JoJo Levesque was only 13 when her debut single, “Leave (Get Out),” rocketed to No. 1 on the charts. Overnight, she became pop music’s high priestess of the middle school set.
To date, JoJo (as she’s professionally known) has sold more than five million albums of her R&B–infused dance pop. Her other hits include “Too Little Too Late” and “Baby It’s You,” the latter featuring rapper Bow Wow.
JoJo headlines the Sept. 8 Pride Fest in Forsyth Park, the sweet icing on an all–day cake of music — including several of Savannah’s finest bands — and celebration of the city’s gay community.
“The fans that come out to the Pride events are some of my absolute favorites,” JoJo, who’s 21 now, tells us. “The community is so loving, and there is so much warmth and color. They wear their emotions on their sleeves, and so do I. I think I can really relate to that.
“We’re going to have so much fun. And honestly, I get a lot crazier with my Pride fans than I do with anyone else.”
“Crazy” is a word that comes up often in conversation with JoJo. After eight years in the cutthroat music business, she swears she’s essentially the same person she always was.
“I’m certainly crazy in my own right, but I don’t think my family is embarrassed by my behavior,” JoJo laughs. “But I definitely have my moments.”
She’s putting the finishing touches on her third album, which has been delayed several times because of legal issues with record labels.
“I definitely have some moments to breathe and to check in with myself,” she adds. “To spend time with family and friends. I think I have a pretty decent balance right now, and I’m kind of soaking that in before things get crazy with promotion and such. I take it in stride, you know?
“I’ve had some quote–unquote down time in the past few years, being out of the focus. And now I’m ready for a different season.”
“Demonstrate,” the new album’s first single, is a sexy and ultimately unforgettable ballad. “We decided to go in a new direction,” JoJo explains.
JoJo made her TV debut at age 7, and has since been seen in a half–dozen shows and TV movies, as well as the films Aquamarine and RV.
“I did a lot of theater growing up in Massachusetts, and living in L.A. for a little bit,” she says. “From the age of 6. So when I was singing, I was simultaneously acting, doing commercials and things like that. I was a ham. I just always loved to be in front of the camera. I always wanted to express myself somehow, whether it was painting, or poetry, or acting, things like that.
“So when I got some success in the music world, some opportunities came up with acting that I was really excited about.”
There is, of course, a big difference between pop stardom at 13 and holding onto it — and your sanity — by the time you’re legal.
“I think it’s very natural that there’s a great difference from how you are at 13 to how you are at 21,” reports JoJo. “So I think I’ve evolved just as naturally as anyone would in those eight very important years.”
Pride and prejudice
Influenced by post–punk heroes like the Smiths and the Jesus & Mary Chain, Atlanta’s Amber Taylor put the Sexual Side Effects together about two years ago. She’s been a solo performer for a long time, and fronted several bands ... and with the right people, she says, she found “the perfect storm” in the current lineup.
With Taylor’s vocals and jangly guitar, and the lead guitar of Matt Foster, the band makes hooky, anthemic, driving rock music. “I’m not happy with myself if I write a song and there’s not something about it that’s memorable,” Taylor says. “Some call it pop music, but it’s just something that you play that remains with you.
“So I’ll sit there and play a chord progression or something, a melody, over and over again until I find that one with just something right. Sort of like you’ve heard it before, but also it’s something new and something that connects with your soul.”
The fact that Taylor is a transgendered person is not one of this marvelous band’s selling points. “We made it a point to not tell anybody, really,” she explains. “We obviously have a funny name, and it has a secret meaning to it that people get eventually. But we’re about music first. And that’s how we’ve decided to approach it. When people know about stuff in advance, then they have pre–conceived notions. They’ll find out eventually. Some people don’t even know.
“It’s really our mission, I think, to try to win everybody over who may be turned off by it at first. Once they listen to our music, and we win them over, then they find out later on, it’s a completely different story. It’s more than a mission to play music in the world. It’s a mission to help change our society. And bring awareness to people who are different.”
Where: Forsyth Park
When: 11:45 a.m.–10 p.m. Sat., Sept. 8
Tickets: $5 before 5 p.m., $7 after
Noon: She and She
12:50: Tha Crew
1:20: Dylan Michael
1:50: Basik Lee
2:20: Spirit I Am
3:20: Bay Street Theatre
5:05: Club One Drag Queens
5:50: Christina Foxx
6:25: Word of Mouth
7:25: Spikey Dikey
8:10: Sexual Side Effects