Joy Crookes embraces her identity and challenges its complexity on debut album ‘Skin’.
The concept of personal identity is multidimensional, ever-changing, and something that every person yearns to understand. For some, their idea of identity is superficial and refers only to their interests or the area they live in. But, for those with a deeper understanding, identity is far more intricate.
Since the release of her debut single ‘New Manhattan’ in 2016, Joy Crookes has carved herself a position in the music industry as a nuanced and insightful voice. And, on her debut record, the songwriter from South London explores her identity through themes of mental health, generational trauma, political strife and how skin, one of the strongest parts of the body, is used to oppress people both socially and politically.
Aptly named ‘Skin’, the debut is a rich body of work filled with autobiographical lyrics, refined musicality and astute commentaries on love and social injustice. By taking pop hooks, earworm melodies, jazz-inspired piano sounds and voice recordings of loved ones, Crookes has shaped an album that inspires lyrically, conceptually and sonically in equal measure.
Opening track ‘I Don’t Mind’ is the perfect example of her intellectual songwriting. With soothing beats and lulling vocals, the track is seemingly tranquil, but as she sings, ‘You wanted my body, not my mind // Now you’re reaching your hand to my face, knowing that I’m just a phase // You need to learn to separate the time // I am not your lover, I am just for Friday night,’ her lyrics are cutting. Similarly, on piano-led piece ‘Poison’, the songwriter juxtaposes calming sonics with stinging lyrics to lean into one of the record’s main takeaways: this is a project dedicated to resolution, not anger.
Throughout the record, Crookes offers refreshing vulnerability, but it is on the title track ‘Skin’ that it becomes most palpable. The song’s arrangement is simple, featuring a tender piano and soft strings, but thematically, it tackles mental health, one of life’s most complicated concepts. And, as Crookes sings, “Don’t you know the skin that you’re given was made to be lived in? // You’ve got a life worth living,” her words speak entirely for themselves.
Taking the tempo up on tracks ‘Trouble’ and ‘When You Were Mine’, Crookes demonstrates her unfaltering rhythm and talent for producing groove-filled basslines. On ‘Skin’, there’s no denying the young artist’s ability to fuse poignancy with perfect pop listenability and create a record that is entirely refined.
‘Kingdom’ and the musically multifaceted single ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me Now’ take the lead in projecting Crookes’ views on her identity and the social issues that impact it. Lyrics like ‘Paying the price to live in our skin is wearing me thin’ on ‘Kingdom’ and ‘Put my name on petitions, but I won’t change my mind // I’m keeping up appearances // The dark side of my privilege’ so eloquently express the singer’s disdain for performative activism and the political structures that perpetuate oppression.
As a body of work, ‘Skin’ feels whole, a project that has accomplished everything it set out to do. At times romantic but consistently resilient, Joy Crookes’ breathtaking debut album is something to be in awe of.