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Evan Rachel Wood Shares The 21 Lessons She Learned In Her 20s

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Collage photos via Getty Images

In honor of turning 30 yesterday

I can finally start looking back on my past with a smile on my face because it’s over and I survived.

My brother compares turning 30 with that moment in The Goonies when Sean Astin escapes booby traps and bandits and finds One-Eyed Willy. He walks up to this mythical corpse and the gold treasure he has been searching for and says, “You’ve been expecting me, haven’t you? Well, I made it. I beat you. I got here in one piece… so far.” 

I very easily could have been dead in my 20s. I think a lot of people can relate to this. I did not think I would make it this far. So every second is a gift.  

I can let my past empower me, rather than define me and my thoughts about myself. 

I can stand taller, but more humbled and with less to prove. 

My 20s were a really intense time of metamorphosis, loss, love, trauma, and enlightenment. I traveled the world. Met more people than I can count. Sang with my heroes, fell deeply in love, moved across the country—twice. Was engaged to Marilyn Manson. (Remember that? That was weird.) Did well in my career. Earned enough money to live comfortably. 

I was also preyed upon, taken advantage of, lied to, raped twice on two separate occasions, forgot who I was for a while, attempted suicide… twice, been through many different kinds of intense therapy, held secrets in for years till I collapsed, came out of the closet, got married, had a baby at home, got divorced, wrote and recorded an album, lost two grandparents, gained two siblings, played the most inspiring role I have had the pleasure of inhabiting, and finally started writing. 

All in all, there hasn’t been a dull moment. My 20s have been a wonderful nightmare. My limits have been tested in many ways, and I learned I am much stronger than I ever thought possible. 

The greatest lesson I have learned is that there is always more to learn. 

I can’t fit everything I have learned in my 20s into this piece, but, in no particular order, here are some tips that really helped me get this far and a reflection of where I am now, as this new decade of possibilities rolls around. 

Love, Impermanence, and the Gift of Being Alone 
I have true friends. I can spot red flags easier, and I am not as much of a martyr when it comes to people and their issues. I have learned that you are no good to anyone if you don’t take care of your mind, body, and spirit first, and that does not make you selfish; it’s essential for a healthy, happy state of mind. 

Take time for yourself. I cannot stress this enough. If you can’t sit alone with yourself, you will never be fully content sitting with another person. You will feel on edge, insecure, and like an imposter. You will project an image of what you think someone wants rather than just owning who you are. You will need someone to validate you, and when they fall short of filling up the space you’ve carved out in yourself that only YOU can fill, you will resent them, you will lose them, and the pattern will repeat. 

Unless… You learn to be alone with yourself first. Fall in love with YOURSELF first. Be someone you respect. If you truly love yourself, you know that whether or not someone chooses to be with you, you will be okay. You have you, and you love you. You have to know that if someone walks out the door, although it may be painful, you will be alright. Don’t be afraid to rip the band-aid off rather than let the wound beneath become infected. 

Letting go is a hard lesson, make no mistake. Goodbyes are the hardest, and nothing lasts forever, it’s an unavoidable part of life. Make peace with it as much as you can. Find the gratitude in every moment, good and bad. Don’t take any moment for granted. Take mental snapshots, real snapshots, journal, have a quiet moment with yourself. Every second you are alive you are living a memory, so let it flow through you. Let the bittersweetness of life fill your body. 

Be grateful you can love enough to have a broken heart. Be happy for the sweet memories that will never be undone. See the rebirth in loss as much as you can. Devastating blows can become a time of transformation. Some losses we never fully get over, but you can carry the memories with you everywhere you go. They are a part of you. They make you who you are. 

Anger and Asking Yourself Hard Questions 
Anger is tricky. Anger is deceptive. If you really examine your anger, it’s just pain with cayenne pepper on it. It hurts so bad it burns. If you are angry at someone you don’t even know, please, I beg you, ask yourself why. Really. Ask yourself questions. It sounds crazy, but I gotta tell you, your inner voice is a smart m***********. One of the best tools I ever received was this piece of advice: 

When you are in a spin, overwhelmed with emotion, fear, jealousy, heartbreak, loneliness, ANGER, ask yourself two questions: “What am I feeling? And why am I feeling it?” Answer as deeply and honestly as you can. 

Even if you aren’t proud of the answer, you can’t change until you admit the problem. This is a conversation we need to have with ourselves. We love ourselves, remember? We don’t judge ourselves. We forgive ourselves, and then we take the next step toward the person we want to be. 

You can’t move on or learn the lesson unless you have the awareness to call yourself out on your own shit. Do not be afraid of this. Be proud of this. You are imperfect, and sometimes you are wrong, but so is everyone. You are in good company. Leave your pride and moral superiority at the door. Try to be as understanding as you can, take a breath, and ask yourself questions. Go inward and feel where your body is tense. You hold more stress in your body than you think. Unless you ask yourself where it is, you can’t let it go. Try relaxing every part of your body as much as you can. When something just won’t let go, ask yourself why. This can be more intense than you are prepared for sometimes. 

Which brings me to another piece of advice I love: Don’t be afraid of the answer. You may not like what you hear, or you may be incredibly relieved that it’s not as bad as you thought. The stories we tell ourselves and the things we assume about a situation or a person are sometimes 10 times worse than the truth. Be self-aware. 

Ask Questions and Ask for Help 
Don’t be afraid of asking questions—any question, anytime, to anyone. Don’t pretend to know things you don’t. Just ask. If people give you shit, it says more about them than it does you. You have nothing to prove. You are smart for asking questions. We are always learning if we open ourselves up to the things we don’t know. People want to help you. They do. How good do you feel when you impart wisdom onto someone else and it actually helps them? Pretty damn good, right? Like you did something worthwhile? Remember this when you are afraid to ask for help. 

Speaking Your Truth and Trusting Your Intuition 
Learn how to say no, without guilt. Sometimes our answers will hurt people, and it’s hard, but living a lie is harder for all parties involved. Lying to protect people hurts them more in the long run. So tell the truth at all costs. Give people a little more credit about having the ability to understand. Dr. Seuss said it the best, "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind." 

Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t play games. Don’t make people guess. Don’t expect them to know what you need, we can’t read minds… yet. Say. How. You. Feel. and actually say, “I feel...” Not, “You did...” or something else that puts your emotions on another person. It will be received so much better if it comes from your experience rather than a projection of your experience onto someone else. 

Now the balancing act. While doing this, also, trust your intuition. After asking yourself the important questions, know when the problem isn’t about you. Learn the red flags for toxic people. Sometimes you learn by falling into the trap. If you are feeling drained of your life force, that’s a red flag. If you don’t know who you are anymore, that’s a red flag. If you constantly walk on eggshells and make yourself smaller to please someone else, that’s a red flag. If your self-worth is placed on another person’s opinion of you, that’s a red flag. 

Red flags can be more dangerous than we realize. Sometimes emotional abuse is worse than physical. It’s harder to pinpoint and identify. It’s harder to make sense of, and it’s easier for your brain to lie to itself and tell you it’s something it’s not. Sometimes our minds are so scared of what they see, they want to protect themselves by changing the story to make it less painful. Sort of a censored version. But that can lead to perpetual abuse if we don’t learn to read the signs in others, and in ourselves. 

Again, don’t be afraid to let people walk out the door. Don’t stay with an abusive personality because you think that’s the best you can do or you are afraid to be alone. 

Texting 
Never have important conversations over text message. Pick up the phone or meet in person. That’s all I have to say about that. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but it’s serious advice. 

Safe Sex 
Ladies and gentlemen, always carry condoms. Don’t assume the other person has them. And if you want someone to wear one and they don’t, stand your ground. If they can’t respect basic boundaries, it ain’t worth it. You are not a dud for suggesting it, it’s common sense. Especially if you don’t know each other that well. Have safe sex. Don't feel pressured by anyone. Set a precedent and stand by it. Enjoy your sex. Have as much as you want. But plan accordingly and be responsible and safe. 

One more thing: Most people who say they “can’t do it with one on,” will find it miraculously possible to do it if you take sex off the table. So take no shit. Ladies, you especially. 

Living in Fear 
Don’t worry about things being too good. Don’t be anxious because you are waiting for something bad to happen because I got news for you: Eventually, bad things happen. They always do. It’s life. And sometimes we can be so scared of bad things happening, that we unconsciously move toward them. We fumble the ball, we react without thinking, we make rash decisions, we say things we don't mean. We get in our own way because we are operating out of fear. Everything is temporary, even the good times. So it’s better to be happy and enjoy the moment until the next unexpected bad thing happens, which you will survive—you have survived every bad day so far

And if you do your best with good intentions, then you can move on with your head held high. You will fail more than you succeed, and if you didn’t learn your lesson the first time, don’t worry, the universe will serve it right back up for round two, three, four, or as many rounds as it takes before the lesson really lands. 

A Wise Man Is Silent 
Make people earn your story. Don’t give yourself to everyone right away. As the saying goes: “A wise man is silent.” Being super fucked-up isn’t what makes you interesting. It's a part of a much bigger picture, so don’t be a slave to your war stories. Make people earn them. Talking and talking about yourself doesn’t leave a lot of room for listening. So listen. Really listen. Don’t wait for your turn to talk. Listen to people. Have those close friends you trust that you can vent to, but make sure you give them the same in return. The energy you put out will find its way back to you. Trust in this. 

Apologies 
Say you’re sorry and mean it. Say it without expecting anything back. We can’t fix people or right their wrongs for them, so never expect an apology in return. All you can do is take responsibility for your own actions. Don’t expect them to forgive you, but be grateful when they do. Don’t give any gift expecting a certain outcome. You give it out of the kindness of your own heart to make someone feel appreciated and that’s it. How they receive it, is not up to you and unimportant. The gift of giving is always enough. 

Dancing 
Dance. Every day. 

Singing 
Sing in the shower. Sing in the car. Play your music loud every now and then. Oh yeah, and dance. 

Forgiveness 
This was one of the hardest lessons for me. I learned that you must forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting. It doesn’t mean you accept just anyone back in your life, and it doesn’t absolve someone of their sins. It’s actually for you. It’s to free you from the anger you carry, which will eventually become poison. You don’t punish people by staying angry, you only punish yourself. 

Forgiveness is really just understanding. Try to find yourself in people as much as you can, that’s where forgiveness starts. If you do choose to forgive someone and keep them in your life, you cannot punish them for the same crime forever. Forgiving someone and keeping them around means you move on. Let go. It’s not fair to all the imperfect people in the world—which is everyone—to hold a mistake over someone’s head indefinitely to use as ammo when you need it. You’re on a power trip. Step off. 

Success and Money 
Success is a perfect storm. It's a mixture of luck and skill. It isn’t always fair, but if you achieve it, make sure you don’t get caught up in the “things.” The “things” are the objects you fill your life with. Useless things that make you feel good for a second, and then it’s on to the next “thing.” 

The “image” of success isn’t always real. Material possessions, excess, luxury… these will not make you truly happy. They might be fun for a minute, but you can be in a room filled with people and still feel alone. You can have all the money in the world, but it won’t make you love yourself. There is always a level higher up, and you will never reach the top. Success is sometimes like getting to the peak of a mountain and then realizing there is another mountain waiting for you. It will never feel like enough; it is not required to make you love yourself. It’s a bonus if anything. 

Be grateful for where you are at every moment. Sometimes the journey is the best part, and you don’t realize it till its over. Does money make things easier? Absolutely, and I wish everyone had access to enough that gave them their basic needs. I honestly can't imagine where I would be without the privilege and the means to get the help I needed when I needed it, and it pisses me off that everyone doesn’t have a fair chance. That being said, the balancing act continues. Don’t be afraid to enjoy your success. Don’t let people’s bitterness and judgment make you feel bad for doing well. They don’t know your story, and you deserve to be happy. “Smile, all the world’s problems aren’t your own.” 

Open Your Doors 
Open your doors to people when they are struggling. Make them some food, give them some tea, give them a place to rest, listen without judgment. Be a safe haven. Sometimes that’s all we need—a place to rest our head for a short while. 

Don’t worry about what you have to offer. People actually need very little to be comforted. Don’t overthink it. Just open your heart and your ears. Don’t try to fix everything. Sometimes all we need to hear is, “That sounds really hard.” 

Read 
Read. If you can’t read or don’t have time, get Audible, get a book on tape, just have people spewing out knowledge to you whenever you can. Wash the dishes, listen to a book. Take a drive, listen to a book. Watch documentaries, and learn other people’s stories, gain some perspective. Even if you don’t catch every word, your subconscious will. Learn psychology! It's the study of you and your brain, and it’s priceless information. It will give you great insight into yourself and others, but (balancing act) don’t overanalyze. No two people are the same. 

Here are a few books that changed my life. Games changers, all of them. A lot of what I say here are the opinions I got through trial and error, but they’re mixed with regurgitated, extremely helpful advice I got from one of these books. 

1.The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz
2. Conversations with God (I, II, III), Neale Donald Walsch 
3. The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle
4. The Prophet, Khalil Gibran 
5. Oh the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss 

Carry these with you when you can. 

Travel 
If you can, travel. Don’t put it off, just pull the trigger. Someone invites you to a weekend getaway, say yes. Road trip? Say yes. Last minute trip out of the country? Say YES! You have to get your butt out the door and actually go. 

Our Thoughts Become Reality 
Tell yourself good things about yourself. This one is actually really hard. Why do we feel so silly giving ourselves compliments but welcome the bad thoughts no problem? Your thoughts shape your world, so make ‘em good. Practice this every day. Eventually, you will retrain your mind. How you feel about yourself becomes your truth—period. So steer your thoughts in a positive direction, everything else will follow. 

Patience and Faith 
When things are hard, when you are so low you can’t get up, remember everything is temporary, even the bad times. Have faith that you will get up again. You will get up again. 

Parenthood 
Becoming a parent made me see my parents completely differently. They are their own imperfect people with their own story. Parents fuck up, all the time, But being a parent is the hardest, most amazing thing a person can go through. It’s not for the faint of heart. It triggers you, brings up old patterns and repressed memories. All we can do is work on ourselves as much as possible before your children come into your life. Then, grab onto something, ‘cause you are in for a wild ride. Becoming a mom is the best thing I ever did with my life, but it’s not for everyone. It’s harder than you think and you are never ready, but it will open up your heart in ways you never thought possible. 

Divorce 
I was going to write a long messy thing about this, but it’s really for another time. Divorce felt like dying. Like my dreams were ripped out of my heart and trampled on. It was an out-of-body experience and the worst heartbreak I have ever gone through. The hardest thing I had to learn and accept was that sometimes, despite what we have been told, love is not enough. But when I look at my life now and imagine how things would have been different had I stayed married, I can’t say I would have the heart to change anything. I rest easy knowing that I had love, real love, for a short while. So, just listen to the LCD Sound System song “I Can Change.” It sums up marriage and divorce pretty damn well. 

Dream 
Every day. Every chance you get. Dream big. Dream without limits and let go of all that fear of embarrassment. Let go! Jump in. Whatever project you are thinking about, start it. Just start. Start somewhere. Get better little by little until you are flying. Get lost in your thoughts. Learn how to manifest. Dream as much as you can. Everything starts off as a dream before it becomes reality. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. Make your own things. Believe in yourself. Sometimes you gotta be the one to make the move. To quote Almost Famous: “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.” 

All of this advice is much easier said than done, but everything is easier said than done. It’s whether or not you are willing to do the work. It’s all a balancing act. So just use your best judgment and learn from mistakes. That’s all I got for now. See you in 10 years. 

Shine on, ERW

Dragonfire can't melt steel memes

I'm not quite ready to talk about the amount of time I wasted hoping Game of Thrones would live up to its drawn out hype with the series finale, but I am ready to dive into all the memery that came out of the disappointment. And I'm not alone: Maisie Williams—aka Arya Stark—summed up what we were all thinking in one single tweet: "just here for the memes."

After Daenerys had almost as lackluster a death as Cersei, dying with a quick stab wound, it was pretty clear that it would all be downhill. But hey, at least she's reunited with her BFFs Missandei and Jorah in the afterlife.

That opened up the question of who exactly would be king or queen of the seven kingdoms. Poor precious Samwell thinks we should try democracy, but it's not Game of Popular Vote, it's Game of Thrones.

Apparently, everyone at this point had totally forgotten about the fact that Jon Snow actually was a Targaryen, and the rightful heir to the throne. All the characters who, up until this point in the season, had been obsessed with this fact totally pretended it never happened, and never considered him for the new ruler because he... killed the mad queen.

So what do they do? Choose the one person who always said they never wanted throne and that he never even wanted anything: Bran Stark. Arya didn't save everyone's ass from the Night King to be disrespected like this!

And, with all his pre-existing knowledge and newfound power, Bran still just chilled in his chair. Arya is going into uncharted waters, no idea what danger lies ahead? Nah, don't share the information you have on it. Jon is sent off to the Watchers on the Wall just as his younger brother gains absolute power? Forget about pardoning him, Bran doesn't care.

And who would've guessed that Ser Brienne of Tarth would just go and become a blogger, writing anonymous glowing messages about the dude that screwed her over. I'm not a huge fan of the editorial decisions she made while finishing Jaime's story, but I am a fan of the memes made out of the scene.

And back to Jon Snow: All this potential, all this hype on his real name, and once he kills Dany he's shipped off to the Night's Watch like a sad, discarded puppy. There's not even a real reason for the Night's Watch anymore, so he's basically just being sent off to be out of sight, out of mind, for the rest of time.

But hey, at least they finally made right with Ghost. The goodest boy in all of the Seven... or, rather, Six Kingdoms deserved all the pats, and he finally got them when he was reunited with Jon in the North. It almost made me forget all the nonsense that happened throughout the rest of the episode... almost.

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Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

Our favorite collections from 2019's Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia

It's hard not to love Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, an annual exhibition of some of the best in resort dressing, that has Sydney's various cityscapes and beaches serving as its backdrop. For five days, we hopped all over the Australian city to check out the Resort 2020 collections from some of Australia's most established designers and emerging newcomers through an assortment of runway shows, presentations, and parties. The result? An extravagant display of beach-ready fashion, elevated streetwear, and signature Australian style.

For those of you not familiar with the resort season—sometimes referred to as cruise or holiday—it's the in-between seasonal offerings of summer garb that typically hits stores in time for the winter months (you know, right about when we're ready to take those vacations we've been dreaming about). And while we're gearing up to head into summer over in America, these collections also serve as the perfect inspiration for warm-weather dressing—even if we won't be seeing them hit stores until much later this year.

From Aussie staples like Double Rainbouu and Alice McCall to emerging brands like P.E Nation, we rounded up the best Aussie collections we saw this week. Take a closer look at each of them, below.

Aje

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia kicked off with a bang, the bang being Aje and its glorious Bloomscape collection. Whimsical pieces inspired by the native flora and natural landscape of Australia made their way down the runway, from billowing, sculptural dresses with hand-painted floral prints to rugged, masculine tailoring inspired by the soil, the trees, and the nation's rocky wonders.

Alice McCall

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

Alice McCall has been a longtime favorite in the U.S., known for its whimsical and quirky pieces that never skimp on sequins, feathers, and tulle. For Resort 2020, McCall was inspired by the treasures once found in her mother's "dress-up box" of the late '70s, creating her own take on vintage silhouettes but modernizing them and making them new. The result? Romantic, feminine, and glitzy pieces that are sure to turn heads.

Hansen and Gretel

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

Good news for anyone who's into the whole sea nymph thing: This trend is not going anywhere, anytime soon, according to label Hansen and Gretel. The Aussie brand's Resort 2020 collection, Venus, celebrated femininity and womanhood while nodding to this very trend with seashell knit crop tops, slinky slips, pastel summer knits, and plenty of shimmery pearlescent fabrics.

Lee Mathew

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

Lee Mathews Resort 2020 runway show was a special one: a celebration of the brand's 20th year. And, with that came a retrospective collection taking inspiration from the brand's archives over the past two decades. The collection presented the perfect mix of feminine and tomboyish pieces, mixed and matched and layered with extravagance. Ruffled, tulle skirts were paired with tailored shirting, while in-your-face prints such as polka dots, brush strokes, and bold stripes were used throughout, showing up on flowing silk dresses and structured, oversized shirting and separates.

Bondi Born

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

Resort 2020 saw Bondi Born, the ever-chic sustainable swimwear line based in Sydney, debut its first full resort capsule collection. The brand saw its sustainably produced fabrics take the form of knotted and bow-adorned swimwear, breezy seaside dresses and separates, and clean, simple eveningwear—all stunningly timeless, surpassing fashion trends and to be worn for seasons to come.

Double Rainbouu

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

In just a few short years, everybody's favorite Hawaiian shirt brand Double Rainbouu has grown beyond its playful shirting assortment with apparel, accessories, and more. For Resort 2020, design duo Mike Nolan and Toby Jones were inspired by the hippie travelers of the '60s and '70s, and a utopia where all creatures live together harmoniously. Set in Sydney's gorgeous Chinese Garden of Friendship, the brand's show featured model "tourists" who wore worldly prints, hippie tie-dyes, and plenty of linen alongside colorful zebra prints, sporty polos, chambray jumpsuits, and classic hoodies, making for a playfully diverse, yet wearable, collection.

P.E Nation

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

This season saw emerging Aussie label P.E. Nation present its first solo runway show, Physical Education, for Resort 2020. The brand took its signature spin on sporty '90s activewear and elevated it, incorporating bold, oversized silhouettes, denim, and all of the bold neons we covet. Bonus? The brand announced a killer new collab with Speedo, presenting its vintage-inspired swimwear at the very end of the show. Even bigger bonus? The brand's been upping its sustainability efforts, debuting its first-ever recycled active set, using recycled yarns and organic cotton. It will also be moving to biodegradable packaging by July.

Leo & Lin

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

One of our favorite collection this season came courtesy of Leo & Lin. Celebrating the designer's love of history, the romantic "Imperial" collection was a nod at both ancient Rome and the Victorian era, which saw sweeping, bulb-sleeved and high-necked floral dresses and suiting walking alongside flowing, draped Roman-inspired frocks. A modern flair was also sprinkled in, seen in the form of vinyl trench coats and fishnet fabrics.

Ten Pieces

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

One of the most buzzed about shows this season was Ten Pieces, the contemporary sportswear collection born from the collaboration between founders Maurice Terzini and Lucy Hinckfuss and designer Allan Marshall. For Resort 2020, Terzini was inspired by his time as a teen in Italy in the late '70s and the disco freak era. A bit punky, a bit hippie, and set in the drained pool of Sydney's iconic Icebergs Club with Bondi Beach as its backdrop, the collection's sporty streetwear pieces—unisex, and meant to be mixed, matched, and layered to its wearer's delight—felt more apt for the beach than a bustling city.

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Photo by Ari Perilstein/Getty Images for ASCAP

"It makes my ears fucking steam out of my head"

Billie Eilish isn't taking Alabama's abortion ban lightly. Speaking to Variety, the singer said that she has "no words for the bitches in the fucking White House." She continued: "Honestly, I can't even look at my phone," because the news is always so distressing.

Eilish doesn't call out any legislators specifically, but she doesn't have to in order to get her point across, namely, that it's outrageous that people don't get to have control over their own bodies. "It's so unbelievable," Eilish said. "It makes me, like, red. It makes my ears fucking steam out of my head. Women should say, should do, and feel, and be exactly what they want."

"There should be nobody else telling them how to live their life, how to do shit…" she continued. "It just makes me so mad that if I start talking about it, I won't stop." Eilish did conclude though with this simple, powerful statement: "Men should not make women's choices—that's all I have to say."

If you want to help the people who will be affected by the restrictive abortion bans that the "bitches in the fucking White House" are doing nothing about, these organizations could use your help.

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MORE in VIDEO

We talk to the pop star about her past, present, and future—and why she spoke out against R. Kelly

JoJo has been through it. Any casual music listener who lived through the 2000s knows what I'm talking about. The singer shot to instant stardom in 2004 with iconic hit "Leave (Get Out)" and released two albums, a self-titled debut and The High Road, which ended up being a fitting description of the journey she was forced to take.

Soon after, Blackground Records refrained from releasing JoJo's third album, resulting in a near decade-long period when she could only put out infrequent singles and mixtapes. She filed a lawsuit against the label in 2013, claiming that her contract was no longer valid under New York law, and when she was freed, her albums were taken off iTunes and streaming services, denying JoJo and her collaborators future earnings and disabling fans from accessing their beloved music. She was finally able to release her third album, Mad Love, in 2016, but there was still a huge part of her career that virtually disappeared—until she took matters into her own hands.

Late last year—on her 28th birthday, no less—JoJo surprised us by revealing that she re-recorded her first two albums and released them online for fans to enjoy once again. It was both the end of a chapter that needed to be closed long ago, and one of the most powerful moves by an artist in the music industry, especially a woman like JoJo who has dealt with a level of power struggles and politics we could only imagine. Below, she opens up about the process of this remarkable venture, her newfound freedom, and her next step.

How did you decide that re-recording these two albums was the right move?
My options were pretty limited. Since I had gotten out of that contract with Blackground, I just realized that I didn't want to reopen anything by trying to have any interaction with them. So I saw what my legal options were and that was to completely recreate these albums and basically cover myself.

How long did that process take? Take me through the process of basically putting everything back together.
My managers and I had been talking about it because we saw it in my comments on Twitter and Instagram a lot, and I just hate feeling helpless. When I saw that there was this demand from my fans of wanting to listen to the first two albums, we called my lawyer and saw what could be done legally from that perspective, and then we just started to brainstorm as to how we could recreate the tracks. I came to the conclusion that what my fans wanted was the nostalgia of the first two albums, of how they found it in 2004 and 2006, so we tried to keep it pretty true to that. The process took, I would say, nine months, from the first phone call to calling my musical directors and have them start the recreation of the tracks, sending them the YouTube link so they could refer back to the original songs, because that's what we had. I didn't have a physical copy of the first two albums.

Were there any songs that you were especially emotional about or ones you connected with when you revisited them?
I definitely got emotional re-cutting a lot of them, particularly "Keep On Keeping On," which I wrote when I was 12. That was one of the first songs that I ever recorded that I had written completely by myself. Just to go back and take in the lyrics that I had written then, it's just still a message that I need to hear. It was just emotional being like, Damn, my little 12-year-old self was an old soul. It was emotional redoing all of them for different reasons because I remembered those sessions so vividly. Especially with remaking "Leave (Get Out)," "Too Little, Too Late," and "Baby It's You," I was definitely freaking myself out with trying to stay true to them but also realizing that I'm a grown person now. I was intimidated by having to hit some of the notes that I hit when I was 12 and 14, like on "Too Little, Too Late," because I'm a different singer, your voice changes as you grow. That made me a little bit anxious [but] I just did it.

You recently spoke out about R. Kelly on Twitter and said you heard stories when you were younger and that people you worked with were also working with him. How did hearing this affect you at such a young age?
To be honest, the way that it was being spoken about in the studio normalized it. I'm looking back on it and realizing how perverse the stories that I was hearing were, about how he'd always have young girls around, how he'd be waiting outside of high schools or he'd be hanging out at the McDonald's. I didn't realize since I was so, so young how very much fucked up that is. He really was just in plain sight being a predator. I was such a huge fan of his. I mean his music is incredible, but at this point, there's just no fucking way to separate him from his crime, and it's just wild. It's just wild that he got away with it for so long, but I think we're in a new era of accountability and transparency and I just think it's definitely about time. But in my comment section, it was like, "Okay, so if you've heard these stories, then why didn't you come forward or say something?" I was a kid when I heard these stories, and I certainly didn't know what to do. I didn't even know how to follow that thought all the way through.

I wanted to talk about the new album you're currently working on. Is there a the direction you're going for?
I want to go back to what comes naturally to me which is R&B, but I think I could care less about genres. I just want to make dope music and release it, whether it's all in one album, one song at a time, however that may be. I'm being super choosy and making a bunch of songs and then narrowing it down from there. I've never been more excited about the music that I'm making. It feels really great, and I think a part of that has to do with closing that chapter of the first two albums, with anything that I did from that time of my career. Now I can move forward and just really be challenged and keep growing and breaking myself down and putting myself back together with the help of my collaborators. It's interesting.

Is your attitude about freedom influenced by the music climate and streaming today? The music world has changed so much since when you debuted.
I guess, but I think, for me, freedom is more of the mental and emotional state. I do think that artists have so many more choices now, whether to be independent, or to do a joint venture like I've done with Warner Bros, or sign to a major but on their terms. I think that there is a lot more flexibility and freedom for us, much of which we've demanded and some that the industry has just had to adapt to. But even when I got off of my former label and knew that I was able to move forward and release music, for many different reasons, I still didn't feel that freedom. I think I was in such a fighter mode that I still felt like I needed to fight things, whether it was myself or... mostly myself.

It's being really hateful toward myself and dealing with a lot of that. For me, this freedom that I'm feeling is just stepping into a new perspective of not recognizing things as obstacles but knocking on them as opportunities, and I think for those who are fortunate enough to be able to get some type of control over their mind, I'm trying to try to do that and to feel as free as possible. I'm excited.

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Photo courtesy of HBO.

We made it

It's finally over. We had a great run—even if the eighth season felt more like a PowerPoint presentation of the show than an actual narrative. But perhaps the most frustrating thing about the show was that it left plenty of plot threads dangling. Still, some of the conclusions that the show left us with were shocking in their own right. Let's revisit.

Spoilers ahead...

Cersei actually being dead

I didn't want to believe it, but it's true. Cersei Lannister, the ruthless Queen that everyone sought to overthrow, is dead. Last week, she and her brother-lover Jaime held each other tight in the bowels of the Red Keep as rocks and bricks fell on top of them. I thought that Jaime would die, once again protecting Cersei, and that she would survive the collapse. This would have provided an opportunity for her to be personally killed by list-obsessed Arya Stark or a power hungry Daenerys Targaryen. But no, Cersei did not survive and I was shocked to see her dead face when it was uncovered by Tyrion.

Jon killing Daenerys

Cersei wasn't the only person whose death came under unexpected circumstances. Daenerys' long, epic journey came to an end at the hands of Jon (also known as Aegon Targaryen, and her nephew-lover). Despite following Daenerys all season, Jon was convinced that she had to go after a little pep talk from Tyrion. And so, what else would a Stark do, other than carrying out a death sentence himself? Jon did it with a blade through Dany's heart. At least it wasn't in her back.

Drogon killing the Iron Throne

If there is one character my heart absolutely breaks for, it's Drogon. Daenerys' death left the dragon motherless and brotherless. He took his grief out on the thing that drove her to the very end, the Iron Throne itself. Drogon melted it into boiling liquid metal before flying away with his mother's body.

Bran becoming King

Since the beginning of the show, viewers have made wagers on who would eventually take the Iron Throne for themselves. Through most of the series, Bran, who hasn't been able to walk since the first episode, was an extremely unlikely candidate. But alas, he was the King when the show ended, and he made a comment that seemed to suggest that he'd known this was his destiny. In other words, he let everyone battle it out while he sat and minded his business, knowing it was all for him to come out on top. A shady queen feels like a more fitting title.

Arya heading "West"

I get it, Arya has already been a free spirit and non-conformist. I also understand that she sent most of Game of Thrones motivated by revenge and with no more to be served, there was little left for her in Westeros. But to send her off exploring the world also felt... odd. Arya said goodbye to her siblings, setting her intentions on sailing to see what's "west of Westeros," so that she can find out what's there. It felt way too soon to assume that she wouldn't still be needed in her homeland, but Arya never was one to stick close to home.

Jon and Ghost reuniting

At the end of the fourth episode fans were furious when Jon Snow prepared to head South with Daenerys, bidding fond farewells to friends and fellow soldiers, but not bothering to pet his direwolf. The show runners said the reason for the impersonal sendoff was that interactions with the direwolves cost too much money to pull off and there wasn't enough budget. So we were all surprised to see Jon and Ghost reunite in the final episode when Jon was once against sent to Castle Black. It was a silver lining in an otherwise dreary episode.

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