Joy Crookes' first album embraces power, heartbreak and racial justice

Oct 17, 2021
Originally published on October 18, 2021 12:55 pm

Joy Crookes wants you to love the skin you were born in.

The singer-songwriter from South London, born to Bangladeshi and Irish immigrants, knows all-too-well the struggle of trying to figure out your identity in a society where being yourself can look like a thousand different things. In her debut album, Skin, Crookes soulfully sings us through those streets and neighborhoods and embraces themes of power, heartbreak, racial justice and how to make peace with yourself. She spoke to Weekend Edition from London.

This interview has been edited and condensed. To hear the broadcast version of this conversation, use the audio player above.


Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Weekend Edition: I want to start with the song that your album is named after, "Skin."

Joy Crookes: The song is one I wrote after someone I was very close to felt like they didn't want to continue... life anymore, I guess. It was my way of telling them that life is worth living. How do I make this person that I love so much see the love I have for them – but by themselves?

This album, you can hear a lot of what moves you – I'm thinking of this song, "Feet Don't Fail Me Now."

I wrote this song because I was very interested in how people behave during a time of political turmoil. And, playing a character in the song who finds it easier to either be complicit or be performative in fear of speaking out ... because of things in our generation like cancel culture.

This character I'm playing, we're all guilty of being that. Including myself. There's always been a time where you come home and you practice in the mirror what you coulda shoulda woulda said – and I think the most important thing about progression, especially having to do with racism and injustice, we have to face ourselves before we face anyone else. That is the only way towards progression.

Joy Crooke's album Skin was released Oct. 14 – hear it below.

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Joy Crookes wants you to love the skin you were born in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SKIN")

JOY CROOKES: (Singing) I wish I could pull away the clothes, the dress. Your mind is easiest when we both undress each other.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The singer-songwriter from South London, born to Bangladeshi and Irish immigrants, knows all too well the struggle of trying to figure out your identity in a society where being yourself can look like a thousand different things. In her debut album, "Skin," Joy Crookes soulfully sings us through those streets and neighborhoods and embraces themes of power, heartbreak, racial justice and how to make peace with yourself. She joins us now from London. Welcome to the program.

CROOKES: Hi, how you doing?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I am well. I want to start with this song that your album is named after, "Skin." Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SKIN")

CROOKES: (Singing) What if you decide that you don't want to wake up, too? I don't know what I'd do because I've built my life around you. Don't you know the skin...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So first let me say, oh, my goodness, your voice (laughter). I'm sure you hear that a lot. But married with these lyrics, it's intense. Tell me about this song.

CROOKES: This song is a song I wrote after someone I was very close to felt like they didn't want to continue life anymore, I guess. They were having a really hard time. And it was my way of telling them that their life was worth living. It's kind of like, how do I make this person that I love so much see the love I have for them but with it - by themselves?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SKIN")

CROOKES: (Singing) You've got a life. You've got a life worth living.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This album - you can really hear a lot of what moves you. I'm thinking, for example, of the song "Feet Don't Fail Me Now." Let's listen to this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEET DON'T FAIL ME NOW")

CROOKES: (Singing) I've been posing with red skies, retweeting picket signs, put my name on petitions, but I won't change my mind.

I wrote this song because I was very interested in how people behave during a time of political turmoil. I'm playing a character in the song who is an ironic character. She finds it easier to either be complicit or be performative in fear of speaking out and fear of the consequence of speaking out because of things in our generation like cancel culture.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEET DON'T FAIL ME NOW")

CROOKES: (Singing) Man, I guess I was scared. Feet, don't fail me now. I got to stand my ground.

This character I'm playing, we're all guilty of being her, including myself. There's always been a time where you come home and you practice in the mirror what you could have, should have, would have said. And I think the most important thing about progression, especially progression to do with racism and injustice, is that we have to face ourselves before we face anyone else. That is the only way to progression.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, all these parts of yourself sort of cascades into a song that comes near the end of your album. It's called "Power."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "POWER")

CROOKES: (Singing) I don't need your permission. I don't want that disease. Lurking through every finger that you pointed at me.

"Power" is a song that I wrote just after Trump was elected. I was 18. I was pretty angry. I was kind of worried about this very right-wing world that seemed to be upon the horizon. And I wanted to speak about the abuse of power in general.

But I had an incredible conversation with an American writer called Audra Mae. Something really spooky happened before. She was told by a psychic in LA that she would meet a girl, and she would be the only one that understood the girl there. And she believed that that girl was me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's amazing.

CROOKES: It was crazy. And we spoke for two hours. She had me in tears. And it was when she got up and said, right, you have a song, I'm out of here, where I kind of freaked out, but then realized that I was in very safe hands. And because of that safety she'd built for me to speak how I wanted to speak, that was it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "POWER")

CROOKES: (Singing) Power, you can't take my power. You've got nothing on me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you imagine who this album might be for, I mean, when you're making something like this? Because to me, what's so interesting about your music is that it has this universality - right? - but it's also very specific. And I think that it gives it a real authenticity because of that.

CROOKES: Yeah. I think that the beauty about art in general is that you kind of have no control after it's out. And I'm very accepting of the fact that it's like that, because as a consumer of music myself, I love the fact that I can pick up bodies of work and feel like the song was written for me, tailored for me, when it was actually completely tailored to someone else's life. And then what that person looks like doesn't really matter to me. And if there is a connection, there is. And if there isn't, that's absolutely fine, as well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Joy Crookes's new album is called "Skin," and it is out now. Thank you very much.

CROOKES: Thank you so much, Lulu. Thank you for having me on the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TO LOSE SOMEONE")

CROOKES: (Singing) To love someone is to lose someone. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.