 2004’s “Leave (Get Out)” or 2006’s “Too Little Too Late”. a number 1 R&B album with Good to know, and that’s something I’m so damn proud of,” she says. “But not to hear my songs on the radio, I can’t lie and pretend I don’t care. I want my music to reach as many people as possible.”
Rather than blame the unfortunate circumstances, JoJo took the album’s lukewarm commercial reception as her own. By the end of 2020, she was anxiously wondering whether or not she was worthy of her place in the music industry. Around the same time, she experienced the end of a lengthy “situation” with a friend turned lover. “I leaned so much on that person,” she explains. “I wondered everything. I’m like, ‘Well, I’ll probably never fall in love again, so that’s it for me. I’m just going to die alone.’” Not wanting the hardship to let her down, JoJo changed her perspective and changed her feelings in Try not to think about it, a 12-track project detailing her complicated relationship with mental health.
JoJo remembers recognizing symptoms of depression and anxiety in some of her close relatives growing up, but she didn’t realize until adulthood how directly it affected her. “For me, fear puts too much pressure, too much weight, and too much importance on me,” she says, noting that it’s a “perfectionist mindset” that often leads her to compare her own success to her own. peers. JoJo says she’s felt “a bit of an outcast” since she was little, but last year that feeling escalated to questions about her purpose. “That’s true a lot of Try not to think about it came out, in that negative, ruminating place of catastrophizing and thinking, ‘What the fuck am I doing?’”
Such harsh thoughts have led her to harmful coping mechanisms, including binge drinking, overeating, and “falling into toxic relationship patterns of guilt and shame.” But thanks to the advice of a therapist – or perhaps an ex-boyfriend (“[He] always used to therapist me so I don’t remember”) – JoJo’s learned healthier ways to deal with mental health issues. One personifies her depression and anxiety as a woman named Burlinda, who was the inspiration for the first song that she made for the project, “Anxiety (Burlinda’s Theme).” “It can feel so all-consuming and dark when you’re depressed,” she explains. I think it’s funny that he occasionally tries to take over the helm, which makes it a lot lighter.”
That mentality may make it easier to live with Burlinda, but it certainly doesn’t make her presence any less annoying. “You only show up when it’s awkward / Always talking loudly, filling my head with lies,” she sings on “Fear (Burlinda’s Theme).” And if JoJo met her in person, her message would be instant. “I’d say, ‘Hey bitch’ – and I say this with love – ‘I know you’re trying to protect my ego. You’re trying to protect me from a worst-case scenario… But that’s not how I’m going to live my life,” she says. “I’m not going to focus on the negatives, what happened in the past or could happen in the future. We live in the present, Burlinda. I don’t think you thrive here in the present, so I want you to sit in the back seat until you learn how to act right.’”
JoJo’s healing process from the lows of 2020 included saying “yes” to fruitful opportunities in 2021 — no matter how intimidating they seem. The mission led her to participate in season 5 of The masked singer, where she finished in second place as Black Swan. “It was humbling and challenging, and probably good exercise for me to keep going,” she explains. The experience reminded her of participating in shows such as Destination stardom and America’s Most Talented Child as a young child, when her appetite for performance was perhaps at its purest. “Covering and reimagining other people’s songs has been something I’ve been doing since I was a little girl. It felt good, and it felt scary to put myself out like that.”
JoJo understands that her creeping sense that she doesn’t deserve her place in music may be hard for outsiders to comprehend, as she has achieved such great success and received praise from the likes of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. “People may look at me differently than I do at myself, but for me I have a lot more to go and different levels I want to reach,” she explains. “I’ve been discouraged by a lot of different things in this industry, and I’ve literally stopped dreaming.” But working through her insecurities in real life, but also creatively Try not to think about it, has led her to a more optimistic, confident place today. “I am absolutely worthy of the place I have in this industry and beyond. I’m currently solidifying that spot,” she says. “I’m encouraged, I’m inspired and I’m looking forward to making the next album.”
Instead of striving for chart success with Try not to think about it, JoJo just wants the project to provide fans with the same comfort she felt while creating it. “I hope this feels like a warm, weighted blanket to them… I hope they know they are not alone, and that they may be inspired to go on their own journey to find themselves again, because it will not just one time,” she says. “I’ve lost and found myself every single project, and I think it’s always a worthy journey to go on.”