There was a moment in the middle of JoJo’s set, on Sunday night in San Francisco, where she held the mic out to the crowd, and it felt like every person in the room yelled the lyrics to “Baby It’s You” back at her. To someone new to Joanna Levesque’s story, they would never have known the song is over a decade old!
JoJo first came on the scene in 2014 as a thirteen-year-old singer with the breakout hit, “Leave (Get Out)”, which made her the youngest ever solo number one musician on the US Billboard charts. It spawned a platinum-selling self-titled album and an army of loyal and dedicated fans. Troubles at her then label Blackground, left the young singer in limbo, not able to release music officially. After years stuck in hiatus, she was able to sign a new contract with Atlantic and work on releasing her third album; her first in ten years.
As the lights went dark, chants of “JoJo. JoJo,” reverberated around the sold out concert venue. These cheers turned into a roar as she appeared on stage. The Foxborough, MA-raised musician matched this energy with a high-octane start. The bright synths of “Clovers” travelled over the crowd and the crowd responded with as much dancing as the tight space in the packed venue would allow.
While much has changed for JoJo, she still appears to enjoy her older music. She wasted no time in performing “Leave (Get Out)”, the words finding new meaning from the lips of a twenty-six-year-old woman as opposed to the teenager who initially sang the song.
The set was a mixture of pop-R&B in all its forms; from a racy lap dance for an unexpecting fan, Michael, during “High Heels”, to her performance of “Like This”, which oozed sensuality. “FAB” felt grittier than the recorded version, the guitars swirling around JoJo’s vocals to add even more weight to one of the anthems from her latest album, 2016’s Mad Love.
It was the songs from the missing years between the release of The High Road and Mad Love which helped to draw the set together. Her version of Drake’s “Marvin’s Room” helped — “I’ve been up for three days / Adderall and RedBull”, the opening line, was screamed by those who knew and drew smiles among those unfamiliar. “Save My Soul,” added to the setlist by popular demand, she confessed, was warm and inviting. JoJo may not have released an album in ten years; however, it never felt like she went away.
Mad Love was an opportunity for JoJo to come into her own as a songwriter, which allowed her to delve into more personal stories. The opening track on her album, “Music”, offered a sobering moment as she sung about her relationship with her family. The rendition started with her alone on stage with just a piano accompaniment. The song grew at the same pace as the emotions in the room. Looking around you could sense how this personal tale resonated with so many people.
As the night ended, and people left the venue with only a little voice left after all the singing, I found myself whistling her songs on the way home. JoJo’s performance was engaging and impassioned. And, after being held back for such a long time, it looks like her star is finally going to be allowed to shine brightly.