JoJo‘s journey to self-love has been a long one.
The singer discusses her hard road to happiness (which inspired her new album Good to Know, out Friday) in this week’s issue of PEOPLE.
“I had a real issue with trusting myself, because I think from a young age, I have put my trust in other people to know what’s best for me, and a really important part of being a self-sufficient human being is knowing that you know what’s best for you,” she says. “That took a little work and going inward and trying out different things to get me in the present moment, because I was living so much in anxiety about the future and sadness over the past, personally and professionally.”
Born Joanna Levesque, JoJo rose to fame at age 13 with her smash hit “Leave (Get Out).” But the pressures of child stardom — as well as mental illness, her father’s opioid addiction and a years-long lawsuit with her former record label that nearly ended her career — became too much for her.
“I’ve been going to therapy since I was 18. I had more weight on my shoulders than I could bear,” says the singer, who was diagnosed with clinical depression a decade ago. “I would talk to my therapist once a week, and now it’s kind of as needed, but it’s really nice to have that impartial and professional opinion. I’m very fortunate that I could do that.”
She has managed her mental health with therapy and by taking antidepressants for the past 10 years, as well as exercise, yoga and journaling. For a time, though, she also coped in unhealthy ways, drinking to blackouts to avoid her problems.
JoJo still drinks today. “There have been periods of time where I have consciously not drank, but I’m not sober — my relationship with alcohol is different now,” she says. “I don’t drink to escape.”
But she has had rough patches. On Good to Know, JoJo sings about a recent low point in her life when she cheated on her then-boyfriend while drunk. The experience led to an epiphany.
“I self-sabotaged because I didn’t feel worthy of a loving, lasting relationship,” JoJo says. “I didn’t love myself. I am actively practicing self-love. It’s not just something you arrive at — I need to really work at it.”
Good to Know finds JoJo in a mature place, both in sound (she’s gone from pop bops to R&B slow-burns) and lyrical content.
“The album just finds me processing and getting to a place of realizing I’ve never been alone my whole adult life. I’ve always been in a relationship with somebody, and I was delaying a really important part of becoming an adult, which is being independent,” she says.
And so, over the 10 months she recorded the new LP, JoJo stayed celibate.
“I would go out on dates, but I loved saying, ‘Okay, good night,’” says the star, who is happily single and quarantining amid the coronavirus pandemic at home in Los Angeles with her mom, Diana, and dog, Agape.
JoJo’s newfound independence appears both in the album — and on its cover art.
“I’m just learning about the chakras now, but our creativity and our sexuality is in the same place in our bodies, and it’s the energy center, and I believe that it’s represented by the color orange, which is this color I’m obsessed with right now,” she says, confirming the meaning behind her orange Good to Know cover. “I wanted to keep all of that good energy for myself and not share it with anybody else.”
While she’s in an amazing place today, JoJo says self-empowerment has taken daily practice.
“It was like a banging my head against the wall until I believed it or until I actually did it,” she says. “My therapist told me to act as if: like, if you don’t feel confident, act as if you are. You don’t feel like a bad bitch, act as if you do — and then you do.”
As part of the Let’s Talk About It initiative, PEOPLE is partnering with the Crisis Text Line, which offers free, 24/7 support from trained crisis counselors. If you or someone you know needs help, text STRENGTH to 741741. For help with mental illness or substance abuse, you can also call SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
For more from JoJo, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.