When I met up with JoJo Scott at a local coffeehouse, she was enjoying her spring vacation. That didn’t mean, though, that her hard work had stopped. Balancing a burgeoning career as a singer-songwriter and high schooler, she told me, is no easy task.
“I’ve put off all my homework, and I have two big projects due that are worth a big portion of my grade,” she confesses. “It’s a challenge, but I do it because I couldn’t stop doing my music even if I wanted to.”
Music has always been a part of Scott’s life. At only 16, she’s spent a majority of her life as a musician. She’s been singing as long as she can remember, playing guitar for seven of those years and writing songs since the seventh grade. She’s already made a name for herself as well, recording and releasing original music, playing shows around the Portland area, participating in Teen Idol and even finding time to audition for the new season of American Idol. In a way, Scott is living a double life, a real-life Hannah Montana.
With so much of her life revolving around it, music has really helped Scott find her place. In the past few years, she says, her music has allowed her to come out of her shell.
“When I was in elementary school and the beginning parts of middle school, I was really self-conscious,” she says. “I could sing, but I just didn’t feel like I could fit in. But I feel like [now] I’ve made a place for myself. I don’t really care much what other people think of me anymore.”
Just as music has helped her find a place in the social dynamic of high school life, Scott is working to find a place for herself in the crowded musical climate. Talking inspirations and aspirations with her own music, one thing is blatantly clear: Scott wants to be as authentic as possible.
At the beginning of her journey, she explored a more electro-pop direction. However, as she told me, “I just realized that I need to be truer to what I want to do and who I am.”
To do this, Scott has worked to pull together elements of many genres, piecing together her influences like a creative puzzle to find her own unique sound. For her, influences come from all directions, and each inspiration lends a different piece in the makeup of her own musical DNA.
As far as sound, Scott’s music evokes a feeling of pop songwriters such as Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendes. She does, after all, cite both of them as huge inspirations. But looking more closely at her music, the marks of pop, hip-hop and R&B can all be found, whether in the emotion, the song structure or the lyricism.
Along with Sheeran and Mendes, Scott cites both Camila Cabello and Daniel Caesar as inspirations as well. Pulling from their R&B stylings, she finds not so much sound as she does structure and lyricism in their music, aiding to the building of her own. “I think there’s something so beautiful about the way that [Cabello and Caesar] compose their lyrics and the way they write things with R&B and soul,” she says. “I think I definitely like to draw from that. How can I compose it to have those types of lyrics, but still fit with who I am?”
Hip-hop also finds itself in the blend, aiding Scott’s honest writing.
“I have two older siblings,” she says. “They definitely dictated what we were listening to. It was a lot of pop music. But they were both really into rap and hip-hop too, which I’m a huge fan of. Most the time, if I’m not listening to pop, I’ll be listening to hip-hop or rap.
“I went through a whole phase where I was trying to write raps and be… but no.” She laughs. “I cannot rap. I’m awful at it. Props to the people who can rap because it’s very challenging. But again, I feel like with rap, there’s brutal honesty in it. And the way [it] conveys things, I just really love. So I take that and try to put it in my music through lyrics.”
With so many inspirations and elements, Scott has found her own unique sound, one that evokes emotion in its honesty and beauty in its structure and lyricism. Harnessing this style and her own personality, her niche is perfectly exemplified in her new song.
Just before winter break, Scott decided it was time to take the next step. She began the process of putting together her debut EP, collecting songs and filling in the missing pieces with new material. “Famous” was one of those songs that made the cut.
“Honestly, when I wrote it, I didn’t even know if it was good,” Scott says. “But I showed it to some friends and they were like, 'This has to make it on the EP.'
“I started writing it in a place where I had people who didn’t believe in me, and people who were telling me, ‘I’m just going to be friends with you because you’re going to be famous.’”
The chorus of the song touches on this theme. In it, Scott sings: “Don’t call me famous / I haven’t made it / Don’t call me famous.”
As honesty prevails in Scott’s style, she is openly honest about her aspirations and shortcomings.
“You know, my dream was always to be 15 or 16 years old and break out like Taylor Swift did. Be huge,” she confesses. “Obviously that hasn’t happened yet. But the song quickly turned into a ‘You know what, it hasn’t happened yet, but I’m going to do it.’”
Though Scott hasn’t made it into the mainstream as she had imagined at a younger age, she is proud of what she’s done, and is nowhere near backing down now. With everything she’s already accomplished, her hunger for more has only grown. The support behind her from her friends and family inspires her to keep striving to achieve her dreams.
“I was talking to my sister yesterday,” she told me. “She was like, ‘You just have to keep pushing it!’
“She started bringing up some artists like Kali Uchis. It took her years to get to the point she’s at now, and she’s huge and so talented. But there’s so much behind the scenes work. It seems like it’s an overnight thing, but it’s years to keep pushing and building and growing until you get to where you’re taking off.”
She may not have made it to the levels she aspires to (yet), but Scott is already a star. Her talent, genuineness and drive are well beyond her years. And at only 16, there are years ahead to achieve her wildest dreams, performing in arenas, leading a full band and touring the world. In her journey to the big leagues, her authenticity is her strongest asset.
“People tell me all the time, ‘You’re too young,’ ‘You can’t play solo. You have to have a band.’ But there’s only one of me. I’m not going to change myself to please someone else,” she says. “I don’t need to wear what they think I need to wear. I can wear what I feel comfortable in, and I can sing what I feel comfortable singing. I should just be authentically me, because there’s no one else like me.”
While her lyrical prowess and drive will carry her far, her dedication to authenticity will prove to be the key to stardom. The road ahead may be long, but Scott is well on her way to achieving her dreams, and she’s clear that a compromise in her honesty to herself will never be an option. “Famous” is just the first step, and with a full EP on the way, it’s only a matter of time before she reaches what she strives for… just as soon as she finishes high school.