JoJo has had quite a year. Between the release of her slinky R&B project good to know, to her first-ever Christmas album December Baby, released through Clover Music, JoJo’s own imprint on Warner Records, the Massachusetts native is truly thriving. Born on December 20, it just makes sense for the 29-year-old to create a holiday album — and of course, she’s put a fresh, soulful spin on it.
Now, JoJo is gearing up for her upcoming performance at The Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles, which fans can tune into via live stream. We recently had the chance to chat with the R&B songstress all about December Baby, the lessons she’s learned in 2020, and how she plans on celebrating during what she calls the most “magical time” of the year – check out the most recent installment of our Q & Holidays series below!
Congratulations on December Baby! I love the soul and R&B feel you brought to holiday classics. Tell me a bit about how the album came together.
Last year, I started to record my takes on the classics. And then this year, I was hanging out with one of my best friends one day and we just started writing Christmas music in July. I’ve always dreamed of doing a Christmas album. It’s a moment in everybody’s career. Me being a December baby, I wrote this poem, it was one of the first things that we did. And then sent it to my little group chat with Brian [Wiggins] and Austin [Nathanial Austin Brown]. The next time I went over there, we sat around the piano, and I started kind of putting melodies to the lyrics that I’d written. And they were like, ‘Are we gonna do a whole Christmas album?’ So it really happened very organically. They were in my quarantine bubble, we were only really seeing each other hanging out watching movies. And I think you can hear some of that coziness in the record.
I can imagine your approach to a holiday album is different from your usual process, since you’re focusing on this specific time of year rather than maybe something you’re going through that prompts you to write.
Absolutely. Having those parameters is actually really helpful and made the songwriting come a lot quicker. Because sometimes when there’s no limit, it can get overwhelming. And also, I was real freaky on this project that I released earlier this year, so I wanted this to be something you could listen to with anybody in your family.
What were your Christmases like growing up?
I spent my Christmases between Massachusetts and New Hampshire, my parents were divorced. So I’d go spend Christmas Eve with my dad’s family, and then Christmas morning with my mom and her side of the family. That’s the story that so many, especially American kids can relate to — doing the split holiday. With my dad’s family when I was little, we would look for Santa in the sky. We would go out to the street, and my dad would be like, ‘Look at that red thing that’s Rudolph,” and it would be so exciting. Then we would drive back to his house and open presents. Then he drives me back and then I get to do that at my mom’s. We would cut down Christmas trees at this local Christmas tree place in Massachusetts and bring them back. 1
Is it strange for you to celebrate Christmas in LA? I’m also from the East Coast, and I can’t imagine Christmas without snow or cold weather.
I find it a little strange. I find it strange that I’ve lost my thick skin; I get so cold now. But I do miss like, making snow angels, flopping down in the snow and looking up. Sticking out your tongue and tasting that first snow. I’m gonna miss my family. So many people are gonna miss their families this year. This will be my first time celebrating in California. My mom is out here with me. She just moved out earlier in the year, so that’ll make it feel like home.
We’re all hoping for a new beginning right about now. Do you have any hopes or goals for the new year? Anything you’re looking forward to the most?
Honestly, I look forward to focusing on living, and trying to be more in the moment and maybe take a few months off from writing. I just want to live and love and be open. This has been a really busy and wonderful year for me personally. It’s been an incredibly challenging and devastating year, in general. So I’m just gonna try to stay flexible, emotionally, for whatever comes next year.
Are there any major lessons you’ve taken away from this year?
There’s so many lessons. That actually sitting down and chilling out is not an easy thing to ask people to do, and we don’t know how to do that, really. We’re so used to busying ourselves and that’s something I personally realized about myself. I was running around and not necessarily being as intentional as I could have been. And not everybody has the luxury of getting to think about that. But I don’t have any kids, I’m young, I have the freedom of being able to slow down.
I also know you were involved in the Black Lives Matter movement this year. I actually interviewed Tinashe recently and she mentioned that you attended a protest together. What was that experience like?
We had always shown each other love on social media and everything. And then we met at this event a director was throwing and I got to tell T how much I love her album Songs for You and we stayed in touch. She was in my video for “Man,” and then after the murder of George Floyd I saw how outspoken she was being and how she posted something about she was [at a protest] in downtown LA. And I just hit her up and was like “Let me know where you’re at. I’d love to join you.” I just really appreciate that she allowed me to walk alongside her and her family. We came together as two women in music who are independent, coming together for something that is so obviously one of the biggest issues facing our country.
It’s amazing that you were able to do that, especially being in person with someone during this time when we’re all separated and not really having any of those intimate experiences.
The experience of protesting earlier in the year was crazy, because I think a lot of us were just like, “Look, we’re gonna wear masks. We’re gonna be up close to each other. But this is more this is what we’re prioritizing.” We have to have our presence physically felt.
Definitely. I know you have a couple of really exciting projects coming up, including a song on the Global Citizen album, Stand Up. Tell me about that.
I’m excited about finally collabing with Tori Kelly. It feels like I’m getting a gift because I’ve always wanted to sing with her. So I know I can’t wait for people to hear it.
I was so excited when I saw you posted about that. The people have been waiting! You also have a live stream coming up, correct?
Yes! I’m doing a live stream performing December Baby from the Roxy on December 18. This is gonna be like my biggest performance of the year. I’m gonna have some special guests. I’m so excited to wrap up the year with it. Like, I haven’t got to perform that much. And I’m just so excited. Doing some songs that people won’t expect as well, maybe some from my old catalogue. It’s gonna be dope.
Get tickets for JoJo’s live concert here.
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story / Catherine Santino
photo / Doug Krantz