Artist Spotlight: Joy Crookes

Joy Crookes first caught my attention when it was announced she was set to be supporting Harry Styles on Love On Tour, but unfortunately due to the ongoing pandemic, the tour was postponed. Despite not being able to see her live, I have listened to every single one of her songs and learnt more about her in general. She is like a mix of Amy Winehouse, Lauryn Hill and Mahalia; Joy Crookes is extremely talented and I think more people need to know about her.

She was born in the Lambeth district in South London and she grew up in the Elephant and Castle area. She lived there with her Bangladeshi mother and her Irish father. She attended a Catholic primary school and when she reached age 13, she started to put covers on YouTube. Growing up she said some of her biggest music inspirations were Sinead O’Connor, Nate Nash and Marvin Gaye. She attended many jazz and blues workshops when she was younger and she taught herself to play piano, guitar and bass, she also started to write her own songs.

In 2013, she uploaded a cover of ‘Hit The Road Jack’ by Ray Charles to YouTube which has over 700,000 views and it also managed to land her a manager. In 2016 she released her debut single ‘New Manhattan’ Crookes said “‘New Manhattan is a love song… It’s also a nickname for an area in North Brussels, Belgium, which was the inspiration for this song”. Just like many articles and reviews have said, the song sounds like it could have been a Bond theme song. It sounds so dark and mysterious which would fit perfectly in one of the films.

She also released ‘Sinatra’ the same year. ‘Sinatra’ is about “a fatal attraction. Most of us can relate to misguided love…being with, or staying with someone who isn’t right for you. You can almost become addicted to a person; the ‘Sinatra Charm’ as referenced in the song. This person has the ability to make to feel like you are the centre of their universe, like they would do anything for you, when in reality, in the next moment they can make you feel completely insignificant. It’s a game that gets you mad, but it’s also exciting…it’s a game that keeps you hooked.” This song has a similar feel to ‘New Manhattan’, this time around she also sounds more confident and stronger. Her vocals are really showcased in this song, her voice is so strong and she has a really unique tone.  

In 2017 she released ‘Bad Feeling’ when talking about the track she said “We’ve all experienced temptation. ‘Bad Feeling’ describes the feeling of being on the edge of temptation but never falling. I wanted to make the song slightly tongue in cheek because when you do get out of the situation you realise how silly it all was…”  This one is more upbeat and cheekier than the previous two releases but she still keeps her signature style.

Following the success of her past three single, Crookes released her debut EP ‘Influence’ in July 2017. ‘Influence’ consists of 5 songs: ‘Sinatra’, ‘Bad Feeling’, ‘New Manhattan’, ‘Mother I Sleep With Danger’ and ‘Power’. My personal favourite from the EP is ‘Power’. When talking to Hot Press about the meaning of the song she said “The track came from a lot of things…it came from Trump being elected. It came from watching the women in my family experience the things that they have. And it came from just saying, ‘It’s enough. I don’t need your permission. I’m gonna say what I feel.” And“It comes from personal experience. I don’t sit down and go ‘I’m gonna write this political song so I seem political’. I write it because I care about something. And if something has affected me, or hurt me, or hurt a best friend, or I just don’t agree on how people are treating other people, it really comes from just a place of care.”  I think this is such a relatable and meaningful song especially in today’s society. Although sexism has improved over the years, a lot of men still look down on women. Lyrics like “You’re a man on a mission, but you seem to forget, You came here through a woman, Show some fucking respect” really stand out for me because it gets straight to the point and addresses the problem head on.  

Her second Ep ‘Reminiscence’ was released in 2019 and includes five songs ‘Two Nights’, ‘Mans World’, ‘Lover Don’t’, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and ‘For A Minute’. When talking to Sounds So Beautiful  Crookes said “Reminiscence is my second EP and was initially inspired by my first ever trip to Bangladesh a year ago, and feeling so connected to the women that raised me. It’s an EP of love songs but also a personal celebration of history, London and my dual heritage. ‘Two Nights’ is a song about past and present. “Two Nights” is talking about how I had to ‘pack my pride and shelve my libido.’ That’s self-care, it’s not even about relationships, it’s just, like, stop shagging for once!”. The first verse is set in the past and then the chorus is set in the present.

in ‘Man’s World’ she talks about finding love within herself, rather than finding it in a man. This is again a very empowering track to listen to as a woman, it shows that you can be happy without a man and loving yourself is more important than looking for love. When talking to Vogue about ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ she said: “I wrote “Don’t Let Me Down” in 10 minutes. I had the chorus in my head and the verses spilled out and then I understood things about my relationship with my ex that I didn’t when we were together”. Every song on this EP is so relaxing to listen to. Her voice is so mesmerizing and you can really feel everything she sings.

Also, in 2019 she released her third EP ‘Perception’. Once again, the EP features five songs: ‘Hurts’, ‘No Hands’, ‘London Mine’, ‘Since I left You’ and ‘Darkest Hour’. The first single from the EP was ‘Since I Left You’. It is an emotional ballad, which is about a break up. When talking to Wonderland Magazine she said “They’re extremely intimate, which is why I can’t really tell you what inspired them – I wouldn’t want to. It’s my song for myself and it’s a song that anyone else can interpret in their own way” I personally think this is one of her best songs to date because lyrically she is so open and vulnerable, and vocally she shows her signature style but with more range.

When talking to Line Of Best Fit about ‘London Mine’ she said: “The song celebrates the invisible people and how London belongs to no one but everyone, It’s a celebration of immigrants who make up this country.” This is such a lovely song and I really like how she says that London belongs to everyone, because unfortunately some people think if you’re not “English” then you shouldn’t live here but in reality, they have probably done a lot more for the country than most English people. Whenever I go to London, I love seeing all the different cultures and different races. I feel like it gives the city more of a personality and to be honest it just feels like London.  

My personal favourite from the EP is ‘Hurts’. It is about a friendship break up, which I’m sure practically everyone can relate to. You can really hear the pain in her voice when she sings, I think sometimes friendship break ups and be more painful than romantic ones, because with a friend you expect them to be around forever and to have your back through everything but when they are no longer around you realise how much you miss them. The music video is very different to her past visuals, this one is much darker. When talking to the Fader she said “The video is inspired by the Frank Ocean song ‘Nights’ and the specific lyric in it “Did you call me from a seance? You are from a past life.” She went on to say “I had the room to be cheekier, more angry and dance in front of a camera – which is all very new to me. I linked up with some of my favourite directors, The Rest, who took all these threads and pulled the vision together.”

Since the release of ‘Perception’ she has continued to put out more music. Her first release of 2020 was ‘Anyone But Me’ which debuted at number 1 on the UK Asian charts, the track also premiered on BBC Radio 1 with Annie Mac. She took to Instagram to share the message behind the song “I’ve suffered from mental health issues since I was young. Where I grew up, this wasn’t a topic you would bring up when your mum was fixing you a plate of dal or when your mates were showing you how to flirt with boys and girls, so when I had my first episode of depression I didn’t really know where to turn to. It’s taken me a long time, and I am still learning how to completely articulate what goes on in my mind. Being able to have these important conversations with my friends and then my family has been challenging and I guess that’s why I always turned to music. Music has a way to soften the blow with topics like mental health – it can make situations that seem completely out of reach, tangible – especially when you feel like you’re living with another version of yourself. Learning to be more open, I had a conversation with my best friend who pointed out that when we are dealing with depression and anxiety – we almost become tired of constantly being with ourselves – you want to be with anyone BUT yourself. This is the position I took when I wrote ‘Anyone But Me’. The lyrics speak for themselves. I hope we can all continue breaking down boundaries that stretch between generations and cultures and continue this conversation about how we really feel.” I have talked about mental health before and about artists using their experiences to raise awareness so once again I think it is great that she is using her platform for something that so many people suffer from. As soon as people open up and make it part of a ‘normal’ conversation, then hopefully the stigma around mental health will lessen.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, Crookes has had to push back her debut album release. She originally wanted the album out for a mid-year release, but now the release date is unclear. She has confirmed that ‘Anyone But Me’ and ‘Power’ will feature on the album alongside some songs we have already heard and of course brand new material.

It is clear the Crookes is slowly but surely getting more recognition. From performing at Glastonbury to landing her first Brit Award nomination, Crookes is set for a big and successful future.

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