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A Teen Pop Queen Who Transcends Formulas

By the age of 15, JoJo had already released two albums and launched an acting career.
By the age of 15, JoJo had already released two albums and launched an acting career.

Some singles linger in the Top 40 for months — and sometimes, they do so for good reason. Case in point: "Too Little, Too Late" by the teenage pop queen JoJo. Known to her parents as Joanna Levesque, JoJo is one of those slightly scary multi-entertainment-platform creations, having already released two albums and launched an acting career (in the Robin Williams movie RV) by the age of 15.

The first single from that second album, The High Road, "Too Little, Too Late" starts the way so many assembly-line R&B singles do: with a flickering stutter of a beat, electronic finger-snaps and a hint of cooing. Mariah Carey, among many, has been working those sonic clichés for many years now. And, in the grand tradition of empowerment-minded pop, it takes aim at a two-timing scrub who's left our heroine high and dry.

But unlike a genre classic like TLC's "No Scrubs," this one is more resigned than angry ("With a player like you, I don't have a prayer"), with the resolution being self-love rather than revenge ("Letting you go, I'm loving myself"). JoJo caresses rather than belts the words — her melisma, though heavily sweetened, is remarkably restrained — and those power chords in the chorus don't just elevate the song; they add a dark, dramatic undertone. The song's narrator may or may not repeat her mistakes, but that's her problem. For everyone else, formulaic pop rarely sounds so non-formulaic, nor so fabulous.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Browne
David Browne is a contributing editor of Rolling Stone and the author of Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth and Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim Buckley. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, Spin and other outlets.