It was hard not to be disappointed when “Disaster,” JoJo’s single from upcoming album Jumping Trains, was released. The track’s not bad, per se, but anything that resembled a Jordin Sparks leftover was always going to seem like a retreat after two excellent singles: “The Other Chick,” loud, showy and very adult–anything with the lyric “I faked it every time!, outfitted with melisma–hits all three of those adjectives by default–and a cover of Drake’s “Marvin’s Room” that outdid the original. Choose any line from Jojo’s remake at random, and it’ll probably be more vulnerable and cutting than half of Take Care–or, for that matter, the pleasureless, drug-and-sex-fueled melancholia that’s usually seen solely as the domain of bad boys like The Weeknd and, sometimes, Frank Ocean.
“Marvin’s Room,” like much of Drake’s work, was produced by moody fellow Canadian Noah “40″ Shebib. JoJo’s now working with him as well, for Jumping Trains track “Demonstrate,” and this is exactly as good a sign as it sounds like. Listen below.
“Demonstrate” begins with an innocuous-enough bit of guitar doodling, but that lasts five seconds before the real sound kicks in. If you’ve heard anything Shebib’s produced, for Drake or Jamie Foxx or Usher, you’ve heard this: cloudy, gloomy and uncomfortably still. That just means he’s a consistent producer, though, and to his credit, “Demonstrate”‘s a bit more lively than the stagnant sadness Shebib can slip into sometimes. (The part where a near-staccato run on “freaky shit running in my mind” leads into a chorus far more lush, could singlehandedly guarantee him a career for the next three years.)
Equally unsurprisingly, JoJo’s performance is technically adept, switching between melisma and near-whispers, alto and head voice, with mere seconds between. She’s done this from her tweenage years, at least; “Leave (Get Out)” had plenty of that. What’s new, as of course it is, is her maturity–and not because she mentions sex, as everyone writing about this will probably be very eager to point out. It’s in her interpretation; she sings at least three separate meanings into “come over” and, on the chorus, turns the near-clinical word “demonstrate” into a practically physical, well, demonstrate. It’s a stunning bit of interpretation and deserves far better than the “she’s all grown up!” narrative. (She’s 21; people tend to leave that particular hurdle behind years before.) That won’t be the only other narrative, either; over the next few days, this will probably get compared a lot to the more self-consciously arty work by female R&B artists like Danity Kane’s Dawn Richard. That’s technically accurate but niche and short-sighted. What “Demonstrate” really does, which “Disaster” didn’t, is start to establish Jojo as a genuinely exciting R&B artist in her own right. Let’s hope the rest of Jumping Trains finishes the demonstration.