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PRIDE & JOY

Even before singer/songwriter Joy Oladokun dropped her brand-new major-label debut album, In Defense of My Own Happiness (Amigo Records/Verve Forecast/Republic), her visibility was significant. Her storytelling is steeped in the authenticity of her experience as a queer woman of color and child of Nigerian immigrants, but Oladokun makes being human the emotional and spiritual epicenter of her work. The Arizona-raised, Nashville-based artist knows her way around a pop hook, too, so even the most nakedly honest material, such as the powerhouse “Who Do I Turn To?” is swathed in robust singability. Not surprisingly, she’s already earned rapturous praise from critics. Her latest single, “Bigger Man,” is a duet with Maren Morris.

What do you want the world to know about your approach to making music? 
That it’s really therapeutic. I would be making music whether or not people were paying attention—it comes from this deep desire to make sense of life and how difficult it can be. I know how fickle and inconsistent, but also how beautiful, I can be, and I want to make sense of that, develop that into the best version of myself I can be. And also, I have a lot of fun!

You’ve mentioned listening to Tracy Chapman when you were 10; who else has inspired and influenced you?
The people who’ve inspired me the most are artists known for being themselves. I think of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, I think of Betty Davis, I think of Cash, Bowie and Prince, who is one of my all-time favorites. I’ve been on a deep Jimi Hendrix kick for a bit now. Janis Joplin, Nina Simone… Those are examples of artists who presented to the world the safest, closest version of themselves that they could. I say safe because vulnerability can be dangerous.

Then there are people like Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, who fronted the greatest band of all time and were able to combine hefty, deep songwriting with this pop sensibility. I’m inspired by the people who bleed onto the page and make it nice to listen to.

You're not shy about tackling subject matter that society is reluctant to address. 
As you get older you realize that everybody is wrestling with some of the same things you are. What I’m trying to be as a musician and as a human is the person who says, “I understand how you feel. I know how weird and squirrely life can get and it’s still worth being there and going after it anyway.” 

Being a woman, a person of color and the child of immigrants has clearly given you a first-hand understanding of so many societal imbalances and injustices. How has this understanding shaped you and your music? What can you share with other young creators who are now confronting similar challenges? 
As a human, I happen to intersect with three groups of people who experience prejudice and stereotyping: women, queer people and Black people. As a musician, it’s part of my goal to be really human. I think it’s important and powerful to hear straight from the horse’s mouth what it’s like to be me and to live and love. I tend to write as a bridge between what is and what I wish could be. As far as advice for young creators, you deserve to be in the room. The sooner you accept it, own it and just do it—be the full version of what you know you can be—the better, and the faster doors will open.

You grew up attending church in Casa Grande, Ariz.  What were your earliest memories of realizing you were queer, and how did you navigate that as a young person coming of age in a conservative community? Did that affect how you connected with music then? Does it now?
My earliest memory of being queer is having my first crush at church. I was very, very young and someone walked into choir practice who looked like Ariel from The Little Mermaid and my life was changed. I’m still dealing with how I navigated that as a young person coming of age. It’s hard when you’re a kid and one of your main safety nets says that if this one thing that is very true about you is true about you, you won’t be accepted. It’s an unfortunate position to take, one that has left me with some unfortunate coping mechanisms and stuff I have to work through.

Music was the way I figured it out. Everything I know about music and even spirituality I learned from the music I love. Bob Marley, or even Aretha Franklin’s gospel records… Music teaches us that spirituality is wide and vast. When I was a queer kid in a space I very much couldn’t be queer in, music was a lifeline, communicating that if you can hold on, the world might just be big enough to accept you. I still listen to music that way. I still am looking for songs to inspire and encourage me.

What does the notion of gay pride mean in 2021? Where are we in the process of, as you once put it, “letting people be people?” 
Pride in 2021 is about accepting yourself and who you love but also about advocacy for people in queer spaces you maybe don’t understand or interact with as often. We are learning as a community how to take care of all our brothers and sisters, specifically our trans and non-binary brothers and sisters. Pride right now means learning, doing the research, asking the questions, making friends outside of your normal friend groups. The way we let people be people is by experiencing different types of people. It’s no longer about, “Hi. I’m dating someone and they’re the same sex”; it’s, “Here’s the person I love, and you’re excited for me because you love me.” There’s no weirdness about it. 

In the last few years, there has been increased societal awareness of the need for inclusivity and social justice and the need to address issues of systemic inequality. As an industry, how do you think the music business can be seen as leaders in creating a more just and equitable world? 
The music industry is taking steps I want to commend and honor. People are having conversations, saying, “Let’s have everything reflect the world that we live in.” Because if we look at the corporate structure of a lot of labels, it doesn’t; the way talent is sourced and encouraged is not representative. People are trying to connect with HBCUs or unconventional schools and organizations to bring in talent that isn’t the people you traditionally see working at record labels. But there is more work to be done; the doors could be more open. It’s time—if we want it to be equitable, let’s make it equitable.

Where do you see yourself in the pantheon of young, out, proud artists and how do you hope your artistry will impact your fans as well as inspire artists coming up behind you?
I’ve been saying a lot about how little hope I had as a kid. I want people seeing me—making this music, living this life, loving who I love, playing with my dog—to have hope that they can be OK, too. I’m going through the process of, “How do I take care of myself to the utmost? How do I deal with all the traumas and the pain and confusion that came with growing up the way I did and living in the world we live in?” I hope the care I show myself extends to people like me who don’t feel they are taken care of or don’t feel they can take care of themselves. I hope it makes the road a little wider for weird queer outliers of color but also people of any race, creed, whatever. I just want people to have hope. I want people to think they can do it. Because if I can do it, you can do it.

NEAR TRUTHS:
DEVELOPING STORIES
The kids are almighty. (8/2a)
LEADING OFF:
RON’S BIG RUN
Not your father's Columbia (8/2a)
ON THE COVER
Happier days are here again. (8/2a)
AN AUGUST HITS LIST
Look at the guns on these giants. (8/2a)
GRAMMY CHEW: SEEING BIEBER
It's high time for Justice in the Academy. (8/2a)
NEW & DEVELOPING ARTISTS
From tender shoots to mighty oaks.
MARKETSHARE MANIA
Let's do the numbers.
DELTA VARIANT
It is not the name of a Henry Miller novel.
IS IT TIME FOR ANOTHER ROCK STORY?
Could be. Dunno.
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