Credit: Doug Krantz
by Kayla Beardslee Music Pop Rocks

JoJo | Trying Not to Think About It

November 26, 2021

Trying Not to Think About It is a mature, introspective pop album, and definitive proof that JoJo is here to stay.

JoJo’s 2020 album Good to Know wasn’t a comeback, exactly — her real comeback was 2016’s Mad Love, her first studio album released since escaping her contract with the infamously terrible Blackground Records — but Good to Know still felt like a stronger re-establishment of her artistic voice and vision than anything that had come before. Unlike the poppy singles of Mad Love, its songs leaned fully into R&B, sampling a diverse array of styles and moods while still adding up to a vibrant, cohesive whole. October’s Trying Not to Think About It (which is somewhere between EP and album) feels like an appropriate companion project: same excellent vocals and rich R&B production, but more consistently somber and introspective, focused on themes of depression and anxiety.

While Good to Know feels like a collection of songs (albeit an excellent one!) that plays just as well on shuffle, Think About It was clearly designed to work best as a front-to-back listen. The mood is consistent (anxious, searching, musically minimalist), the songs transition into each other smoothly (the interludes are just as important a part of the album experience), and the structuring is patient (there are plenty of long outros and instrumental breaks between songs). As a result, a full listen feels impressively immersive. This is a project that, like the album cover depicts, sounds most suited to late nights laying alone in bed, stuck in your head and struggling to fall asleep — although the minimalist, vibey R&B production would work in more positive settings, too. 

The arrangements here are simple, soft, and vocal-forward, focused on quietly evoking a mood in the background while letting JoJo shine. JoJo’s greatest strength is her intelligence as a vocalist: it’s one thing to have a great voice and another thing completely to know how to use it, when to be subtle and impress with quiet control vs. when to go big and make a moment of vocal acrobatics feel earned, and her work in the past two years has demonstrated this over and over. For instance, her belted high notes on the standout “Feel Alright” sound thrilling, but on the following track (“Fresh New Sheets”), her hushed, low-key melodies are just as emotive. Harmonies and background vocals are another highlight of the project, with vocal layering acting like an instrument in itself.

Trying Not to Think About It is overwhelmingly inward-looking, barely tethered to the outside world, and so many of its songs feel as if they’re teetering somewhere on the line between dream and nightmare (“Holding on to the edge of a knife / Just to feel alright,” she sings on “Feel Alright”). It’s not the kind of album that’s concerned with catchiness or big pop moments, but, despite that, there are still a few fun instances to be found (relatively speaking). “Spiral SZN” is genuinely upbeat, as long as you can take its catastrophizing lyrics in stride, and although lead single “Worst (I Assume)” is one of the less sonically interesting songs on the project, it does have one of the more memorable melodies. The simplicity of its production lets JoJo play around more with her delivery, swinging rhythms and exaggerating highs and lows in order to emphasize her confessions of self-sabotage (or maybe to disguise them?).

Taken together with Good to Know, Think About It feels like the second half of a complete whole. While the former re-asserted JoJo’s ear for R&B and proved that she could put together a great album consisting of individually strong songs, this new release shows that she is just as capable of crafting a cohesive album around a single organizing concept. JoJo — finally — is here to stay.

Published as part of Album Roundup — October 2021 | Part 2.