By Omran Al Jallaf, Third Year Politics & International Relations
Nominated for the Rising Star Award at the 2020 Brit Awards, and with a recent stint of impromptu secret shows in Birmingham and Bristol the past month, Joy Crookes is proving to be one to watch, especially with the release of Skin, her exceptional debut album.
Joy Crookes, a British singer-songwriter born to an Irish father and Bangladeshi mother, started her music journey like many other young artists in the modern era: uploading covers on Youtube. She started gaining more recognition around 2019 after releasing a string of singles and EPs, but it really is through her debut Skin that people get an in-depth look into her world through her sharp, succinct writing and self-assured voice.
The album serves as a rich storybook of experiences, delving into closely personal, yet immediately recognizable themes. Family is key – the album title comes from a poem found in her father’s secret box, and she credits her writing skills to her Irish ancestry. Her grandmother is one of her main support systems, revealing in an interview how she always looks forward to seeing her face at her live shows. Questions surrounding identity and belonging come through in her descriptions of London and the subtle references to spices like cardamom on ‘19th Floor’. Her perspective on the socio-political climate of England in the wake of Brexit and Black Lives Matter emerges prominently on several songs like ‘Kingdom’, ‘Power’, and ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me Now’.
The heart of the album, however, lies in its more intimate moments; allowing Crookes to reflect on relationships and be upfront about the complexities of defining love as you get older. The album’s opener, ‘I Don’t Mind’, is a truthful account of wanting to keep things strictly casual with someone: “I am not your lover / I’m just for Friday nights”. On ‘To Lose Someone’, she grapples with the pain and turmoil after a breakup; confronted with her own fears and insecurities. The subject matters are all treated with the utmost devotion; every sonic choice and lyric carefully considered and complimentary, leaving the listener in awe of her ability to get it right on her first full-length effort.
‘When You Were Mine’, one of the lead singles, and my own personal introduction to Crookes, is a love letter to South London where she grew up. It was clearly depicted in the gorgeous music video for the song, featuring Crookes strolling at sunset by the Brixton arches, interspersed with close-up shots of natives of the area. It ends with Crookes looking regal decked out in traditional Bangladeshi golden jewellery and enrobed in a flower structure dress Midsommar-style. The result is incredibly heartfelt and joyful; keeping the feeling of summer love alive as the colder months approach.
What stands out most of all on Skin is her ability to craft honest, arresting lyrics that stop the listener in their tracks: “I don’t know what I’d do / Cause I’ve built my life around you”, she sings on the title track - a soft, piano and violin ballad, sonically reminiscent of Lorde’s ‘Liability’, where she reckons with a partner losing the will to continue on living. “You’ve got a life worth living”, she says, in hopes of reassurance. She does not shy away from difficult topics, as she talks about how challenging it was for her to write ‘Unlearn You’, a song about her experience with abuse and assault. Her commitment to unbridled openness is admirable and likely to really resonate with her audience, but so is her ability to blend that vulnerability with moments of pure strength. It feels like having an older friend impart their years of experience and wisdom on you; reminding you that the power to face life’s hardships lies in finding your own voice and sense of self.
Crookes is obviously meant to follow in a long line of strong British female artists; clearly embodying the smoky soulfulness of Amy Winehouse, the swagger of Little Simz, and the vocal prowess of Gabrielle or even Adele, but she does so while carving out her own (rightly deserved) place amongst them.
Featured image: Toast Press
Have you heard the album?