Joy Crookes’ debut album, Skin, opens with a statement of intent: “You wanted my body, not my mind.” It’s a phrase that could elicit memories of soured relationships, toxic partners and moments of realisation. “You can even apply that to the music industry,” Crookes tells marie claire. “Or to women who’ve had that experience in different industries. Where it’s like, ‘You thought I was a piece of paper, but it turned out that I was a keyboard.’ That’s the skin, isn’t it? You think of it as this 2D, surface-level kind of thing when it’s so much more than that.”
This level of perception is what has set the 23-year-old Irish-Bangladeshi Londoner apart: diving below the surface to tease out the complexities of the personal and political in the pursuit of figuring out her place in the world. She eschews neat categorisation by being brash, outspoken and authentically herself. It’s paying off: last year, she was nominated for the Brits’ Rising Star Award and placed fourth in BBC’s Sound of 2020 poll.
Having dropped out of school at 16 to pursue music, she explains that is her vehicle for analysis. “I never got to do skilled writing like I would have at university,” she says. “My way of navigating and breaking down situations is through songs.”
With Skin, she explores themes of belonging, heritage and relationships with complete autonomy. “Some artists are happy to hand things over,” says Crookes, who also executive-produced the album. “But for me, I need to be in control and to be able to voice how I feel without a filter. [On Skin] I was able to do that and it was incredible.”
Skin is out now.