I'm Clifford Stumme, and I use literary analysis and research to explain the deeper meanings of pop songs. Feel free to leave a comment or to email me at with questions or ideas!

What does "When Love Hurts" by JoJo mean?


SONG MEANING: Jojo's song "When Love Hurts" is a celebration of a couple's dedication to love even when things are difficult and neither member of the relationship feels like progress is being made. Keep reading to learn more! 

What's a "tringle"? It's what you call three singles released together. Pop artist JoJo (or Joanna Noelle Blagden Levesque--I know her as the older daughter from RV) released her tringle III (actually pronounced "tringle") on August 20th. "When Love Hurts" is the lead single from that EP, meant to draw listeners into the rest of the album. There's also a music video that includes amazing contemporary dance but may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Screenshot of JoJo from "When Love Hurts"
Screenshot of JoJo from "When Love Hurts"

If you want to hear it before you read more, I’ve added the song to my Spotify playlist “Clifford Stumme’s Pop Prerogative” below. You can follow it to hear more songs I analyze or am listening to.

"When Love Hurts" Lyrics Meaning

In the intro/chorus, JoJo sings her main argument: "When love hurts, baby / Yeah, that's how you know it's real." She's explaining that if you feel love for someone (I'm assuming strong, healthy love) and you also get into a fight, have a disagreement, or get hurt, it means that you are truly invested in and interested in that person. If you didn't love them, you wouldn't care about disagreements. You'd shrug them off and move on. She believes pain is a good thing to test for if someone wants to know if a relationship is serious.

Screenshot of JoJo from "When Love Hurts" 

Screenshot of JoJo from "When Love Hurts" 

"When Love Hurts" is not a complicated song, but it does touch on a very important concept: the idea that good things are sometimes painful. Remember! This doesn't mean that JoJo is saying that painful things can be good--she's not saying that if a relationship is painful, it is automatically a good one. She's saying that to have a good relationship, you need to be ready for some pain and difficulty--many good things require hard work and figuring things out (in this case, making the relationship work).

The first verse has JoJo describing the different kinds of pain that she experiences in her relationship. She and her boyfriend or husband "speak a different language"; communication, something couples often struggle with, is poor for them, so they experience "double-sided conversations" where each person isn't able to really feel like he or she is connecting with the other. 

Even the bedroom, a place where romantic love is supposed to be most noticeable, is a battlefield for them sometimes–she keeps “dodging bullets” there. But despite the hardships, “neither one will ever say we’ve had enough.” It’s important to note that the fights don’t sound like one person is abusing the other–JoJo later takes responsibility for some of the problems–so the fact that they keep finding each other after fighting each other means they should end stronger than ever.

Check out my weekly podcast, where I break down song meanings even further!

In the pre-chorus, JoJo sings that she can’t tell if the two are “ending / Until we break down . . .” They’re going to keep going as long as they can even if it seems like they’re “through” at some points.

In verse 2, JoJo sings, “Those signs went through me like a freight train.” While she may be mixing metaphors, what she’s saying is that bad signs for the relationship–some of the pain and difficulty–really hurt her. Her lover is “getting off testing [her] patience ’til it’s gone,” which could result in a fight.

Of course, she admits she’s not blameless: “But then again, I do the same thing / And neither one will ever say we’ve had enough.” Unlike most pop songs about difficult relationships, JoJo actually takes some responsibility for the pain here, and that’s what keeps this song from being a bash-fest on “bad boyfriends” and makes its content unique in the pop world.

WARNING against Abusive Relationships!

Of course, while “When Love Hurts” may be saying that relationships can be hard, DO NOT let this song be an excuse for your or someone to stay in an abusive relationship. Just because something you call “love” is painful and is difficult for you doesn’t mean it’s the real thing. There are good kinds of love and bad kinds of “love” that aren’t really love. They’re infatuations or dependencies. A good test to go along with JoJo’s song is this: If the other person is purposefully causing pain for you to make him or herself feel better, then it’s probably a bad relationship.

WARNING against Being Satisfied with Too Little!

And another thing: Don’t be satisfied with pain in a relationship. While JoJo is right in saying that relationships can hurt, that’s no reason to be satisfied with one that is painful and to not try to make it better. If you and your significant other get mad at each other for something often, don’t just shrug it off–keep working through it! Fix the problem so you can move on. Love sometimes hurting is no excuse for being satisfied with it always hurting.

What’d you think of “When Love Hurts” by JoJo? Do you think the song encourages abusive relationships? Do relationships have to have pain for them to be worthwhile?

If you liked this song, you may also like “What does ‘Wildest Dreams’ by Taylor Swift mean?” or “What does ‘Style’ by Taylor Swift mean?“

Thanks for reading!

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