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Put a bow on it

An ode to JoJo Siwa as she bops into town this week

Kristin Finan
kfinan@statesman.com
JoJo Siwa will perform Sept. 18 at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park. [Contributed by JEROD HARRIS/GETTY IMAGES FOR NICKELODEON]

I was brainwashed by bows. Spellbound by sparkles. Hypnotized by high-top shoes.

Last December, during what had otherwise felt like a futile quest to cultivate memories, not stuff, while holiday shopping for my family, I received an alert that a large batch of JoJo Siwa concert tickets was about to go on sale. I scanned the cities on the tour and saw that a summer show in New York — where my sister lives — was on the list.

Visions of a trip to the Big Apple, complete with Gray's Papaya hot dogs, the FAO Schwarz "Big" piano and, yes, creepy Times Square Elmos and Elsas courting children for photos, flooded my head. It was perfect: My two young girls and I would take a mother-daughter trip to New York to see JoJo Siwa.

That trip, and concert, would end up being a highlight of our year and a testament to the staying power of 16-year-old JoJo, who over the past three years has taken the preteen scene by storm.  

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First things first, though. I'm sure some of you are wondering: Who the HECK is JoJo Siwa? If you don't spend much time with the 12-and-under set, she may be the most famous person you've never heard of. Joelle Joanie "JoJo" Siwa is an entertainer who got her start on the TV show "Dance Moms" and gained fame as a singer with hits such as "Boomerang" and "Kid in a Candy Store." She has 8.7 million followers on Instagram and is selling out venues on her first world tour. She's served as a babysitter for Kanye West and Kim Kardashian's daughter and gained the attention of Justin Bieber, who criticized her new car on social media. (He later apologized.) She's famous, y'all.

She's also a marketing maven, selling everything from JoJo branded slime and shoes to bath bombs, and, most famously, her giant JoJo bows, of which, according to a recent Time article, she's sold 35 million. Search "JoJo Siwa" on Amazon and more than 3,000 products come up, all of them with her signature aesthetic, which I'd call "happy-glitter-rainbow-unicorn."

JoJo first sank her glitter-polished claws into my family three years ago, when my oldest daughter, KoKo, now 10, discovered her first hit, "Boomerang," which had just come out. Overnight, our world became a lollipop swirl of rainbow-hued bows and sugar-sweet pop music that caught us off guard. Who was this JoJo, my husband and I wondered, and what was she doing in our house?

I breathed a sigh of relief as KoKo started coming out of her JoJo phase. And then, of course, JoJo boomeranged back as my youngest, Mirielle, then 6, went full Siwanator. (That's what JoJo superfans call themselves.)

As much as I've tried to fight it, I'll admit I've become indoctrinated, too. Having listened to her entire catalog, I've found myself drawn to lyrics of her songs, which are unfailingly positive and empowering for little girls. And I've watched her grow up on social media, unwilling to stoop down to the level of the trolls who criticize everything from her voice to her hairline to her propensity to put her face on all of her merchandise. She's never said anything negative, but once or twice she's turned off comments. She's human, too.

Earlier this year, JoJo released a bubble-gum anthem called "1U" with lyrics that include:

"Somebody telling you

You gotta change your look

But you're no cookie-cutter, carbon copy

The way you are is real

So go with how you feel

You gotta do whatever makes you happy."

Around the same time, Mirielle's other idol, a 16-year-old Disney Channel actor and singer named Asher Angel, released a new hit called "One Thought Away." The lyrics to that song include:

"We take a trip, hit the beach for a couple weeks, lady in the streets but a freak in the sheets."

Slap a bow on my head and call me a Siwanator — I'll take JoJo and her positive, infectious pop any day. (Also, I'm old. Get off my lawn.)

The fact is, somewhere along the way, JoJo became the soundtrack to this happy, messy chapter of our lives, when Popsicles, bear hugs and Band-Aids can solve the world's problems and glitter and rainbows are truth.

So many of our family's magical moments include JoJo.

Like KoKo and her friends in the car, belting out "Don't let the haters get their way!" at the top of their lungs, not a care in the world.

And Mirielle, dressed up like JoJo for Halloween, beaming under her bow for the camera.

Or both of them, walking down the aisle as flower girls at a family wedding, dressed like princesses and feeling like queens as their entrance music, JoJo's "Every Girl's a Super Girl," began to play.  

And, of course, the trip of a lifetime to New York, where I got tears in my eyes listening to 2,000 little girls screaming out the lyrics from JoJo's song “D.R.E.A.M.”: "We can do it if we see it, if you see it you can be it, you believe it you achieve it, you just D.R.E.A.M." Whether she was sliding around in custom Heelys or dancing with a giant version of BowBow, her dog, JoJo owned the stage, showcasing a knack for live performance that I had doubted she would have. She also wasn't afraid to let the audience see her sweat, as if she relished the chance to show her young fans and perhaps also her critics that, yes, she was putting in the work.

Sure, JoJo won't always be a sparkle-drenched teenage pop star, and my girls won't always think that trekking across the country to see a concert with their mom is the coolest thing ever. Like the Facebook memories that remind me that it's been years, not days, since they were chubby babies valiantly taking their first steps, these moments, too, will pass quicker than a blink.

But even though this JoJo soundtrack is fleeting, I'm holding onto it as long as I can. And even after it fades, I hope her messages will remain.

That every girl really is a super girl.

That if you dream it, you really can do it.

And that if all else fails, you can always put a bow on it.

Nickelodeon’s JoJo Siwa D.R.E.A.M. the Tour

When: 7 p.m. Sept. 18

Where: H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, 2100 Avenue of the Stars

Cost: $39.50 to $69.50

Information: hebcenter.com/events