Joy Oladokun: ‘You might want me to sing pretty love songs, but as an artist there are things I need to talk about’

For decades, West Hollywood’s Troubadour has been the place where singer-songwriters come to cut their teeth. The fabled venue played a crucial role in the rise of artists like Carole King, Jackson Browne and Elton John, and tonight it’s the turn of Joy Oladokun to take centre stage. It’s not an opportunity the 30-year-old takes lightly. Bathed in the spotlight, she starts talking about a song she wrote in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.

“There’s no country in the world that kills as many of its citizens as we do,” she says, before pointing out that she was born in 1992, the year Los Angeles was shaken by riots sparked by police brutality. Three decades later and the same old bigotries persist. No wonder Oladokun found herself moved to capture the moment in music. “This is the best way I know to heal the world, and that’s why I do this job,” she tells the audience. “To make this world better for people like us, and people unlike us.” With that, she launches into an incendiary version of her perceptive single “I See America”, interpolating the crunching riffs and wailed lyrics of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to create a monstrous mash-up that reverberates like a scream of frustration echoing across generations.

It’s a heart-stopping moment in a show packed full of them, and one that Oladokun has come to realise can receive a very different reception depending on where in the US she’s performing. “There was a show I played at the Ryman in Nashville where a guy booed me and walked out when I was just introducing the song,” she recalls, speaking to me on the phone from her tourbus somewhere in “Pennsylvania-ish”. Needless to say, that experience has not deterred Oladokun from speaking her truth. “You might just want me to sing pretty love songs,” she says, “but as an artist there are things I need to talk about.”

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