“‘Save My Soul’ is about addiction,” starts a handwritten letter the singer revealed ahead of releasing the track’s music video in January. “Of all kinds. I wanted to convey the feeling of powerlessness I’ve felt in my life in an uncomplicated way and show a range of what it might look like for others who’ve been there.”
From her tweeny-bopper “Leave (Get Out)” days to her major label–backed return, JoJo (nee Joanna Levesque) previously wowed with a voice beyond her years coupled with an always-fierce attitude, but this time the star stunned in a different way.
Her most personal single yet, “Save My Soul” is a metaphor for all faces of dependency—from her own reflections on whether or not she’s a “love addict” to the substance abuse of her father Joel, who passed last November. Released less than two months after his death, the accompanying video for the torch song was a simple, striking visual representation that showcased normal people on a couch reeling, chilling and doing whatever it is they needed to do to cope with their addictions. Its reveal also came days after the singer went on a self-imposed sabbatical.
“The first week of the new year, I took a week of silence and solitude by the beach,” JoJo tells me during an afternoon stroll to walk her dog in Los Angeles. “I know that sounds so dramatic and emo—and it is!—I wanted to touch base with myself, see where I was at and just kind of process the end of last year, which was a lot of things.”
No kidding. After nearly a decade of false starts to get a third album out via Blackground Records (the label which turned her into a chart-topper only to hold her creatively captive in a record deal before she sued out of it years later), JoJo had the professional support she’d dreamed about for her three-single EP III via Atlantic Records (the stable home to Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran). The house-inspired “When Love Hurts” was sent to radio, but its emotional centerpiece was “Save My Soul.” Perhaps guided by her recent loss—she describes her father’s death as her “greatest heartbreak” in the aforementioned note—that rawness now acts as the roadmap for Jo’s forthcoming full-length.
“In those six days that I was alone and by the beach, I really decided that I want to be more honest,: she continues. “I want to be as much of me as I can. I really want to connect with people in a way that’s authentic to me. Writing is the one of the ways I can do that. “
JoJo’s currently untitled third studio album will showcase a more truthful side to the singer—even when the truth is ugly.
“There’s a song I wrote about cheating on a boy who was a really great person and how I still haven’t really forgiven myself for that,” she says of a new cut titled “Reckless With Your Heart.” “I wonder how his next relationship was affected by that—he’s married now—but it was kind of like a song for her. Like, ‘I’m sorry if you had to repair this person whose heart I really fucked up for awhile.’”
The star will also let fans into her relationship with parents. She says “Just Like Them” details “how we spent our adult lives making up for our childhood.”
In the decade-long wait between LPs, JoJo did her best to keep fans entertained with mixtapes and one-off singles. But unsolicited leaks plagued the singer while secretly delighting supporters and earning bloggers tons of clicks. Jo has mixed emotions about the songs, saying, “I am glad that certain people got to hear them… but when something leaks, it kind of puts a sour taste in my mouth.” One can still find her favorites floating around the Internet like “Far From Heaven” (“That leak bummed me out because I was really considering that for my album,” she says), “Who’s Gonna Fight for Me” (“I wrote it from a really true place”) and “Paper Airplanes,” which she occasionally sings at live events.
But in 2016, JoJo’s fixated on moving forward and diving deeper. “My focus is really honing in on my perspective; what makes me unique,” she says of the latest sessions for the album, which will likely see a new single before its release. “I feel like I don’t have anything to hide. If anybody wants to ask me anything in particular, I don’t shy away from my truth… I’ve definitely struggled with depression, feeling powerless to certain situations and feeling like, ‘I don’t see a way out of this, I don’t feel hopeful.’ But projecting confidence and belief in something is important. You kind of have to act ‘as if.’ Acting ‘as if’ is important, but also being honest and not trying to act like everything’s perfect. You can say how you feel, but still try to remain as if victory can be yours.”
With an attitude like that, how could victory not be hers?