The Fall of A Nickelodeon Princess: Jojo Siwa and “Karma”

Jojo Siwa before and after./Left photo by Amy Sussman for AP, right photo by Jeff Kravitz for FilmMagic


By Jaida Dent and Rami Mansi


   From selling bows to attempts at becoming pop music’s favorite new innovator, Joelle Siwa, known professionally as “Jojo” Siwa, began as a reality television member and then a Nickelodeon starlet. Her indistinguishable bows, complete with the signature pull-back ponytail, became a symbol of her unstoppable rise in the world of childhood entertainment.

   Siwa, who is now 20, grew tired of the smiley life of a child star, and she decided to develop a rebrand that takes inspiration from Miley Cyrus’s 2013 “Bangerz” era—an era that swiftly stripped away all connection to Cryus’s past life as a Disney star. 

  At the iHeartRadio music awards, Siwa debuted her rebranding with a KISS-inspired makeup look, a fake mohawk, and a black glittery ensemble.

   With her dance-pop and EDM-inspired debut single “Karma,” Siwa shows us how genuine she is about her intentions with music. The single, which details a protagonist who cheats on their girlfriend who now suffers from guilt and karma after seeing their ex with a new lover, has been universally acclaimed as a failure to stride within the music scene. 

   Siwa made claims regarding her future in music, claiming that she is now “the CEO of gay pop,” according to Billboard. The term “gay pop” is not necessarily defined by sonic themes, more so by which songs are generally accepted by the queer community. 

   To announce herself as the “CEO” of this beloved genre, many have taken up arms against Siwa due to her insensitivity and ignorance on the subject. When Siwa dictates herself as “the CEO of gay pop,” she puts queer people into another box with labels nobody asked for. Many social media users corrected Siwa’s statement by referencing singers who genuinely deserve their spots in “gay pop,” such as Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera, among many others. 

   Not only do her claims of ushering in a “new” genre cast a shadow of ingenuity upon her, but her “new” song isn’t so new after all.

   Recently, users on TikTok discovered a version of Karma that is lyrically identical to Siwa’s version, but it was performed by a singer named Brit Smith in 2012. The song would have been Smith’s debut, but her label went with a different one. To make Siwa’s new era more ironic rather than iconic, Karma was initially written for Miley Cyrus, who at that point was also creating a new chapter in her career. 

   Users began to ridicule Siwa for “stealing” the song and marketing it as if she wrote it herself. In reality, Siwa never stole the song, and it was pitched to her by her label, Columbia Records. In an episode of the “Call Her Daddy” podcast, she stated that she was pitched the song when she was 18 years old, but felt she couldn’t sing it as she had just stepped away from Nickelodeon and wasn’t a “bad girl” yet as the song says. 

   Yet two years later, the song still doesn’t fit Siwa’s persona. Those who recognize Siwa from her time on Nickelodeon, and even previously on Dance Moms, know her for her colorful personality that allowed her to gain an audience of young girls who idolized her. It is hard to grasp this identity she is creating before us as it feels forced upon viewers rather than a natural growth we are witnessing. 

   It is not unusual for an artist to make dramatic shifts in their persona throughout their career; however, some truth and reality remain in these shifts. Siwa is no longer marketing to “Jojo Siwa Fans” who were predominantly children, but now to a queer audience who might not be familiar with her previous work.

   The song Karma is not conceptually revolutionary nor is it inherently “gay pop,” so this looming unoriginality doesn’t support Siwa in this new transition. Overall, there is a disconnect between the song and the visuals that Siwa is presenting to us. Viewers don’t understand how this somewhat heavy metal look will play out in this new era for Siwa. 

   Siwa has the potential to be a star in this realm of music accepted by queer listeners; however, until we see some form of cohesion in what we are given, this first step in Siwa’s new chapter is starting as a failure.

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