Earlier episodes of the show reveal Madison and Maddox had previously dated, but had broken up at a past camp prom. Coming on screen as a queer character allowed JoJo to recognize a bit of herself in the role, she says, and to be part of a new wave of LGBTQ representation. She remembers watching Disney Channel show Good Luck Charlie — it was the first family TV show she’d seen with a gay couple, who show up briefly in a 2014 episode.
While being part of the increasing queer representation on screen can come with pressure to look and act a certain way, JoJo says she takes her responsibility seriously, but doesn’t feel the need to conform.
“Growing up, I was always just JoJo and I never played a character. I was always just who I was,” she says. “So, I think I lost that, ‘Oh, I have to look a certain way or act a certain way,’ because I was never acting. I do feel there’s a sort of [pressure] like, whoa, you can’t mess up. But then at the same time I’m like, ‘how would I mess up? What could I do that I wouldn’t mess up?’ I know my morals and I know my values and I know what I would and wouldn’t do.”
That sense of self is clear on JoJo’s TikTok, where she’ll occasionally address negative comments people make about her using humor. JoJo says she uses the block button for things that really bother her, but when people make fun of things she’s not hurt by, she likes to beat them at their own game.
“I think hate comes out of a place of … it’s fun for the hater to hate. But if you make it so it’s not fun for them, then they’re not going enjoy doing it anymore,” she says. JoJo does that by leaning into what haters say — by making her hair bows bigger or her sparkles sparklier. And she publicizes it on social media so her fans can learn how to cope with bullying.
“A lot of people get bullied for the same things that I will. And even if they don’t, they can relate to it. I think that is something that I have the power to help people [with],” JoJo says. “You’re never going to stop the bullies as much as you want to. You’re never going to stop the bullies, but what we can do is control how we feel about them, how we think about them, how we respond to them.”
As she readies for the world to see her HSMTMTS role, JoJo says she hopes fans want more of her character.
“I think Maddox and Madison could have a really cool story. And I think that it has a lot of things that a lot of kids will be able to relate to between the two of them,” she says. “I hope they’re invested in it and I hope they want more, and I hope they care about those two characters individually, but more so together.”