Joy Crookes challenges her identity through ‘Skin’: a debut album review.
What is identity? For 23 year old British-Irish-Bangladeshi soul singer Joy Crookes, it’s « Skin », a collection of stories that made her who she is.
« The word ‘skin’ massively resonates with me as biologically it is one of the strongest parts of our bodies, however socially and externally it is often used against us. » –Joy Crookes.
Continuing her incredible musical ascension, south-London singer Joy Crookes has landed her debut album Skin on October 15th, currently peaking at number 5 on the Official U.K charts. Exploring multiple themes such as relationships, racism, mental health or even gentrification, Joy Crookes cements herself through a thirteen-track- body of work true to her “skin”, carving her place as one of the most prominent artists on the U.K soul scene.
Pressing play on the first track I don’t mind feels like entering the coziest, most intimate space where nothing flows but Joy’s soulful voice elevated by jazzy instruments. A sexy and elegant ambiance that sets the tone to a very personal album.
« I am not your lover, I am just for Friday night
I don’t mind if you don’t mind
But if you should
See a future
Where I’m with ya
You’ve got to go. » – I Don’t Mind
Leaning into the dynamics of casual relationships, this song is about being honest and setting boundaries with a partner that unfortunately wants more. Similarly, it resonates with other relationship-themed tracks such as To Lose Someone written after her breakup, and Trouble, a catchy pop song with Caribbean notes that talks about a toxic relationship.
« You’re all that I need
But we break every time
Birds of feather fly together
Your trouble’s the same as mine »- Trouble
The music video released almost a week ago, shows Crookes in medieval attire in a castle, crossing swords with a man in a duel to illustrate her fighting nature when it comes to relationships. It also serves as a second nod to her friend and British actress Jodie Comer, who recently starred in Director Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, a mid century period piece. The first nod being the lyric: « I’m your Villanelle to your Sandra Oh« , referencing the actress breakout role as Villanelle, an international assassin in the British hit show Killing Eve.
« This is an album about identity »-Joy Crookes
Following suit to Trouble, the artist reminisces about her first love on a different type of upbeat tempo marked by trumpets and drums on When you were mine. The happy but nostalgic song overlaps relationships and identity with a colorful music video that celebrates the vibrant culture of Brixton, as an ode to her multicultural background.
19th Floor, the second track on the album also celebrates her roots but holds a different tone. Starting with a mix of dramatic strings recorded in the iconic Abbey Road in Studio Two, Joy’s voice starts the song on a rhythm of drums, and progresses into a Amy-Winehouse type melody. Lyrically, this is an ode to the London that she grew up with: « You’ll never take the London out of me« . As the title refers to where her beloved grandma lives, the song evokes the Grenfell Tower tragic indicent: « Lost the tower where my heart is« , gentrification: « Cinema skylines that I don’t recognize, Strip the life out of these streets, It’s a daylight robbery« , but also reflects on her immigrant parents: « I was raised by the river, 19th floor, But we never got this high before, We were lost so long look how far we’ve come. »
Leaving momentarily the dramatic beat on the 19th Floor, the South-London singer follows with Poison, a gentle and playful piano and bass-led song that she started writing when she was an angry teenager. An anger found in the lyrics and sound of Power. Although sounding like a feminist anthem, the song actually refers to the abuse of power by conservative politicians. A frustration with the political life also found in Kingdom, an ode to the post-punk music that she loves. Written after the 2019 re-election of the Tory party, the artist expresses her frustration with the British Government: « No such thing as a kingdom, when tomorrow’s done for the children« , but also with the racism present in the country:
« Paying the price to live in our skin
It’s wearing me thin »- Kingdom
The multicultural singer goes even deeper with her song Feet Don’t Fail Me Now, dealing with performative activism from the perspective of a character that refuses to really care about the causes they supposedly share on the internet:
« I’ve been posing with red skies
Retweeting picket signs
Put my name on petition, but I won’t change my mind »
The song directly refers to the massive Black Lives Matter protests of last year where people all over the globe were taking a stand against police brutality. Although this was-and still is- affecting many people in real life, a lot of privileged and entitled individuals treated it as the latest trend to hop on to appear good: « I’m keeping up appearances, the dark side of privilege« , holding on their superficial opinions:
« I am better in denial
I, I cry like crocodile
Then drink opinions out »-Feet Don’t Fail Me Now
The satirical lyrics serve as a reminder to hold ourselves and the people around us accountable.
Yet, though the singer-songwriter’s immaculate pen forms the bone to this debut album, her ability to convey intimacy constitutes its texture.
What contributes even more to this debut album experience are the interludes found on multiple tracks. Whether joyful voicemails from her uncle that open When You Were Mine, conversations in a Brixton nail shop to introduce To Lose Someone, or most importantly warm ‘I love you’ and goodbye exchanges with her grandma as a transition from the first track I Don’t Mind to the second 19th floor, Joy Crookes always manage to let us in on her most personal and vulnerable moments.
Something she does beautifully on Unlearn You, a vocal-led piano and strings melody where she shares her sexual assault experience, but also on Wild Jasmine where she asks her mother to be careful of a man on a repetitive catchy hook: « Wild Jasmine, don’t trust him (…) » A pop melody immediately followed by perhaps the most heartbreaking ballad on the album: Skin, the title-album written after one of her friends expressed suicidal thoughts. A hopeful dedication to every one struggling with their mental health:
« Don’t you know the skin that you’re given was made to be lived in?
You’ve got a life
You’ve got a life, worth living »- Skin
A beautiful Frank Sinatra-inspired ballad expressed through a simple yet powerful music video.
Raw, honest, full of life, vulnerable and powerful, the multi-faceted Joy Crookes ends her wonderful, intimate experience with another soulful ballad with the reassurance that despite everything, Theek Ache. With a final track meaning « it’s okay » in her native Bengali, the South London singer bids us a bittersweet goodbye on a piano sample of Bill Wither’s beautiful Lean On Me. Last notes to a masterfully written and produced debut album that perfectly translates all the aspects of her identity.
Joy Crookes’ critically acclaimed album SKIN is now available.