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Joy Crookes Wants to Be ‘Unapologetic’ as a Songwriter—Even If It’s ‘Hard’ Sometimes

"We don't have long on this planet. It's important for me to get things off my chest."
Joy Crookes | StyleCaster's On the Record
Carlotta Guerrero/Adobe. Design: Sasha Purdy/Stylecaster.

It’s date night for Joy Crookes. The South London singer-songwriter is at home in the U.K. for the first time in weeks, having spent the last month touring across the pond. In another week, she’ll head out complete the European leg of her tour. But first, romance calls.

Well, technically, STYLECASTER calls her first. Crookes picks up over Zoom, as the early evening light of her city wanes to darkness through the screen. “I’m not actually very good at going on dates,” Crookes admits, “but I’ve been going on dates with my friends, which has actually been really nice.” Platonic or not, these moments of connection are precisely the kind of experiences that inspire Crookes and her music. For Crookes, there’s something to be gleaned from the familiar discomfort that comes with putting yourself out there.

“I’m quite interested in anything that challenges me,” she shares. “That could be anything—a relationship in my life, a friend, even a situation I’m not involved in. Anything that makes me go, ‘Why?’ I like the challenge of being able to answer that ‘Why?’ in a three-to-four-minute song. My favorite songs I’ve written have always been the ones that were a little bit hard to write because I had to answer some questions along the way.”

Connecting with the childlike instinct really is key.

Ever since the release of her 2021 album, Skin, the British artist has been steadily getting back into writing songs for her next record, which will eventually mark her second LP since emerging on the scene in 2016. “I’ve done the first, now I need to do the second. I’m in the complete beginning stages of the writing process, but I’m having a really good time,” Crookes revealed. “I’m forcing myself to have lots of limitations; I’m trying to replicate how I started making art and music, and that was with not very much. Innocence and connecting with the childlike instinct really is key.”

At 23, it may seem as though Crookes wouldn’t have to reach too far back to tap into this space. But when you get your start in the music industry as a teenager, it can feel like a lifetime away. Crookes, who was born in Lambeth, London to a Bangladeshi mother and an Irish father, dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to pursue music more seriously. “I felt like I was really young, and I should have maybe stayed in school. But then I was like, ‘Well, I’ve done this now, so there’s no going back.’ I had to give it my best shot. And I’m not very good at giving up on things.”

Skin by Joy Crookes

Joy Crookes 2021 Album 'Skin'
Image: Insanity Records.

It’s safe to say that things worked out for Crookes. After landing a publishing deal at 17, Crookes went on to release three extended plays and nab a nomination for the Rising Star Award at the 2020 Brit Awards—and it wouldn’t be the last time. Following the release of Skin, Crookes was nominated in the two major Brit Awards categories of Best New Artist and Best Pop/R&B Act, where she was nominated alongside the likes of Adele, Dua Lipa and Ed Sheeran.

“It was weird to be nominated against the biggest artists in the U.K!” she says. But for listeners, it comes as no surprise. With discerning lyrics and the pipes of a jazz powerhouse, Crookes isn’t just in their league—she’s carving out a space of her own, one where her love for London and her family’s immigrant roots can take center stage, too.

Up ahead, Crookes talks about growing up with immigrant parents, childhood inspirations, her experience on tour in North America and more. Read on for Joy Crookes’ STYLECASTER On the Record interview below.

On growing up with music

“Music has always been a part of my life in the sense that it was always played in the house and it has always been something I’ve been really interested in. I used to buy records, I used to buy albums, I used to buy magazines about music and read about the new weekly albums that have come out. I was just really into music—not necessarily so much as a musician, but more as someone that just really loved it. In that sense, I knew that it was never going to be something that left me, because it was something I was always deeply passionate about. That never really changed. Just what I was listening to changed.”

On her inspirations

“Frida Kahlo. Kanye West. I love Kanye. His creative mind is just fantastic—his political one, not so much. And Black female jazz singers in general. Their unapologetic nature and the way they took up space is probably one of the most inspiring things ever to me. I find it important for me to be unapologetic, no matter how hard that is. We don’t have long on this planet. It’s important to say what I need to say and get things off my chest.”

On lessons from her parents

“I feel like opportunities aren’t things that are handed to you so easily. They might be there, but it’s all about how you grab them. I’ve always had that mentality. I think that was definitely born from having immigrant parents, but also growing up in a place where a lot of us were born from immigrants. A lot of us understood that. You can’t just fart and something happens, you know what I mean? You have to really work at it.”

I put a lot of pressure on myself when I was younger. Now, I think mediocrity is essential.

On her family’s reaction to her career

“My dad understood because it was something that we spoke about. He has a very immigrant mentality, in the sense that if I have an opportunity, then why not take it? But it was more difficult for my mom; she wanted me to further my studies. In hindsight, I probably could have. I don’t think I needed to be so young. It wasn’t the easiest thing. I think if I had a child and they said, ‘I’m 16 and I’m dropping out of school,’ I’d be like, ‘What did you say?!’ But I’d like to think that they’re proud. I also think they know that I have a bit of a prefect mentality, in the sense that I have to get things right. It’s not even their pressure or the label’s pressure. It’s just always been how my brain works, to be honest.”

On how her songwriting process has changed

“I feel like I’m a lot more self-assured. I’m better at accepting that some songs I write are just going to be a bit shit. I put a lot of pressure on myself when I was younger to think that every song I wrote needed to be the best one. Now, I think mediocrity is essential. I need to have songs that are not necessarily trying to reach for anything. Or where I’m trying to reach for something and I don’t grab it. That’s fine. Don’t put that pressure on yourself. In that way, the process has changed because I understand now that those songs are just as much part of the process as the good ones.”

On haters

“Sometimes I really like criticism because it means I’m doing the right thing. I wouldn’t want to be everyone’s cup of tea. Especially when it’s from people from my own community, I really enjoy that criticism because it’s like, ‘Oh wow, this is literally like what I’ve been trying to write about. And you’re just highlighting the issue for me.’

Too high a compliment is too low an insult as well, though. I think both are just as damaging. When someone’s really trying to blow smoke up your ass, it’s just as problematic as when someone’s trying to absolutely bomb your mountain.”

Art is like Play-Doh—it’s so malleable.

On how fans interpret her music

“What I find really interesting about interpretation is that people really make things their own, and I’m happy for them to do that. I can’t control that process. Interpretation is what makes music such a therapy, because you listen to songs and you think they were written for you because they relate so much to your situation. In so many ways, it’s such a beautiful connection that I wouldn’t want to get in between. So I try not to care too much about how people interpret the messages of the music—the message is what they want to make of it.”

I’ve got this song called “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” that’s constantly used for soccer in the UK, and it has nothing to do with feet. It might as well be used for a foot fetish advertisement. I love that! I’ve written a pop song that is about performativity, armchair activism and cancel culture, and for some reason, it’s used in all of these super literal contexts. I have no issue with that, because it’s hilarious to me. Art is like Play-Doh—it’s so malleable. People can make whatever they want to make of it. And that’s amazing.”

On her North American tour and upcoming festivals

“I love America so much. I just love performing there. I love how passionate people are. I don’t know what happened in the New York show, but something came up on me and I just started crying halfway through. It wasn’t stopping. I couldn’t sing my lyrics. But everyone was singing my lyrics back to me during ‘Skin.’ It was really special.

I’m also doing loads of festivals this year, so that’s been a natural development in my live work. It’s something I’ve been working on that I want to grow and to expand on, too.”

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Tickets to Joy Crookes’ 2022 concerts are available for purchase on Ticketmaster. Discounted tickets are also available at StubHub or VividSeats using StyleCaster’s exclusive code, SC15 at checkout for $15 off.

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