If you don’t know JoJo Siwa, if you haven’t seen any of her videos — now with 3.6 billion views on YouTube — or read about her recent coming out as LGBTQ, ask any preteen or tween. They know her story.
They’ve probably secured their ponytails with a great big, sparkling, rainbow-striped bow, too. The superstar with Elton John‘s style, Miley Cyrus‘ voice, and SpongeBob’s outlook describes herself in this week’s cover story of PEOPLE as “an entertainer” and “the happiest human alive.”
Siwa not only sells out international arenas, but is a burgeoning mogul, inking deals that have ensured her face grins from a staggering amount of merch at Target, Walmart, and JCPenney from dolls, clothes and candy to watches, shoes and bean bag chairs. She embraces it all — she has two convertible Mercedes parked outside her house emblazoned with her face.
“I work a lot,” Siwa says.
After earning her GED two years ago, her work life consists of rehearsing, filming — right now, her new summer movie The J Team — editing videos, TikTok-ing and signing off on products bearing her name and image.
“But I do normal things!” Siwa insists.
She likes Kraft macaroni and cheese. She FaceTimes with her girlfriend, Kylie Prew, 18, constantly. And she loves Ariana Grande and Grey’s Anatomy. “I go to the bathroom on my toilet with my face on it,” she says before unleashing an echoing cackle. “That’s normal. Right?”
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But the world’s happiest human does have bad days. “My struggles deal with being overworked and not getting any sleep,” Siwa says. “Do I ever have breakdowns? Yes, of course I do. I’m a teenager. There are a lot of times where I just will throw my phone down and lay on my bed and look at the ceiling and cry for a second.”
Born just before the advent of Facebook, JoJo doesn’t know a world without emojis. She sees her phone as more solution than problem: “My phone keeps me connected to the world!”
It’s also became a gateway to community and support. In January, Siwa came out as LGBTQ, over a series of posts on TikTok and Instagram. When she lipsynched Lady Gaga‘s “Born This Way” following a day with TikTok collective Pride House LA, fans wondered if she was revealing something about her sexuality. And with a very direct t-shirt — BEST GAY COUSIN EVER — she confirmed it.
Siwa also declared her love for girlfriend Kylie Prew, 18. “She never cares what the internet said about us,” she says. “It’s nice to have somebody in my life like that.”
Siwa says the announcement was the last thing she hadn’t shared with the world. And was inspired by her love for Prew, which began as friendship and turned romantic in late 2020. At first, Jojo didn’t want to put a “label” on her sexuality.
“I still don’t know what I am. It’s like, I want to figure it out. And I have this joke. Her name is Kylie. And so I say that I’m Ky-sexual,” she says. “But like, I don’t know, bisexual, pansexual, queer, lesbian, gay, straight. I always just say gay because it just kind of covers it or queer because I think the keyword is cool.”
“I like queer,” she adds. “Technically I would say that I am pansexual because that’s how I have always been my whole life is just like, my human is my human.”
Siwa and Prew met on a cruise ship. “I told her my whole spiel that I tell everyone when they ask me my life story,” Siwa remembers. “She goes, ‘I could have Googled that. I want to know your life story. You just told me about your career. I want to know about you.’ And I was like, No one’s ever asked me that before.”
“I never wanted [my coming out] to be a big deal,” she adds. But it was: Never before has someone with such a young fan base identified publicly as LGBTQ.
“I’ve known since I was little,” Siwa says. (“I did too,” her mom Jessalynn adds. “A mother knows.”) They both also knew it was a risk to tell the world. “I have a lot that could have gone away because of my love life,” Siwa says.
Ever connected to her fans, she Googled herself. Then she read the thousands of comments. “I never should have done that. I was thinking that all the comments were going to be nice and supportive, and they weren’t,” she says. “A lot of them were, ‘I’m never buying your merch again. My daughter’s never watching you again.’ I couldn’t sleep for three days.”
For more from JoJo Siwa, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
But Siwa found clarity: “My thing is, I don’t want people to watch my videos or buy my merchandise if they aren’t going to support not only me, but the LGBTQ community.”
And new fans Elton John, Meghan Trainor, Kerry Washington and more applauded her openness. “I’ve never gotten this much support from the world,” she says. “I think this is the first time that I’ve felt so personally happy.”
“Performing has always made me super happy,” she adds. “But for the first time, personally, I am like, whoa, happiness. I am so proud to be me.”
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