JoJo showed us what we’d been missing last night at RecordBar

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Tuesday, November 10

It has been nearly a decade since JoJo has been in the spotlight. By now, the story of how Blackground Entertainment kept her trapped in limbo, confined by a contract the label no longer had the means to meet, is well known — especially to her fans, who have mourned her absence all these years. So to have the 24-year-old on stage at RecordBar last night, belting out all the now-classic hits that pushed her to stardom as a young teenager and a handful of new songs, felt a bit like a dream.

RecordBar sold out, and the overwhelmingly female crowd packed in. The chatter in the line for the bathroom found women reminiscing about how old they were when JoJo first came on: middle school. high school. college. For many, this show was a nostalgia trip — and I wondered just how JoJo would take that. It would have been easy, after so many years in the dark, to want to abandon the old.

My concerns disappeared as soon as JoJo took the stage, promptly at 9 p.m. She opened with “Baby It’s You” off her self-titled 2004 debut album. The soft curves of her voice at 12 years old have been replaced with sharp edges, with a mature rasp here and there, but JoJo has lost none of her vocal power. The runs and trills came clear and perfect. It was hard, as we watched JoJo revel in the spotlight, not to feel a little bitter about how long she was kept from us.

“Think of what we’ve been missing,” a friend whispered into my ear as JoJo belted out “The Happy Song.” I observed the audience, heads straining to get a better view of the singer as she swung her hips and pushed her hands to the crowd.

“It’s all about me and my girls tonight,” JoJo said, a confident smile across her face. “Some of you fine guys, too.”

Indeed, JoJo’s messaging for the evening had a feminist bent: She shared personal stories, the background for songs, the insecurity and struggles she’d faced on her path back to music. When she introduced her breakthrough hit “Leave (Get Out),” she told the audience that it only made sense to her later, the first time she was cheated on. Details like these gave her set a feeling of intimacy, further uniting the crowd in its love for her.

JoJo tossed that love right back. She thanked the audience throughout the evening, and it seemed to come from a genuine place. She perched on top of the speakers on the stage, tossing her long hair behind her, one hand clutching the microphone.

“You make me feel like nobody else, so thank you,” she said. “Not everyone is lucky enough to have people like you to encourage me.” And of those long years she had her hands tied, JoJo said: “Boys were always a good distraction.”

With that, she launched into “Thinking Out Loud,” a song she wrote in the interim between 2006’s The High Road and her recent III — the three-song EP she released in August under Atlantic Records. It was the most down-tempo song of the evening, and JoJo let out an adorable “Fuck!” as she flubbed a note mid-chorus. “Demonstrate” came next, a seductive, sultry number that had JoJo strip off the lightweight sweater she was wearing to reveal a Selena-era black bustier. It was a look and a song that seemed designed to put the image of the pouty tween with the glossy lips to rest, and it was wholly successful.

A set break would have followed, JoJo told the crowd, but for RecordBar’s layout. “There’s nowhere for me to go, so I’m gonna stay up on this bitch!” The rest of the songs focused on JoJo’s newer material; she burst through III’s bombastic “When Love Hurts” and delivered a smoldering cover of Sylvester’s “Mighty Real.”

“Back 2 the Beginning Again” took on a luster that it didn’t quite have on her 2012 mixtape Agápē. As JoJo delivered the final rap verse — You should make another song, you should make a Katy song / You should put your titties out, then I’ll put your record out — her potential was fully felt.

JoJo waved goodbye to the crowd after “Say Love,” her latest single — which the audience knew note for note — but instead of disappearing, she whirled around and laughed. It was encore time.

“I’ve been working on a new album for a long time,” she told the audience, smiling — we were all in on that joke at this point. “There’s a lot of songs, and there’s one that means a lot to me. I live in L.A. now, which means I do a lot of L.A. shit like juicing and yoga and I have a therapist.” She laughed again. “And there’s this exercise I did with my therapist, with the phrase ‘I am,’ and it’s about how we talk about ourselves, how we internalize what we say about ourselves. ‘I am worthless, I am broken.’ And she challenged me to write positive things about myself: ‘I am beautiful, I am worthy, I am a good friend.’”

Amid the whoops and the cries of “Amen!” from the crowd, JoJo continued: “I look out at you guys and I see beautiful, beautiful people, and I want to encourage you guys to reach out and tell your friends how dope you think they are, because they might need that. This song is from my album that’ll come out in 2016.”

She closed with “I Am,” an anthem for the masses, and there were more than a few people around me sniffling. By the last note of the song, a little over an hour after she first assumed the stage, it was hard to remember this was a comeback tour for JoJo. For most in the room, it seemed like she hadn’t been gone at all.

Leftovers: Her new album is going to slay.

Also, overhead in the women’s bathroom: “I love how this crowd is literally just women and gay men!”

“I know, right?!”

Setlist (please leave corrections in the comments):
Baby It’s You
The Happy Song
Leave (Get Out)
Like That
Too Little Too Late
Thinking Out Loud
Marvin’s Room (Drake cover)
Better With Love
When Love Hurts
Mighty Real (Sylvester cover)
Back 2 the Beginning
Save My Soul
Say Love
I Am

See also
After nine years in label limbo, JoJo returns

Categories: Music