JoJo on how her music label threatened and manipulated her as a teen

The more I hear about the music industry, the more nefarious and predatory it sounds. I think there’s so much more going on behind the scenes that we’re not hearing about because artists are scared. Look at what has been happening to Kesha, who was legally forced to pay her abuser and has been standing up to him in court for years. The point is to show artists, specifically women, that it’s futile to fight back. JoJo is a music artist who first hit it big with the soulful hit Leave (Get Out) in 2004 when she was just 13. She was the youngest solo artist to have a number one hit, but her career faltered when her label refused to release her new music after her second album. She was being manipulated and controlled by the men running the label, who put her on a 500 calorie a day diet.

JoJo was eventually released from her contract after a legal battle, she signed with Atlantic for a while and now she has her own label and is in a partnership with Warner Music. She has a new interview with Uproxx ahead of her upcoming tour. I was so moved by her story of what she went through. She got emotional at times recounting how bad things were for her. Here’s some of what she said and the video is below.

Her label threatened her acting agent
I started to hear of other artists having very serious problems with Blackground, the label, and then a person who worked there, before they left, said to me ‘you need to abandon ship before it sinks.’ Then when I started doing movies between my first and second albums, people at the label were not happy about not getting a percentage of that. Men were sent to my film and television agent’s office to intimidate him. My agent was like “woah this is not what I signed up for.”

She had to fire her mom and it sounds like she was on her own after that
My mom [who was my manager] outwardly hated the industry, wanted to pull me out from it. I wanted to just work and put out music. So I let go of my mom as my manager because it became unhealthy for her. That was the hardest thing of my life up until that point, [firing my mom]. The most devastating experience of my life. It was horrific, the response. This industry is not meant for people with a sensitive soul.

Her label refused to release her third album
It would appear that I was on hiatus, but I was making albums. I just didn’t understand where the lack of follow through was coming from. We had such success. [The label] had burned a lot of bridges with different distribution companies. I saw people that opened for me coming up in their careers and surpassing me. I really wanted to put something out.

Her label put her on a 500 calorie a day diet
I thought that maybe it was the way that I looked because when I was 18, the president of the label sat me down and told me he wanted me to “look as healthy as possible.” I ended up getting put with a nutritionist that had me on a 500 calorie a day diet. I was on these injections that made you have no appetite. I was like “let me see how skinny I can get. Maybe then they’ll put out an album. Maybe I’m just so disgusting that no one wants to see me in a video.” I am speaking for every woman in this industry. Your image and your weight is up for conversation.

[From Uproxx via YouTube]

After that JoJo started drinking a lot and getting out of control. She said that seeing her father as an addict helped her kick drugs and alcohol. Her dad died of his addiction in 2015. JoJo worked really hard to get out of her contract, which she signed when she was 12. Even though the label didn’t have an office and wasn’t functioning, lawyers told her the contract was ironclad and there was nothing she could do. She used complicated legal means to eventually get out of it and worked hard to claw her way back. She had to re-record all her original songs in order to release them on streaming services! Those albums did very well on iTunes and she recouped her investment.

I was so impressed by JoJo’s commitment to her music and by all she’s been through. She said “I went from feeling like a disempowered child to feeling like a capable woman.” You can see her music videos on her YouTube channel and here’s her interview with Uproxx. Her dog is adorable and I wish we saw more of him.

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photos credit: Getty and via YouTube

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22 Responses to “JoJo on how her music label threatened and manipulated her as a teen”

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  1. Erinn says:

    She’s my age – I played that Leave, Get Out song to the point where everyone was SO sick of it because that’s what 13 year olds do haha.

    I remember thinking she was crazy talented, and then she just kind of disappeared. It was only in the last 2 years that I realized how much of a shit show they were to her, so I’m absolutely rooting for her in whatever she does.

  2. Keekee says:

    Please music industry experts enlighten me… Same with the Taylor Swift situation, folks saying she should just rerecord her songs. I don’t understand if a label has bought your catalogue and owns your music.. How can you record and release them again?

    • Fran says:

      In buying the catalogue, the new owners have the rights to the specific recordings that firm part of the catalogue. If the artist creates new recordings of their songs, these new recordings are not part of the catalogue and the artist can do whatever they want with these new recordings, very simply put.

      • Meg says:

        But don’t they still need to pay the owner of the originals in order to rerecord? Like someone who does a cover of a Beatles song can’t just do that without paying?

      • Belinda says:

        Just to add: The recording artist needs the consent of the copyright holder of the song they want to record. This is true for the very first recording of a song or any re-recording, be it by the original artist performing the song or a completely different artist performing.

        Say Kesha would like to re-record her old songs she did with Dr Luke. For that she would need the consent of the people that hold the copyright of the song. Kesha would not need the consent of the owner of the “original recording” of the song. The original recording of the song is the “master” – those rights usually remain with the recording company.
        The copyright of the song is a different thing.

        In reality this would mean for Kesha to check the credits for say “Tik Tok”. Kesha co-wrote the song with Dr Luke (real name Lucas Godwald or sth – you can check out writing credits on the internet). She would need to get Dr Luke’s consent, which he will never give her as they have this horrible legal situation going on.

        This is also why Taylor Swift will be able to re-record her older songs coming this fall – she holds the copyright of her songs and if there are co-authors, those people will certainly agree to let her re-record.

    • Leah says:

      Hey there, to simplify: the label owns the master recordings. It’s a little complicated, but there are a lot of people involved in a song recording: the writers, producers, engineers. If, say, Jojo, wrote the lyrics to “get out,” she’s owns part of the copyright. The original recording refers to that time and space of the original song. That is to say that the exact recording we heard on the radio was owned by her label, per her contract. By re-recording later, she’s essentially creating a new piece of art with different vocal tracks, music recordings, or a new legal entity which is in this case belonging to someone other than the original recording company.

    • Tiffany :) says:

      There’s 2 types of publishing rights. “The Masters” aka mechanical are when you own rights to the sound, and performing are when you own rights to the songwriting (think of it like the sheet music).

      An artist can own 1 or both of these, but they usually split it with the publishing company.

      If someone does a cover , they have to pay performance royalties. If a movie uses the actual sound from the recording, they have to pay mechanical royalties.

  3. Stef says:

    Aww i loved her in aquamarine! Lol. I always wondered what happened to her

  4. Eleonor says:

    Music industry is as horrifying as Hollywood.
    I don’t know why but her interview made me think about Britney an Xtina.
    Lord knows the crap they had to put up with.

    • Fleur says:

      Honestly, I think the music industry is even worse than the film industry. It was the only industry that seemed blockaded from the me too movement, noticeably in my mind at the time. I think it’s because the whole music industry in America is a house of cards built by men who abuse and manipulate. Very few seem to get out of it unscathed, and those who do are usually men with their own band and a degree of musical agency which gives them some leverage.

      • Mabs A'Mabbin says:

        Women and girls are exploited everywhere. It IS, and has been, the only way of getting anything done in any industry. If the company you work for, or an industry you’re desperate to be a part of, has something you want, they continue to feel as though they call the shots and anything goes. Carrots get dangled, gifts are given and promises are made but you end up paying a horrifying price. And up until recently, so many of us didn’t fight back, or if we did, we simply left leaving the door open for their next victim. You young ladies band together and scream so loudly that ear drums burst. People can’t f@cking treat people this way. Whatever the reason. Whatever the job. Wherever you’re from. Predatory behavior has to be met with loud, prevelant far-reaching consequences.

        But yes, acting, modeling, singing, etc., anytime there’s opportunity to exhibit a talent to management there might be a looming threat. And the ends justifying the means is usually a sad compromise.

  5. Lucy2 says:

    How terrible! Glad she has fought her way through and is doing better now.
    This is another warning sign that young kids shouldn’t be thrown into the adult world, And then if you do do it, you better have very experienced and knowledgeable people acting on your behalf as managers and agents.

  6. Samanathalous says:

    I hope she does well and doesn’t have to share any of her future proceeds with her former abusers.

  7. Meg says:

    Her first album and that song were very popular, so I have a hard time believing her second album wouldn’t have sold. This reminds me of Victoria’s secret refusing to include diverse models in terms of race and size because the guy in charge clearly didn’t find that attractive despite the fact that other more diverse companies were selling better than them. That guy was so full of himself he thought the company should exist to fulfill his fantasy of women, not as a lucrative profitable business. JoJo’s record label would’ve made money off her but chose not to because it was more important that she look as they wanted her to look than to make money. That is sick and perverted. They threatened her movie agent because they were mad they weren’t getting part of her movie profits? If u wanted to make money from her release her music! It sounds more like they wanted control over her, ownership, than a cut of her profits. U won’t release her music but refuse to release her from her contact? That reminds me of the woman who created designing women getting the most lucrative tv deal at that time yet les moonves at CBS wouldn’t greenlight any of her projects but also wouldn’t release her from her contact. He didn’t want her shows on TV because he personally didn’t like them yet he knew large audiences did and she would be picked up by a competitor’s network and be aired. He wanted to destroy her career, control her. Sick sick sexist industry

  8. Sarah says:

    I literally just heard “Little Too Late” on Sirius, and wondered what had become of her. She is super talented- what an awful, horrible story. But sounds pretty par for the course in the industry, though. 👿

  9. Allergy says:

    I’m so disgusted by this. I’m sick of all kinds of conning middlemen, all bullshit managers and agents. For every good and honest one there are thousands of predators. Sick of the way the world works.

  10. StormsMama says:

    I loved her.
    Glad she is taking her life back.

  11. Kristen says:

    I hope all of these women in music stand together and support each other! Jojo, Brit, Christina, Pink, Jessica, Beyonce, Ariana – they’re all pitted against ea other but they’re the only ones who really understand the demands of the music industry. Wishing them ALL WELL! XOXOXO

    • Otaku fairy says:

      This is so sweet, and so much kinder than what you typically expect people (even and sometimes especially loud & proud feminists) to say online about this group of women. More of this! I agree with you, collectively they’ve been through a lot and I wish them all well. Rihanna, Demi, and others could be added to that list too.

  12. Notsoanonymous says:

    Man. If you have interest in her story at all, watch the 23 minute video. I’ve followed her a bit over the last few years on IG so I knew some of it, but this was so cool to see her talk about things from a raw perspective. I can’t wait for her full album.

  13. um says:

    Feel like I’m in the minority who never found her that likeable… Still, good on her for speaking out on this. The body and diet pressure is so damaging, nobody should have to face this.

  14. Eva says:

    I remember thinking ”hmm I wonder what happened to JoJo.”

    This reminds me of a couple of actresses who were part of the Harvey Weinstein nightmare. Years later we found out why they just ”disappeared”.

    This is so sad and awful to learn the true reasons why a lot of women’s careers end. I wish JoJo all the best and I’m glad she’s back.