“Baby Shark” got to Jordin Sparks, too. You might think that the celeb life would protect you from the endless “do-do-do-do-do-do-do” trilling through every toddler’s cochlea, but the 2007 American Idol winner and platinum singer-songwriter says she has succumbed just like the rest of us. “My nieces were listening to [“Baby Shark”] when it came out,” Jordin Sparks tells Romper in an interview at the Bustle offices, “and I said, ‘I am not listening to this song until I absolutely have to listen to this song.’”
Unfortunately for Sparks, that time came sooner than she expected. Her 1-year-old son DJ has made it his go-to jam, and Sparks admits that she often plays it on repeat during family road trips (“we do the motions and everything”). Stars: they’re just like us.
With an 8-month-old watching on (mine; after she cried out in hunger from the green room, Sparks encouraged me to fetch him), Sparks, 29, turns to the topic of how motherhood impacts everything about your life, including work.
“It’s crazy because I want to just be at home with him all the time,” she says of her little boy. ”So when I have to leave and be in the studio for most of the day it’s like, OK, Jordin. You can do this. Focus. Focus.’”
“I was very happy before, great life, I loved my life,” she says of her pre-kid phase, starting at age 17 when she won American Idol. “But it’s just a different chapter. I’m just, I’m really blessed and to be able to have that to draw from, as a source of inspiration, is really amazing.”
In fact, the birth of Dana Isaiah Thomas Jr. (“DJ,” after his father) in May 2018 totally changed the way she approaches songwriting. “It’s crazy when you get into different points in your life how it reflects in the things that you do,” she says. Having a child has made everything more emotional.
It’s crazy because I want to just be at home with him all the time.
“I’m just so happy right now,” she says, but “whenever I’m writing a song, sometimes I get a little too much in my head.” Sparks explains that her feelings inform her songwriting on a deeper level now than before (“Love never said I’d be cursed like this / And with all my regrets, you’re the one that I need,” she sings on 2019’s “Ego”), making things a little too intense at times. She’ll often tell herself, “Wait a second. OK. It doesn’t have to be that heavy every time,” when her work gets too emotional for her liking.
“I’ve got a good batch of songs that I’m really excited about. I don’t have a date yet,” Sparks says of her latest work, which is a departure from the Grammy-nominated hits of her past (her last studio album came out in 2015). “But I’m really excited.”
The music isn’t the only thing that’s different this time. Sparks says that making music isn’t as easy now that she’s a mother. “I’ve been working on it for a while, it’s been different because the last time I worked on an album it was like, you know, it was all the time. And now it’s, you know, every once in a while I go in there,” she explains.
Between studio sessions and family life, Sparks understands what it means to struggle with that elusive work-life balance. So she tries to combine self-care and family bonding when she can.
Earlier this summer, Sparks partnered with Kalahari Resort in the Pocono Mountains for National Waterpark Day. The day served as an excuse to take a road trip with DJ and her husband, Dana Isaiah (cue the stereo system), and to make a difference among kids who might not have access normally — she made a public donation to USA Swimming’s “Make A Splash” campaign, which aims to educate children about water safety.
“They go to underserved communities to help teach kids how to swim,” Sparks says, and her passion for the project is obvious. With the help of youth clubs, swim schools, and regional YMCAs, “Make A Splash” works to address the alarming rates of children who lack access to quality swimming instruction: Sixty-four percent of African-American children, 45% of Hispanic children, and 40% of Caucasian children have no or limited swimming ability, putting them at risk for drowning, according to the USA Swimming Foundation.
Sparks grew up with a love of swimming and is married to a fitness influencer, so it’s only natural the entire family has flippers. “It’s a really amazing thing,” she tells me, “not only for the safety, for obvious reasons, but [kids] feel better when they can swim. You know, they go to a pool party with their friends and they don’t have to be the one sitting outside of the pool. It gives them more confidence.”
And as a homeowner with a pool in the backyard, making sure that her 1-year-old is safe and happy in the pool is a priority. “From the time he was maybe 3 months, when we first got him into the pool, he just loved it. He goes in there and he just splashes… doesn’t matter where you put him in, where he’s at, he just splashes everywhere!” A true baby shark: always moving.
At this point in our conversation, my son finishes nursing, and Sparks begins singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” because life is nothing if not surprising. She reminisces her own son being as small as mine: “He was so squishy and easy to carry,” she says, transported back. Now, he’s 1 and on the go.
My son and I watch as Sparks pantomimes a toddler clumsily standing to its feet. Now, she says, “his knees have to bend and he’s like, grabbing onto me, and he just feels more like a kid now.” Alongside her work, her child is fast changing.
Balancing her career and motherhood all comes down to what she told me the first moment my baby’s cries reached us mid-interview. “Does your baby interrupt your work much?” I asked. “Yes, all the time,” she said, but the challenge doesn’t faze her. “You gotta do what you gotta do.”
Photographer: Lauren Perlstein
Hair: Tracy Kinley