Who Is Newly Out Teen Sensation JoJo Siwa? An Explainer For Those Of Us With No Idea

On Saturday, 17-year-old social media sensation JoJo Siwa confirmed that yes, indeed, her “Born This Way” lip sync and new Gay Cousin t-shirt was intended to convey her membership in the LGBTQ+ community. She has yet to select a specific label but it does seem certain that the announcement represented her sexual orientation rather than her gender, as she has since clarified, “I always believed that my person was just going to be my person. And if that person happened to be a boy, great, and if that person happened to be a girl, great!” Her announcement has been greeted with incredible fanfare from stars including Todrick Hall, Lil Nas X, Ellen DeGeneres, Paris Hilton, Snooki from “Jersey Shore,” the band Smash Mouth, Trixie Mattel and Jack Remmington. My personal fave Rosie O’Donnell gave JoJo a little congrats on TikTok, telling her: “So brave, so bold. So proud of you, so moved by you. You’re so super-duper talented, kiddo. Good for you.” In true elder dyke fashion, Rosie O’Donnell’s affirmation was the moment in which I personally decided it was time for me to investigate all of the hullabaloo around this particular coming out incident.

If you, like me, were perhaps born quite some time ago and do not have any children to keep you abreast of What’s Happening With The Kids These Days, your initial reaction to this event may have been, “who is JoJo Siwa?” Great news: I have answered this question for myself and I am here to share my knowledge with you!

For JoJo Siwa, Gay Definitely Means “Happy”

JoJo still isn’t sure if she identifies as a lesbian or gay or bisexual or queer, telling fans on Instagram live, “I have thought about this. And the reason why I’m not ready to say this answer is because I don’t really know this answer.” However, one thing she wants to be very clear about is that she is happy. She’s very happy! She is glowing and her friends have never seen her so happy and the past 48 hours since coming out were some of the happiest in her life! Another thing about JoJo Siwa is that she is almost always very happy, so this extra happiness is worth noting. It’s honestly adorable and guess what, I’m happy for her. Her Mom has apparently known JoJo was queer for the last two years and her Dad’s response was “hey man, love is universal.” Thanks Dad!!

JoJo Siwa is a Child Star Who Got Her Start on “Dance Moms”

Screenshot of JoJo Siwa on Dance Moms

JoJo Siwa was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 2003, the same year I graduated college, to a dance teacher mother and a chiropractor father. She has wanted to be a performer since she was able to walk, which I know is a figure of speech but I’m being serious. In 2012, she applied to appear on Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition, a reality show produced by Abby Lee Miller, the lady from Dance Moms. JoJo joined the show in 2013, becoming its youngest competitor. Consequently, she and her mother were invited to join Dance Moms proper and therefore also Abby Miller’s ALDC dance competition team, where her strong personality made an instant impression as someone fans found “fun to hate, but also fun to root for.” She signed an overall multi-platform talent deal with Nickelodeon in 2017, which includes consumer products, original programming, social media, live events and music.

JoJo Siwa Is America’s Most Famous Children’s Entertainer With An Enormous Following on Social Media

JoJo at the Kids Choice Awards in a baseball jersey

In 2019, Time crowned her “America’s most famous children’s entertainer” “with more spunk than Shirley Temple and and the merchandising power of the Olsen Twins.” Siwa has transformed her following on Dance Moms into an expansive brand identity. Her TikTok account is the 19th most popular Tiktok account in the entire world. She has 11 million followers on Instagram and 12 million YouTube subscribers. The majority of her fanbase are kids and pre-teen girls. “There has never really been someone who has done what I’ve done,” she told Time Magazine. “I’m live-action. I’m the first real-life license—the first human, who is not playing a character, to be licensed as a brand.”

JoJo Siwa Is a Singer and Dancer and Kind of an Actress?

JoJo in a music video wearing a baseball uniform in front of a car

In May 2016, Siwa released two singles: “Boomerang,” which is about online bullying, and “I Can Make U Dance,” which is about how she can make you dance. The music video for Boomerang has over 933 million views on YouTube, which is basically 3x the population of the entire U.S. She embarked upon her first major concert tour, the D.R.E.A.M Tour, in 2019. Her 2020 tour was rescheduled for 2021 because of the pandemic. She has released three studio albums (D.R.E.A.M. The Music, Celebrate and JoJo’s Rockin’ Christmas) and eight singles, most recently “Nonstop” in 2020, most queerly “High Top Shoes” in 2018.

In July it was announced that JoJo Siwa will star in the film adaptation of Megan Shull’s novel “Bounce,” produced by Will Smith. Prior to this her only acting credit was the animated film “The Angry Birds Movie 2.”

JoJo Siwa’s Bows Are a Whole Thing

JoJo Siwa rainbow unicorn bow

In 2016, The Place You Got Your Ear Pierced At The Mall, Claire’s, introduced a line of JoJo branded bows for 6-to-12 year old girls, which she explained are a “symbol of power, confidence” and “believing-ness.” As of 2019 she had sold over 35 million hair bows, some of which were so popular that they caused a low-key scandal at elementary schools in the U.K.

In Fact, JoJo Siwa Has a Lot of Merchandise

Collage of JoJo merchandise

You name it, JoJo Siwa sells it with a rainbow or a unicorn on it! Jojo has multiple lines of dolls, apparel, accessories, home decor, games, toys, electronics — truly all the things. Options for JoJo Siwa fans include: Rainbow Shimmer Hair Bow With White Unicorn Horn, Nickelodeon JoJo Siwa Neon Rainbow Sequin High Top Sneakers for Little Girls, JoJo Siwa Exclusive Cute and Crazy Cold-Shoulder Tee and Leggings 2 Piece Outfit Set, JoJo Nickelodeon Super Satisfying Slime Kit, JoJo Siwa Bust a Bow Dance Game and the JoJo Siwa Fashion Vlogger 10-Inch Fashion Doll and JoJo’s Book, “JoJo’s Guide To The Sweet Life.” JoJo is very involved in the production of her merchandise as well as with her empire in general.

Jojo Siwa Lives in a Rainbow Candy Palace With a Dresser Made Out of Gumballs

jojo giving a tour of her candy-themed home

JoJo Siwa takes camp to a whole new level. She lives in a giant house that is basically a castle. She has over 4,000 pounds of candy IN HER ROOM, which is more candy than my mother ever allowed to cross the threshold of our humble Michigan home in the ’80s. Prior to adopting a duvet cover picturing her entire face, topped off with candy-shaped pillows, JoJo’s bed was UNICORN THEMED with her very own Unicorn Slide. Upon turning 17 in 2020, she threw herself a Jojo Siwa themed birthday party and honestly, we respect a confident queen.

JoJo Siwa Coming Out as Gay or Whatever Is a Very Big Deal

Siwa’s reach and impact cannot be underestimated, and arguably this is the most significant coming out of a star with a fanbase as young as JoJo’s. It also speaks volumes that a performer with worldwide appeal feels comfortable coming out at the peak of her career.

In conclusion, we are very happy for JoJo and also for the world and also for rainbows, unicorns and candy. All good things!

Riese is the 39-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2859 articles for us.

23 Comments

  1. ok so I had casually observed a slight uptick in unicorn and rainbow motifs on little girl’s stuff, and I was like ‘is this the gay agenda?’ maybe it was jojo siwa!

    I also feel like this is the start to an NK Jemison short story . . .

  2. Thank you for this explainer, Riese!

    My 3-year-old daughter picked out JoJo face masks at Target because she loved the rainbows and unicorns (not because she was familiar with JoJo). Happy to unintentionally support a young queer in her journey!

  3. Riese, I also graduated university in 2003, so I thank you for this fine bit of reporting. The only other time I’d heard of JoJo was when Trixie Mattel dressed up as her for a youtube video.

    I can honestly say that mid-80s me would have been into this entire aesthetic. Fits in perfectly with my Rainbow Brite/My Little Pony/Care Bear childhood. Also, candy.

  4. This is extremely helpful Riese. I rely on my niblings to keep me up to date on pop culture but none of them seem to be into JoJo. Just MU and K-pop. (ah, now I want a k-pop star to come out so I can ask my nephew about it!)

    My baby goth 14 y.o. niece wouldn’t wear a bow on her head even if it were black and purple.

    • Unfortunately, I expect it is going to be awhile before any female k-pop stars come out. South Korea remains a fairly conservative society. Having said that, some of the most popular girl groups are getting away with a lot more obvious gay subtext these days. My queer daughter brought this 2020 hit song to my attention. I can’t imagine this song and music video getting by the Korean censors just a few years ago, let alone be in the running for song of the year.

      The MV starts with a punkish looking girl getting dragged away by two guys in uniforms, while singing about how no amount of pain is going to keep her from her lover’s embrace. The verses that follow are full of references to not being able to resist another woman. And the chorus could not be more explicit:

      Oh my God (Oh, God)
      She took me to the sky (Sky, sky, sky)
      Oh my God (Oh, God)
      She showed be all the stars (stars, stars, stars)

      No wonder it has even become something of a gay anthem in Korea. It may not seem like much by Western standards these days, but for Korea this is big.

  5. i pretty much read this piece because Riese wrote it. otherwise people this young and energetic leave me feeling taxed. if she’s happy, then cool.

    but also, “…more spunk than Shirley Temple…” i see now how it is that one reaches an age where shaking a fist and yelling at clouds starts to seem reasonable.

  6. I am a Millennial/Gen Z cusp but with the popcultural knowledge of a 70-year-old. So thank you for this. I am now up to date with the gays of nowadays. *goes back to watching Mädchen in Uniform*

    • Love how AS knows their audience so well- we’re too old to know who JoJo is prior to reading this article but are excited for her and the cultural significance of her coming out, so we’d want to read this very article haha That said, seeing as she does mention the possibility of dating the two more popular genders and me being bi, I do wonder if calling her “gay or whatever” reflects some light and unintentional bi-erasure. I know you absolutely mean well Riese. Just speaking up about how this wording impacted me personally

  7. I am also an old and had never heard of her.. but wow, I actually really love how her style is fun/cutesy but not at all sexualized? I’m just thinking back to equivalently famous underage stars of the past, like the way Britney Spears was presented as a 16 year old… I hope as a culture we might be moving away from sexualizing literal kids in media.

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