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‘Karma’ Single Review: Lacking the Substance to Be Good

2 Stars

JoJo Siwa released "Karma" on April 5.
JoJo Siwa released "Karma" on April 5. By Courtesy of JoJo Siwa / Columbia Records
By Julia J. Hynek, Crimson Staff Writer

Some may know the name JoJo Siwa from her line of hair bows sold at Walmart and Target. Others might remember her from her origins on the hit reality TV show “Dance Moms.” However, if neither of these associations ring a bell, then perhaps a mention of her viral new single, “Karma,” does.

Both the audio and music video for “Karma” have made the rounds on social media platforms like TikTok since their release on April 5. The public response has been mixed, with many viewers poking fun at Siwa’s concept, lyrics, and choreography, along with the general media blitz surrounding the single. While many of these critiques are highly mean-spirited, their claims unfortunately carry a grain of truth: Siwa’s “Karma” is ultimately a lackluster attempt to transition her career toward “adult” music, lacking both the substance to be good and the self-awareness to be campy.

Lyrically, “Karma” is no worse than any other pop song. Siwa discusses regrets about past choices and relationships with lyrics like “I should've known better” and “it still kills me that you hooked up with her.” Overall, it covers fairly standard subject matter in the genre. Individual lines are not exceptional — neither particularly good nor particularly bad — and for the most part, the song relies on the repetition of “karma’s a bitch.”

The production is where the song goes more downhill. With its straightforward, punchy pop rhythm, the structure of “Karma” is rather uninspired. For its part, though, it is catchy: Both the pre-chorus and chorus are earworms that will stick in listeners’ heads. This catchiness is because of the artificial-sounding use of auto-tune on Siwa’s voice. Although Siwa’s natural vocals are nothing to write home about as seen in her viral video singing Olivia Rodrigo’s “Traitor”, “Karma” makes a passable voice worse by overprocessing it to the point of having an unnatural and robotic quality.

The single’s accompanying music video also misses the mark. Siwa’s artistic vision seems to draw significant inspiration from Lady Gaga’s signature glamorous and flamboyant aesthetic, complete with glittering “sea monster” attire, a prominent dance element, and a surreal island setting. The major issue, however, is precisely that Siwa’s iteration does not feel original or distinctively hers. It is one thing to reference artistic inspirations, but the video’s style feels more like a copycat seeking shock value rather than an earnest product of self-aware, campy artistry. However, one redeeming aspect lies in the quality of the choreography of the video. Though some on the internet have expressed a strong distaste towards the dancing, it actually fits the song’s intense feel, and Siwa’s strong dance background is apparent in her performance. Interestingly, the routine is choreographed by Richy Jackson, a longtime Lady Gaga collaborator.

The truth is that if “Karma” and its video had been released without all the fanfare, viewer reception would not have been nearly as negative. Siwa made significant efforts to publicize this single as the beginning of her transition from childhood entertainer to adult artist — she had been quoted in a Billboard interview saying that nobody else in her generation had made this extreme of a switch in image, as well as that she wants to start a new genre of music called “gay pop.” Naturally, this rhetoric set high expectations for “Karma,” making the mediocrity of the track and video that much more damning. In fact, the hypersexuality, displays of humping, and lyrics that claim she is a “bad girl” only serve to reinforce that Siwa is still “JoJo with a Bow Bow” at heart. Putting so much effort into proving that she is edgy and provocative turns into overcompensation, ultimately becoming counterproductive to her goal.

The move from child star to mature adult is an undeniably difficult task. From Britney Spears to Miley Cyrus, it seems that this awkward period is always marked with intense scrutiny, criticism, and bearing the brunt of jokes. Siwa has been no exception to this phenomenon. For her part, she seems to be taking it in stride, saying that “Karma” was supposed to shock viewers, not amaze them by its quality. Whether this is true or post-scrutiny backpedaling, the reality is that Siwa has never enjoyed this much mainstream popularity before. And if one agrees with the notion that all press is good press, then Siwa’s adult career seems to be off to a pretty good start.

—Staff writer Julia Hynek can be reached at julia.hynek@thecrimson.com.

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