“I was embarrassed by the music I was making. I was afraid of what people expected from a brunette girl ‘
Joy Crookes was rarely afraid to say exactly what she was thinking. His rich and vibrant debut album, Skin, published Friday, is autobiographical, describing her life in South London and touching on topics ranging from race, mental illness and generational trauma to kitten heels, casual sex and flowers.
He deals with personnel policy, but also finds Crookes using his voice to call for the government and the 1%. “England is blowing smoke, it needs attention. Could use a coat of paint, a color change, before they send us back to the other side of the water, ”she sings on“ Kingdom ”.
“I just don’t like to see people get mugged,” she explains from a taxi on her way to Berlin airport after a press trip. “You have to break shit to fix anything. You just need to cause discomfort to have the necessary conversations. British people, we are very capable of beating around the bush.
Still, there are a few leads that she was initially worried about coming out. “’Unlearn You’ is about sexual abuse, and ‘Kingdom’ is about wanting to smash the Conservative Party to pieces. In other words, if you went out to dinner and those were the first two topics you covered, would there be dessert? I’m not scared now, though, because… well, I did.
Crookes, who is 23, never intended to be the voice of his generation. She says she “is not ready for this pressure. My job is just to represent myself.
Rather, Skin was written about “the stuff that I really love, the things that make me work things.” Sometimes I wish it was a little more calculated because it sounds better in interviews, but it wasn’t.
Crookes started writing music a decade ago, inspired by artists such as Nina Simone, The Clash, Metronomy, Massive Attack, and Kate Nash. “I discovered that music, regardless of genre, was able to comfort me. It always let me know that whatever I was going through in my own head, someone else had been through it as well. This was true for the deeper things, as well as the more menial.
“I loved that these artists could connect with a young girl living in Elephant and Castle. I thought that if I wrote music, I could also put my emotions somewhere. Plus, it was less work than writing a journal.
Crookes comes from a non-musician family, and her parents – her father is Irish, her mother Bangladeshi – were supportive but worried about the career she had chosen.
“If I had a child and they came to me and said, ‘I’m going to be a musician,’ I would probably have a heart attack too,” she says. “It’s not a cultural thing – the music industry is just a very volatile place.”
Undeterred, she learned to play piano, guitar and bass on her own, and uploaded covers to YouTube. “That DIY punk nature has always been a part of what I do,” she says.
At 16, Crookes shared an original track “Poison” (a re-recorded version is also featured on her album) before releasing her first real single in 2016. Over the following years, she released a trio of EPs and did many tours.
Her parents are still worried, but not about her failure. “Now they’re just worried that they’ll lose contact with me, because I’m so busy,” she says. The vocal notes of his uncles and grandmothers are strung throughout the album.
Last year she was shortlisted for the Brits 2020 Rising Star Award alongside Beabadoobee, her 1975 teammate. She lost to eventual winner Celeste, but it puts her in good company: Lewis Capaldi and Dua Lipa missed the overall price and ended up doing it. Next month’s flagship tour will include two sold-out shows at the O2 Forum Kentish Town in London.
Being nominated for the award “gave me anxiety,” Crookes admits. “It made me feel like all these people were watching. I started to wonder if I should play it safe and follow the format – because there is definitely a format to be successful. It also gave Crookes a sense of urgency. “I realized I had to do everything. Obviously, distinctions are a good thing, but you should observe, not absorb. “
Despite the pressure, on Skin, Crookes goes his own way. “I think if I played it safe I would be really embarrassed,” she explains. “When my friends and I celebrate our birthdays, the final applause always comes with the realization that so many people haven’t reached that age – and we’re not even old. So if I play it safe what is it really for? “
According to her, just look at the cover of Skin namely “it’s a daring and courageous album. It’s symbolized by my golden breasts on the blanket, ”she said with a smile. “I wasn’t allowed to keep the nipples, however.
“I didn’t mean to be bold,” she continues, explaining that it’s just who she is. “Every day I say to myself, ‘Should I say that? Before realizing that I have already said it now.
This openness was reflected in his music. Post-Brits, “There was a part of me breaking it, thinking that I wasn’t going to do anything that had any commercial viability,” she begins, before quickly adding, “This isn’t the end. . -everything for me. I love the challenge, though.
In the past, Crookes’ music was called neo-soul and alternative R&B, but she says Skin is a pop album. “If I were white, would people still classify my music like that?” Because I feel like these genres are very much related to race and my appearance. I just wish it wasn’t.
These expectations based on her heritage are something she has always had to endure. “Growing up in Elephant and Castle, people would say things like, ‘Do you play guitar? Do you think you are white? ‘”
Today, she would recall that Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a gospel musician, pretty much invented rock’n’roll in the 1930s, but “there was a period when I was very young when I was embarrassed. by the music I made. I was afraid of what people expected from a brunette girl. I never felt like I couldn’t do anything because other people told me I couldn’t, however. If anything, it just encouraged me to do it. Now I believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing what I want.
Speaking of race, Crookes is quick to point out that “traumatic pornography and stories of suffering sobs are the opposite of who I am.”
“But I think people expect that from ethnic people. Today I was asked if I had ever been a victim of racism – it’s just not the first thing you ask someone. Anyone who has ever been part of a minority group, race, sexuality, it doesn’t matter, there will always be people who will think it is appropriate to point the finger at your most vulnerable part and ask yourself questions about it. topic. It is nobody’s business.
“I love the power of love. I love the power of being empowered. I’m not here for you to pull out your string section while I tell you a bloody story, ”she continues. “I’m not looking for a professional victim complex. I’m not gonna serve your title with my shit, that’s not who I am.
Refusing to play in the stories of others, Skin is stimulating listening. “There’s a strong feeling of ‘F ** k’ em ‘in it,” she smiles, revealing that it’s also one of the best advice she’s ever received from her father – a mantra for dealing with people who don’t understand, listen, or just aren’t worth the trouble.
So why does Crookes’ music reach so many people? “I think it’s because I’m the type of girl who will probably have a beer with you.” I am able to be accessible – not just musically but as a human being, ”she explains.
“It’s weird when artists hit their heads and decide to have this level of mystery around them. I am the opposite.
“There is a strong, unapologetic nature to all of my favorite artists, and I want to be like that. They’re just real human beings, flaws and everything, but they’re the ones that make me feel like I have power.
Skin is out now