“Her lyricism and imagery remains sharp and vivid as ever, her language flowery as a botanical garden.”
WORDS BY JONNY PURCELL
FEATURED PHOTO BY BEN MCQUAIDE
Many say that the hardest test on the planet is “The Knowledge”. London taxi drivers spend years memorising the city’s 25,000 streets in order to pass. Listen to Joy Crookes entire back catalogue and I’m convinced you’re halfway there. Her curated Spotify playlists feature early Arctic Monkeys and The Streets, which seem to reflect her lyrically more than musically. Their detailed location-focused lyricism of Sheffield and Brixton respectively clearly struck a chord with her and had an influence on her writing. Her lyrics read as love letters to “Bangla noise on Brick Lane”, “Peckham preachers” and of course, her beloved Elephant & Castle. In particular, her 2019 song London Mine was an ode to the melting pot of bustling diversity that makes London’s eclectic cosmopolitanism so intoxicating. I first heard that song when I’d just moved back to London and was crashing in my sister’s spare room in her old flat off the Old Kent Road in Elephant and Castle. The road got name-dropped in the first four lines. Needless to say, I’m a little bit biased.
I had actually first come across her slightly earlier, following the release of her demo Don’t Let Me Down in late 2018. The minimalist backing track was equal parts atmospheric and melancholic, but more importantly was how it stepped aside to let her voice take centre stage. Winehouse-esque crooning made it clear she was one to be watched, she has a powerful, confident and distinct voice. In the 18 months since, she’s released music at a voracious rate: her second and third EPs and a plethora of singles. You’d expect that a relentless rate of releases could value quantity over quality, but Crookes’ consistency has rightly attracted a lot of attention along the way. By now, she’s been adorned by the NME, BBC, MTV Push, Amazon Music and the rest of them… you get the picture.
Given that everyone and their dog are predicting her to be amongst the big breakthrough acts of 2020, Anyone But Me is an important single in her rapid ascent. No topic seems to throw her; she’s tackled immigration, gentrification, Brexit, and any other awkward topic you can think of with gracious aplomb. She makes no bones about these topics either, in her own words, “I don’t sugar-coat anything”. Her response to an interview question about her roots and identity is probably my favourite example of this:
“Regardless of what colour I am, or how I speak, I have Irish in my blood, no English, just Irish and Bangladeshi.”
It’s no surprise then that she has approached the topic of her personal mental health in her latest single. She has spoken candidly on her struggles with depression growing up and has always cited music as an escape for it, a tried and tested method for sure. She gives a nuanced portrayal of the confusion with identity that can go hand-in hand with mental health struggles. Fundamentally, the song deals with coming to terms with “the self”. The chorus borrows from the 1958 Nina Simone track Love me or Leave Me, an influence that Crookes has cited before, which makes perfect sense when you hear Joy sing. She borrows from Simone as a nod of respect as opposed to out of laziness of songwriting. Rather, her lyricism and imagery remains sharp and vivid as ever, her language flowery as a botanical garden:
“Making mosaics of my memories, puzzled with doubt I’m my closest enemy
It’s like this girl is squatting in my identity, She’s a raver, a likkle libertine
Then a bouncer to my dopamine”
Deeply personal and intimate, the lyrics themselves would salvage a mediocrely composed and delivered song. But Crookes singing remains phenomenal as always. The melody melts together with her voice effortlessly; this is a tightly produced track from a woman who still had a demo on an EP 11 months ago. Regardless of whether Anyone But Me leads as a single for an EP or an album, it is sure to send Joy to new heights along her already soaring trajectory. It seems wrong to say she’s even showing potential, this woman already churns out bangers for fun. And even then, banger doesn’t do justice to the ultra-personal and expressive nature of her lyrics. Even as she rides this ascent to the Queen of London atop the apex of the Shard, she is sure to just parachute straight back to Elephant & Castle to work on yet another new track. And a good thing too.
FOR FANS OF
Amy Winehouse | Arlo Parks | Jorja Smith