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Joy Crookes on Longevity and Her Debut Album, Skin

Joy Crookes Is an Artist Who's All About Longevity, and Her Debut Album Is Proof


Image Source: Sony Music

Few artists cite longevity as their sole career aim. For many, it appears to be more often about relevancy, recognition, and making it internationally — things that can arguably be perceived as easier to do in the short term. Not for Joy Crookes, though. The 23-year-old singer-songwriter aspires to longevity, and she has a pretty good idea of how she's going to achieve it. Fresh off the high of releasing her debut album, Skin, Crookes has been nominated for a MOBO Award, performed all over London, and begun touring the world. We caught up with her to talk about the inspirations behind her album, holding your own community accountable, and how to achieve self-preservation in an industry that's constantly changing.

"I always knew I liked music but I didn't think it was a feasible job," Crookes told POPSUGAR. "My parents are great but none of us thought it was realistic. I guess passion took over that notion and it just became a thing where it felt like the natural next step for me." Her Bangladeshi-Irish heritage played a part in the decision-making process too. "As much as most immigrant parents will want you to have a steady and secure job, I think there's also a lot to say about opportunity. I think that they saw that there was an opportunity there and they encouraged me to take it, knowing full well of the risks."

"Sam Fender's never asked if he represents England, so I don't think that I need to represent Bangladesh."

In terms of her musical influences, Crookes cited the likes of Kate Nash, Sugababes, and Lily Allen as her early inspirations, and explained that her dad brought her up listening to records, a lot of which she still listens to to this day. Names like Marvin Gaye, Van Morrison, and The Pogues sprung to her mind, along with women jazz singers like Nina Simone, which, if you've heard Crookes's music, makes a lot of sense. Crookes realised that she wanted to make her own music after watching clips of Billie Holiday singing "Strange Fruit" and Nina Simone singing "Ain't Got No, I Got Life" and being struck by the level of emotion that she felt. "It was mind-blowing to me because of how much feeling was in that music and how raw and direct it was. I feel like I was really moved by the feeling that their music and their live shows emitted to me. That was the turning point."

As with many music artists, the pandemic made it harder to evoke those feelings in fans, and it left a lot of people forced to look inwards instead. For Crookes, though, looking inwards wasn't entirely a bad thing. "In order for me to be extroverted and be a performer, it takes a lot of retreat and it takes a lot of me being quite in my own head. Not in a negative way, though, I really like my own company and my own space and to do things at my own pace, I guess, to a level of introversion," she explained. Taking time to herself isn't something that Crookes has really struggled with in the past, but, she said, "To have to sit with your thoughts and them being good and bad thoughts, it made me face myself more than I ever have before."

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It was predominantly during lockdown that Crookes was writing her debut album, Skin. Given that the record was produced in a pandemic, a number of related feelings understandably influenced it; most notably though, the state of the world at the time that it was created. "Feet Don't Fail Me Now" is a song that Crookes says comments on cancel culture, and the idea that a lot of the people that fear being cancelled end up being either hyperperformative or complicit instead. Crookes explained, "It's really easy to point the finger at other people, but in that video I really wanted to address my community, particularly my Bangladeshi community. I think that as a people, we can be very f*cking judgemental. Being born half Bangladeshi, I know that from the moment I was born, my ethics are controversial."

The video for the track features a widow wearing a white sari (typically worn in South Asian cultures when someone in the family dies) on a moped doing a wheelie. "The whole idea of that is to try and reclaim our narrative, but also to hold ourselves accountable. That song was written in the light of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, and [during that time] I really struggled with some South Asians and myself even, because I felt like just because you might have a shared suffering doesn't mean it's the same. I think that if we're going to correct anyone, the first people we need correct is ourselves, not pointing the finger at everyone else. It's really easy in that moment to also have this 'white people this, white people that' view, but actually that mindset exists in our people just as much as it does in any other non-Black race. It's going to take a long time [to change things], people need time out and to know when they're not doing the right thing."

"I think Desi people are so multifaceted in culture, religion, sexuality, there's no point in having one person for everything."

Crookes's sole aim as an artist is to be thought of as someone who's here to stay. "I believe in using my voice sometimes for political reasons and sometimes saying the things that people find hard to hear, but as multifaceted as an artist can be, I believe in longevity," she explained. Achieving that longevity is simple, according to the singer, because for her, "It's all about not making too many compromises."

She believes that while it can be easy to go along with what everyone else is doing, there has to be a level of self-preservation when you're an artist. "It's like with fast fashion. I have to ask myself, 'Do I want to be part of the conveyor belt and be the hypermarketable, hyperaccessible thing that sells?' It's not that I don't think my music is accessible, because I am a pop artist, but sometimes that top that everyone is now wearing was already in the shops three years before that. I'd rather be that top, and I think that it's only achievable when you actively choose to not be on the conveyor belt. There's a reason why there's no features on my album. There's a reason why all the features I've done I can count on one hand. It's to avoid saturation. Right now, that's all I've learned about not being an artist that's just flash and go. I've got much more to learn, but they're the steps I've taken to get to this point."

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Joy Crookes attends The BRIT Awards 2020 at The O2 Arena on February 18, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

Though Crookes has never shied away from wearing her culture on her sleeve — sometimes quite literally — more often than not, it's to make a statement. "When I wore the lehenga to the BRITs, that was just to make a point, that it's f*cking funny that I can go to an award ceremony and know that no one is going to be wearing my outfit because there's no South Asians in the music industry," she said. "It was like a semi 'f*ck you,' it wasn't really even like a thing where I was trying to represent anything. I actually refuse to be someone that is a representative. Sam Fender's never asked if he represents England, so I don't think that I need to represent Bangladesh. I think Desi people are so multifaceted in culture, religion, sexuality, there's no point in having one person for everything."

Despite that, Crookes is still empowered by the idea of making her family proud and feel seen. "On a completely personal level, I hoped that my mum and grandma would see it and feel some kind of pride," she said. "My mum and grandma are much darker-skinned than me and they've had a much harder time with being accepted for who they are, whether they admit that or not. I just thought, 'If they see me in this, then maybe they'll feel a little bit proud of themselves.'"

In terms of what's next for the singer, you're already looking at it. "I just want to keep making records, and then everything that comes with it. Touring and performing and making music videos, I just want to keep that going, basically. Longevity is everything for me."

Image Source: Bre McDermott-King
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