TIME

A BRAND IS BORN

You can buy JoJo Siwa’s face at any store, but the pop star’s persona is not for sale

UPSTAIRS AT THE BEACON THEATRE IN New York City, little girls were bouncing in like grounders, but JoJo Siwa knew how to field them. She caught their smartphone cameras in her right hand, scooped in their tiny shoulders with her left. The girls cracked smiles. They squinted. They screamed. Siwa bared her own teeth, looked into the front-facing lens and took a photo. “Awesome!” she said, and moved on to the next. At this particular meet and greet, arranged for the children of Viacom executives, she’d average about eight selfies per minute.

Siwa, 16, has spaghetti blond hair and a voice like a wooden roller-coaster track—fun but rough, with unexpected undulations. She began her rise to fame around 2015 as a hammy preteen with a machinating mom on the Lifetime reality-TV series Dance Moms. Since then, a talent deal with Nickelodeon has crowned her America’s most famous children’s entertainer—a singular star with more spunk than Shirley Temple and the merchandizing power of both Olsen twins. Arguably, Siwa’s main career is as a singer, though what sets her apart from the earlier child stars is the relative equanimity of her pursuits and the way they’ve been stitched together to perpetuate one another, using her online presence as a thread. On YouTube, Siwa has 10 million subscribers, mostly grade-school kids and preteen girls who listen to her music, consume her lifestyle content and beg for the hundreds—thousands?—of products featured throughout both. When JoJo Siwa passes through your town—and she might on her JoJo Siwa D.R.E.A.M. the Tour—sales of her signature hair-bow line at Claire’s could spike up to 60%. In an age when more than one-third of kids rank social-media stars as role models, according to market-research firm Mintel, she’s managed to be herself in a way that’s both earnest and lucrative.

The line at that day’s meet and greet showed

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