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Review | JoJo at O2 Academy Islington: ‘The former pop princess makes up for lost time’

By Will Stroude

At this point, Joanna Levesque’s wilderness years in pop purgatory, prevented from officially releasing music by her record label Blackground before suing them for “irreparable damages to her professional career” and resigning with Atlantic, are well-documented. The youngest solo artist in US chart history to have a Number One single in the US when 2004’s ‘Leave (Get Out)’ hit the top spot on the Billboard Pop chart when she was just 13, a rise to teenage superstardom seemed assured. But as attention turned towards her ill-fated third studio album following the release of 2006’s The High Road, the chance of a Rihanna-esque evolution into world-beating pop heavyweight was put on hold indefinitely by industry politics. “It’s been a long time London!” JoJo told a sold-out crowd at London’s 02 Academy Islington last night as she took to a UK stage for the first time in a decade. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, that certainly rang true as crowd-wide chants of the singer’s name reached deafening levels throughout the course of the evening – almost bringing the now-25-year-old to tears on more than one occasion. The ‘I Am’ tour has been about moving forward though, and in a shrewd move the set list was arranged in chronological order, ensuring its status as more than just a throwback showcase. That doesn’t mean the early hits weren’t paid their just desserts though: Bursting out the gates with a peppy rendition of tweenage ‘Love Don’t Cost a Thing’ equivalent ‘Baby It’s You’, JoJo took the enraptured crowd through the hits of her eponymous debut album. Bolstered by two electric guitars, the early noughties R&B bops still packed a surprising punch, and by the time ‘Leave’ did come round, the crowd was singing every word like they were back in front of their bedroom mirrors. (Considering that that best-known hit about kicking a good-for-nothing cheating ex to the curb, it’s not surprising that if anything it sounded more convincing coming out the mouth of a swaggering twenty-something than a seventh-grader). JoJo-Main-Pub-1-Ohrangutang The set soon moved onto 2006’s The High Road, and following a welcome outing of Toto’s ‘Africa’-samling slow jam ‘Anthing’, the audience was treated to its first real reminder of the pipes that made JoJo one of pop’s most promising young stars on the melodramatic ‘Too Little Too Late’. You couldn’t fault the vocal throughout the set, and JoJo’s is a voice that undoubtedly puts her up there with the pop titans like Christina, Stefani Germanotta and Jessie ‘appreciated in the USA’  J. The show’s second half was all about showing where the girl from Boston Massachussetts is now, and if the sensual unzipping of her jumpsuit on the Noah ’40’ Shebib-produced ‘Demonstrate’ was anything to go by, it’s in a place of confident sexual-assurance after those historic legals wrangles which, as she admitted to the crowd during one of her frank asides, left her depressed, directionless, and usure of who she was. A rousing cover of Zayn Malik filth-fest ‘Pillowtalk’ was soon followed by new track ‘Good Thing’; a house-lite, dancefloor-ready hit in the making that demonstrated perfectly how JoJo could slide straight back into the charts of 2016 alongside today’s R&B upstarts like Jess Glynne or Ella Eyre. Closing with last year’s ‘tringle’ of new material, including the emotionally devastating ‘Save My Soul’ – which she dedicated at the time to her late father after he tragically lost his longterm battle with addiction – and sweeping new ballad ‘I Am’, it was clear that JoJo was back, and with a good head placed firmly on her shoulders. Yes, the former tweenage pop idol might have sued her former label for ‘irreparable damage’ to her career, but on the basis of Monday night’s reintroduction to London, JoJo proved that that damage is anything but. Rating: 4/5 JoJo’s third studio album is slated for release in the second half of 2016. More stories: ‘I’ll never forget the moment our adopted son waved to us for the first time’ Check out the first official poster for ‘Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie’