When you’re growing up, it can be tough to know exactly who you are and where you stand. That’s particularly true for those who, like Jojo Engelbert, have done their growing up in public. The recurring star of the nationally syndicated programs “Ariel & Zoey & Eli Too” and “Steal The Show” has already been viewed by millions, established herself as a vocalist and impressive social media followings on Instagram and TikTok (@therealjojoengelbert on both), and she’s still only 15 years old. Attention like that can be highly destabilizing: it’ll thrill you and terrify you and amplify all of your adolescent challenges. It can make you sweet and sour — sometimes simultaneously.
The many faces and complicated emotions of Jojo Engelbert are the subject of “Sweet n Sour,” her explosive new single. Prior recordings by Engelbert foregrounded her knack for mainstream pop; this new one is no exception to that, but it leads with a punk rock edge that suggests that the young singer is growing into her personality and embracing her contradictions. Not to mention, it’s always handy when you have your big brother, Eli Engelbert (YETIBEAR), around to create a track. The drums are large, pounding, and lively, the overdriven bass is a relentless growl, the synthesizer is ghostly, and the delirious (and wholly intentional) electronic glitches in the production are an accurate reflection of the artist’s tempestuous mood. Best of all is Engelbert’s vocal performance: it’s pouty and alluring, incisive, uncompromising, and maybe a little threatening, too. “Don’t be afraid of me, I live dangerously, and I’ve got you on my side,” she cautions the listener. Take that as a warning, and a recommendation never to cross her.
And while she remains a fresh-faced teen, the clip for the song presents Jojo Engelbert as a bit of a badass, too. Superficially, it’s a simple video: it consists of nothing but shots of the star’s face, singing the “Sweet n Sour” against a black background. Yet in nearly every measure, the image changes to another of Engelbert with different cosmetics and a different hairstyle. These jumps aren’t seamless, and they’re not meant to be — they’re meant to disquiet you a little, and reinforce the point that the star is a mutable force. Further throwing off the viewer and make them uncomfortable is the fact that throughout the entire clip, Jojo doesn’t blink – not even once.The cuts don’t tend to come on the downbeat, either: they can happen at any point, just as Jojo Englebert’s moods are constantly prone to change. We don’t know which Jojo Englebert we’re going to get from moment to moment. Could it be the childlike one with hair in pigtails, or the grownup version with elaborate eye makeup, or the serious, mysterious one with sharp-pointed eyeliner and her brown tresses in a clip? Or one of the many others? We don’t know. And — and this is the really scary part — she doesn’t know, either.