Joy Oladokun has crafted noteworthy art with her major label debut album, in defense of my own happiness, out June 4 via Republic Records. Leaning into cinematic melodies that embrace a pop, R&B and folk-friendly blend, the Nashville-based artist has a voice rich and lush with stories of pain transformed into power. Across the album’s 14 songs – which include fantastic collaborations with Maren Morris and 23-year-old singer-songwriter and poet Jensen McRae – the Arizona native and child of Nigerian immigrants embraces themes of bettering oneself and cleansing her soul, shedding the trials of the past while standing tall in her own grace.
You can catch Oladokun on the road this year as an opening act on Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s tour in September, in addition to appearances at Bonnaroo Festival on September 2 and Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 1. Visit Oladokun’s official website for more information. In the meantime, here are five standout tracks on in defense of my own happiness.
Featured in season 5 of This is Us, all it takes is one listen to “Breathe Again” to become an instant fan of Oladokun, even without NBC’s endorsement. Her voice sparkles like a gemstone under the light on this gentle piano number accented by a soft orchestra. “Breathe Again” serves as a true demonstration of raw vulnerability as Oladokun shares her personal, innermost thoughts with the world. Fragile enough to bend, but strong enough not to break under the pressure, Oladokun takes a hard look at herself as she’s trapped by inner demons, yet reaching toward the light. “Breathe Again” feels like a moment of self-betterment and rebirth, making for one of the album’s most triumphant moments.
Best lyrics: “Follow me down where the waters run deep/I’ll let you drown in the worst of me/If my intentions are good why can’t I come clean”
“Hold my breath until I’m honest/Will I ever breathe again”
“I See America”
The album’s second shortest track is also among its most thought-provoking. Here, Oladokun takes an aerial perspective on the melting pot that is America. Rather than taking a stark political stand, she looks at unity from a refreshing perspective. Blending subtle observations with potent lyrics that manifest god in the form of a man on the street with a tear drop tattoo on his cheek and dirt under his fingernails, she also manages to illuminate the balancing act of human relationships. As she reprises the pinnacle mantra, “When I see you/I see us/I see America/I feel your pain/I share your blood/I see America,” it has a powerful way of manifesting in the listener’s spirit.
Best lyrics: “I feel your pain/I share your blood/I see America”
“Mighty Die Young”
With a voice like an echoing beacon in the darkness, the dynamic artist delivers a tribute to the fearless leaders who used their voices to lift up noble causes, leaving this earth with glitter in their eyes, smoke in their lungs and dust on their tongues – symbols of a job well done. In two minutes and 18 seconds, Oladokun counteracts those who’ve dealt her more than her fair share of indignity with an endless well of kindness, ending the song with the fitting proclamation and a declaration of resiliency.
Best lyrics: “I’m not mighty/I’ve only just begun/The mighty die young”
“Heaven From Here”
Alongside glimmering harmonies from duo Penny & Sparrow, Oladokun confronts mortality in this gentle piece. She sings of seeing a heavenly view through the cracks of the stained glass windows in an abandoned house once shared with the person she loved, now a relic of their faded union. With a plucked acoustic melody that evokes the feeling of rain bouncing off a window pane, the song finds her asking the universe to give her another day to enjoy life. It is as much a song about perspective as it is about pondering the mystery of life, likely to prompt deep thought in anyone who listens deeply.
Best lyrics: “Just terrified of getting older/‘Cause no one goes with you to the other side”
Oladokun ends the album on a light note with “Jordan.” Despite being baptized in the sacred Jordan River only to be bound in chains, she’s soon freed by a deep love. Building a new promised land with the person who saw past the scars and turmoil to the beauty underneath, the lyrics celebrate what they’ve built together. Carried by a peaceful instrumental, Oladokun culminates the song with the declaration, “now I’ve found love, there’s no turning back” — ending her beautiful debut album with a defining statement that sets the stage for a bright future.
Best lyrics: “You loved me though I was not lovely or deserving/You kissed the curse from my lips/And taught them to rejoice again”