Pop star JoJo made history when she became the youngest solo artist to land a No. 1 hit with her single “Leave (Get Out)” when she was just 13, but in a candid new interview with Uproxx she reveals it did not come without a price.
As the singer — born Joanna Noëlle Levesque — tells the outlet, in order to achieve that level of success at such a young age, she had to make some serious sacrifices when she was signed by Blackground Records’ founder Barry Hankerson, who was the uncle of Aaliyah and claimed “he had made Aaliyah into the icon that she was.”
In the early days after she signed, the label threw money at her and her mother, including “a car, got us an apartment, and I had my own room for the first time,” she said. “They felt like family to us, and I think that’s what both my mom and I were really longing for deep down. Both of us come from very unstable family situations and they really appealed to that within us — that we were creating something that was going to last forever.”
Those good vibes eventually soured, she recalled, when she was 18 and was called into a meeting with the label’s president, who told her they wanted her to “look as healthy as possible.” However, she responded by telling him that “‘I think that you want me to be really skinny.’ He’s like, ‘No, I wouldn’t say that.'”
However, she “ended up working with a nutritionist who had me on a 500-calorie diet a day. I was taking these injections that make you have no appetite. I was like, ‘Let me see how thin I could wear because maybe then they will put out an album. Maybe I’m so disgusting that nobody wants to see me in the video and they can’t even look at me.’ That’s really what I thought.”
The self-image issues she was feeling eventually led her to turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to feel “pretty” and “worthy.”
“There were definitely nights that I stumbled out of clubs and that I blacked out. I was just completely reckless, did not care. I needed to be buzzed to feel okay,” she admitted. “I would go to the edge, stand on my tiptoes on the edge and then come back. I should be dead.”
After a legal battle that was settled in 2009, she was finally released from her contract. However, she “didn’t get any money. I didn’t get any damages or anything like that. I just walked away being able to sign another record contract. I was like, ‘Let’s go!’ I was free.”
Fans will hear JoJo’s new music when she drops her next album, Good to Know, this spring.
“This journey has been a journey of learning how to love myself. I feel really lucky, really, really grateful for the longevity that I have and for the resilience that I do have. But I work on it every day. I want to create a life for myself and I want to create a legacy.”