JoJo Siwa is the personification of the confetti and sparkles that explode in the air when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. She’s all energy, enthusiasm and charisma on screen, and it’s not just for the cameras.
She got her big break on the infamous show Dance Moms, but eventually made a name for herself as a popstar who caters specifically to young kids. Now that she’s 18, she’s got a starring role and an executive producer credit under her belt for her movie, The J Team.
In The J Team, JoJo plays herself. Literally. Her plot may be fictionalized to remove the fact that she’s an ultra-famous social media star, but she’s all JoJo — singing, dancing and smiling the whole hour and a half, only facing conflict when others want to dull her sparkle. She shines throughout, and she shines when the cameras stop rolling, too.
JoJo has amassed 36 million followers on TikTok, making her the 22nd most followed user on the platform. Those followers have changed dramatically over the past few years, too. Though JoJo’s commercial image is marketed toward a younger audience of children and preteens — she has a merchandise deal with Nickelodeon and a hair bow subscription box — she’s also unexpectedly attracted an audience of older Gen Zers and younger Millennials.
When I met JoJo to talk to her about her new movie The J Team, I fully expected to find that she wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Who could be after working so many hours and living through such a dystopian era? I only had a few minutes with her, and she was literally there to promote herself, but I could tell her tone shifted when she talked about her personal life. Her confident voice, still boldly projecting over Zoom as if she were on stage, softened to reveal her guard was down.
I asked why she thinks she has so many older fans, given the fact that everything from her music (with songs like “Dance Through the Day” and “Nobody Can Change Me!”) to her appearance (like that of an anthropomorphic rainbow) to her car (a Tesla covered in images of her own face) is the kind of thing anyone over the age of 16 might be a bit skeptical of.
“You know, for the longest time, people didn’t like me. Teenagers didn’t like me,” she told me, referring to the age group that seemingly dominates TikTok and YouTube. “But then over quarantine, I started doing what I call ‘feeding the monster.’ The JoJo hate monster. People would make fun of me, so I would make fun of myself back.”
JoJo referenced a TikTok post from May 2020 in which she referenced her own receding hairline, which is likely the consequence of years of wearing her signature high ponytail. Bullies have been pointing that out about her since she was 15.
“What are you going to say back to that — feeding the monster?” she said. “Throughout time, I started to show them another side of me. I was scared of teenagers, but I’m also a teenager. We’re homies.”
For JoJo to credit the fact that she’s beloved by so many to her ability to make fun of herself is humble, but I have to disagree. Celebrities make fun of themselves all the time, especially on TikTok where comments are so prominent. But the perception of JoJo has shifted from “silly little kid” to “quirky little sister.”
In the summer of 2020, JoJo began posting more videos of herself in which she both literally and figuratively let her hair down. She shed the glitter and the bows and revealed a gorgeous but relatable side of herself with long curly locks and T-shirts.
The way that commenters went wild over each of those posts reveals exactly what people were expecting of her. They wanted JoJo — an over-the-top star seemingly made in a lab to entertain children — to have her Miley Cyrus “Wrecking Ball” moment, where she sheds her family-friendly image for one that’s more raunchy and real.
When YouTube makeup guru James Charles gave JoJo a makeover in August 2020, back before he encountered a major scandal, she called it one of the “scariest” moments of her career. So why was dropping her typical look — which she described in the video as “giant toddler with a receding hairline” so horrifying?
It’s a new side of her to show the public, for certain, which can be a scary experience for anyone with such a big following, regardless of age. But maybe the JoJo we’ve always seen is just … the real JoJo.
When I spoke to JoJo’s collaborators from The J Team, both the first-time actors who were her own age and the industry veterans who played authority figures in the film, their comments were all the same — JoJo is the energy-filled powerhouse she seems to be, but she’s also an inspiration.
“I feel like I learned a lot from her and she’s an extremely hard worker. But also she can have fun, you know, so the whole time we’re laughing in between every take,” said Kiara T. Romero, a relatively new actress who played one of JoJo’s friends in the movie. “But then when it came down to it, we got our work done.”
Kerrynton Jones, a dancer-turned-actress who also played one of JoJo’s best friends, said JoJo brought incredible energy to the shoots but stayed “on it.” If someone forgot their line, JoJo was ready. She knew everything about the movie she helped create.
“She’s an incredible leader and the energy that she brought to set even when our days were 15 hours long, she was smiling and so focused the entire day. And it was just incredible energy to be around,” said Julia Marley, the “mean girl” of The J Team. “I hope to take that with me throughout my whole life.”
Tisha Campbell-Martin and Laura Soltis, two veteran actresses, also applauded JoJo’s work in the film, called her “sweet,” “positive,” “loving” and “supportive” and agreed they’d both work with her any time.
People who know JoJo personally clearly love her, but what can we make of all her older fans who went from poking fun at her to spamming her comments sections with love and support?
Jake Arlow, an author who said she is “the biggest over-20 JoJo Siwa fan ever,” told me she “sobbed tears of joy” when JoJo came out as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community in a casual TikTok post one day in January 2021. In fact, dozens of fans mentioned how much it meant to them that JoJo is a role model that young LGBTQIA+ kids can look up to.
JoJo’s gushing posts about her girlfriend and staunch commitment to the double meaning of her rainbow attire are just two more ways in which she is unapologetically herself.
“I was so comforted by her brashness, by how loud and unapologetic she is, I’ve watched full videos of her concerts and I have a smile on my face the whole time … I love her,” Arlow continued.
Dami, a 22-year-old fan of JoJo, said she only saw her as “the bow girl” until 2020 when her collaboration with James Charles went viral.
“She came off as a fun and interesting individual and a breath of fresh air in an era where most teens are growing up way too soon,” Dami told me. “Overall she’s just a fun person and I’m glad the internet no longer bullies her like they once unfairly did.”
Other fans noted that she completely crushed at the MLB Celebrity All-Star softball game, “hitting a double off of Quavo” while her braids were covered in blingy rhinestones. Her upcoming turn on Dancing with the Stars has already made history, as she’s going to be a part of the first same-sex couple on the show.
In our interview, JoJo told me that she challenged The J Team’s director multiple times over what her character would say or do in a certain scenario. They had a tense relationship at first, but at the end of the process, became like family. But she made it clear that she was in control of her own life on screen, which reflects the way she’s perceived by those older fans off-screen.
“I’m like, I’m going to get my way … and it was cool to have that say,” she said. “I’m not playing a character. Nobody can tell me how to play me better than I can just play me … I was very empowered, very inspired and felt like I could take on the world and conquer anything.”
JoJo’s sparkling and sincere persona seems to have melted the cold hearts of internet trolls far beyond her self-deprecating TikToks. She’s showing young people that they can embrace their identities and interests and the most complicated and over-the-top parts of themselves and make it into something dazzling.
In The Know is now available on Apple News — follow us here!
If you enjoyed this story, read more about the time Paris Hilton and JoJo Siwa traded places.
More from In The Know: