JoJo has been a pop-music fixture since 2004, when she was 13 years old. You no doubt remember “Leave (Get Out),” the R&B-pop smash that soundtracked many middle school relationships.
But JoJo’s grown leaps and bounds since then, of course. After “Leave (Get Out)” came “Too Little Too Late,” which reached an impressive number three on Billboard‘s Hot 100. Record-label limbo shortly followed, but JoJo bounced back stronger than ever in 2016 with Mad Love, a triumphant album that felt quintessentially her.
That’s been the key ingredient of her music ever since. JoJo’s essence—heart-on-her-sleeve and vulnerable, with undeniable R&B influence—is pervasive on her new E.P., Trying Not to Think About It, out now. “I’m feeling really excited,” she tells Glamour. “And on the flip side of that excitement is nervousness. I’m always nervous before I release anything, so it’s no shock there that I’m feeling nervous. I’m looking forward to [the E.P.] being with people and for people to then have their own relationship to it and experiences with it.”
Before you look forward to the new music, though, let’s take a look back. For Glamour‘s latest edition of 5 Songs, 5 Stories, JoJo reveals the inspiration behind some of her most essential tracks. Read (and listen) on, below.
“Worst (I Assume)”
The lead single off Trying Not to Think About It, “Worst (I Assume)” places JoJo’s out-of-this-world vocals front and center, as she muses about old behaviors trickling into new relationships.
This was my first session in with Tiara Thomas, who’s actually joining me on tour dates in October and who’s a really dope artist and songwriter. She just won song of the year at the Oscars and the Grammys. We hit it off right away in the studio. We had about an hour before the producer got there, and we started talking about our life stories and relationships and where we were at. I was telling her about my new relationship and how I project my fears. We were talking about projection and fear versus love and sabotage and how we sometimes bring things that have happened to us in the past into our present and how that’s harmful.
So it really just started from a conversation and me being like, “I don’t want to do those same things and keep those same protective mechanisms that actually are detrimental to a positive, healthy relationship.” It was a lot of acknowledgment and also through being grossly vulnerable with one another, and we just found that we related on some things. And then we wrote about it.
“Say So” (with P.J. Morton)
“Say So” won a Grammy in 2020 for Best R&B Song. A true duet between Morton and JoJo, the track breathes fresh life into a classic topic: being transparent in a relationship.
I’m a huge P.J. Morton fan, and we had followed each other for a while. I’m just so inspired by his whole story—by him as an artist in general, what he’s doing in New Orleans, and his journey back to himself, of being signed to a major label and being put in a box and then saying, “I have to step out on my own. Do things my way.” And in doing that, he was greatly rewarded. That’s when he started winning Grammys and selling out tours. I really admire that.
So when he sent me this song, it was so timely. It hit me at a point when I was in a situation-ship, and there was no clarity. I had reached my limit for that, and I was like, “I need to know what is going on. Do you love me, do you want to be with me? Because I can’t stay in this limbo.” So when he sent me the song, I was like—it was so immediate for me that I wanted to sing it with him. It ended up really changing the way I saw my own future and realizing I could follow my gut. I could trust myself to be the captain of my own ship and do the collaborations I wanted to do. To really embrace my foundation and my heart, which is rooted in R&B.
“Marvin’s Room” (Drake cover)
JoJo’s 2011 cover of this Drake deep cut went viral. In it, she flips the script, telling a fuckboy he’ll never do better than her.
Once again, this was inspired by a boy who just pissed me off or had me feeling dumb. A friend of mine sent me the song. I was hungover on a couch somewhere in New York City—I was in that party phase of my life where I was trying to distract myself, get outside my mind, and not feel anything. Or feel everything. I was also trying to not think about this idiot boy I was dating at the time. So when I was sent the song, it made me think of how I would respond as a woman to it. It inspired me immediately.
So I asked another one of my friends at the time if they could re-create the track, because it’s very simple and cool and atmospheric. They were able to do it. When I flew back to L.A. that night, I had written something on the plane while I was listening in my headphones, and then I recorded it that night and played it for my manager. It wasn’t even a single for Drake, but I was like, “I just really liked the song.” So we put it up on Rap-Up, which is this website that has been super supportive of me over the years. And then it really caught on, and then a lot of other artists put their own spin on it. Drake showed love about it.
“Too Little Too Late”
“Too Little Too Late” is perhaps JoJo’s biggest hit; it certainly has her most infectious chorus. The subject of the song is straightforward: Boy wants girl back after fucking up, but, surprise, it’s too little too late. JoJo said her response to this track was immediate.
I really believed in “Too Little Too Late.” From the moment the song was sent to me, I knew it should be the first single off the second album. I just loved it so much. I was obsessed with it, and I was like, “Oh my God, I can’t wait to record this song.”
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