JoJo was a part of my childhood in many ways. My eight year old self followed her career from her iconic 2004 hit “Leave (Get Out)”, which featured on the first CD I ever owned (Pop Party 2), to her starring role in the 2006 tween mermaid film Aquamarine. After this, however, her fame seemed to die down, so naturally I was very surprised to discover last week that she had released her first album in ten years: Mad Love.
While in my head she is the epitome of everything cheesy about the mid-noughties, I’ve had to grudgingly accept on re-listening that she is actually a serious artist with a truly fantastic voice. At thirteen years old her first album went platinum and she became the youngest solo artist to have a number one single in the US, but now she is working hard to remove herself from the image of the squeaky-clean young starlet.
her lyrics have understandably become less PG-13
For the last decade she has been unable to release albums due to legal disputes with her label, Blackground Records, but now Mad Love brings her up to date with much more contemporary club music, with an added energy she didn’t have before. ‘Vibe.’ is probably the best example of her new feel-good dance tracks, its catchy rhythm building up to a drop just before the chorus. Furthermore, her lyrics have understandably become less PG-13, since JoJo is now twenty-five, having grown up along with her audience. ‘Edibles.’ tackles sex under the influence of drugs over the sound of modulating, stretched out synths, inviting the listener to ‘come eat edibles/do some freaky shit incredible’ followed by lines such as ‘damn, you got my footprints on the ceiling/on the mirror, on the headboard, in the bathroom’.
JoJo has stated that Mad Love. is a product of the end of a romantic relationship, but it is also undeniably a product of the end of her relationship with her record company. You can feel the finality in the full stops at the end of the album title and each track, though to be honest I think this is an unnecessary and kind of annoying touch. ‘F*** Apologies.’, ‘I Can Only.’, and ‘High Heels.’ are empowering songs which get to the crux of what the album is about: the independent woman she has become since ending her ‘mad’ relationships. ‘I Can Only.’, featuring Alessia Cara, has a strong clubby beat, and despite its fairly boring chorus it has a strong message of being confident in yourself. ‘F*** Apologies.’, featuring Wiz Khalifa, continues on a similar theme, of not apologising for who you are or letting people push you around: ‘usually I’d go on and take the blame but not this time’. ‘High Heels.’ is probably the highlight of the album, with its infectious chorus and verses full of confidence and attitude (“Jealous? Well, you should be”).
Mad Love. is a product of the end of her relationship with her record company
With the confidence of the previous songs it’s a surprise that the album is bookended by two quiet piano ballads, ‘Music.’ and ‘I Am.’. Both songs are a lot meeker than the rest of the album and while they both show off her powerful voice they are weaker lyrically and frankly quite cheesy. The title track itself, ‘Mad Love.’ also sticks out, being more of a show tune than a club tune.
Ultimately, the album is a bit of a mess. While there are some similarities between various songs on Mad Love., the flow of the album is damaged by the abrupt changes of style. It feels more like the tracks are all singles rather than a planned-out album with songs that fit together, which is frustrating since she managed it four years ago on her more experimental 2012 RnB mixtape Agápē, so it feels a bit like she’s going backwards. Admittedly, Mad Love., despite playing it safe, does what it was designed to do – announce that JoJo is back and that her voice is just as incredible as ever – but it barely hints at what direction her music is going to take.