Skin

Joy Crookes

Skin

Some songs find their place in the world instantly and others take a while. Joy Crookes has been hanging on to some of the tracks on her debut album, Skin, since she was a teenager, waiting for the right moment for them to shine. This collection paints a portrait of a young woman of 23, finding her place in the world and understanding herself through her family—for better and worse—mixed in with songs that deal with social injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement. There’s also casual sex (“I Don’t Mind”) and the winding ancestral journeys that bring a family to London (“19th Floor”), as the South Londoner, of Bangladeshi and Irish heritage, pays tribute to the people and places that made her. “Biologically, our skin is one of the strongest organs in our body, but socially and externally, in terms of our identity, it can be used against us,” Crookes tells Apple Music of the album title. “And it’s not just a racial thing; it’s who we are that is used against us.” Read on as the singer-songwriter guides us through the powerful Skin, track by track.
“I Don’t Mind” “I was in a casual relationship, or a casual situation-ship, at that time, and I kind of had to let the person know that it wasn't going to be anything more than what it was. I played the track to him and he didn't really get the picture. He was like, ‘I don’t really like this one.’ When I produced it, I was listening to Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak and Solange. I was really interested in how sonically there's a lot of grit and beauty in both of their production styles, so that was the inspiration.”
“19th Floor” “The spoken bit at the beginning is me saying goodbye to my grandma on the 19th floor of her building in London. This is what I do every time I say goodbye to her, and she always gives me that beautiful ‘Okay, I love you’. The strings were recorded in Abbey Road in Studio Two, which is The Beatles’ room and is also where Massive Attack recorded ‘Unfinished Sympathy’. And the song is about how far my family’s come to give me the life that I have.”
“Poison” “I wrote ‘Poison’ when I was 15. I was very angry—I think it was the angriest I'd been in a very long time and one of the most angry points in my life. I had bought The Clash's box set, and there was a blank notebook in it that said ‘The future is unwritten’ on the cover. One of the lines I wrote in there was ‘You’re scared of snakes’. I looked at that and wrote ‘Poison’ in like 10 minutes.”
“Trouble” “It was kind of inspired by Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’. You know, when you love someone, you're so close to them, but you hurt the ones you love. The syncopation and beats in Bollywood music can sometimes kind of be reminiscent of Caribbean kind of syncopation.”
“When You Were Mine” “I was writing a happy song but about a weird subject, as is usual with me. It's about my first love becoming gay after our relationship. The song is about being jealous of their love, but also celebrating the fact that my ex is who he is. The brass was inspired by [legendary Ghanaian musician] Ebo Taylor, who has an amazing way of making brass sound kind of drunk.”
“To Lose Someone” “The conversation at the start of this song was recorded in a nail shop in Brixton. It was two days after my ex and I broke up, and my mum was giving me advice. There's a cello interlude there by [arranger, composer and cellist] Amy Langley. And the song is about when you enter a relationship, you have to compromise or remove some of your baggage in order to be together. But at the same time knowing that when you do love someone, you are inevitably going to lose them at some point.”
“Unlearn You” “There’s a line in this song: ‘Got a plate of pink cupcakes to sugarcoat the aftertaste.’ When I came out about something that happened to me to do with abuse, I was taken to a cupcake shop. The cupcakes were literally to sugarcoat the aftertaste. The scariest line is ‘I didn't ever wear a dress in case he thought I was asking for it.’ It’s a really difficult song to sing, not just in terms of the content, but the notes. It helped to write a song about my experiences. It gave me perspective and actually helped me heal.”
“Kingdom” “I love post-punk music and bands like ESG and Young Marble Giants. I wrote it the day after the December 2019 election, when the Tory party were re-elected. I think the whole of London was pissed off. And I was fucking pissed off. It's talking about my experience as someone that voted and didn't get the result I wanted, and what that meant for the future of our next few generations. I was fucking vexed.”
“Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” “It's about a character that finds it easier to be complicit or performative in fear of actually speaking up about how they feel. And it was in light of the Black Lives Matter protests last year and the movement. I didn't have any answers, so I kind of just wanted to write a song that gave a little bit of the sign of the times, and also one that held myself accountable. Because I think we were all guilty of being complacent and performative because of fear, and the fear of cancel culture.”
“Wild Jasmine” “‘Wild Jasmine’ is inspired by Tony Allen. There's kind of something South Asian about the way the guitar moves in that song. It’s about me telling my mom not to trust a man, or love him. Her name is Jasmine, and she is just like the plant—the plant naturally has to grow wild and it grows however it wants to. It felt like this man was not letting her do that. Are you going to accept wholefully, or wholesomely, who that person is? And it felt like he wasn’t.”
“Skin” “This is kind of inspired by Frank Sinatra and his classic ballad-type songs. I wrote it the day after one of my friends was very much on the brink, and who felt like they weren't needed on this planet anymore. It was my way of telling them that they were, and that they have a life worth living—that’s literally what I said to them. And then I went in the next day. I was crying in the studio and I wrote them that song.”
“Power” “It's about the abuse of power. And I think Boris Johnson is guilty of abusing power, as is Trump, as is Nigel Farage, as are all the arseholes, Priti Patel. People think it's a feminism song, but it's just about the abuse of power in general. Musically, I was inspired by Nina Simone and that kind of messiness and up-front vocal.”
“Theek Ache” “Everyone always pronounces this wrong. ‘Theek ache’ is translated in the song; it means it’s okay. It’s a big warm hug at the end of the album after you've listened to all these fucking heavy songs. I wrote it after drinking with Jodie Comer. It's just saying, ‘Sure, I'm going to make mistakes, and I'm going to be a human being, and I'm going to make fuck-ups, and then I'm going to go through this, that and the other. But you know, it’s OK—I’ll have my kitten heels, cigarettes and a mattress at the end of the night.’”

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