Interview: Joeboy On What It Means to Be an African Popstar
We talk to the buzzing Nigerian about his debut album, Somewhere Between Beauty and Magic.
It is undeniable that Joeboy is an African pop star. Back in 2017, the Nigerian artist attracted the attention of Mr Eazi—whom he signed a record deal with— through a cover of Ed Sheeran's global hit, "Shape Of You." After a false start with the Mr Eazi-assisted "Faaji," Joeboy's spotlight moment came with his 2019 continental hit, "Baby," which gained heavy recognition in East Africa before rising to the peak in Joeboy's home country, Nigeria. Since then, Joeboy has been on a never-ending rollercoaster releasing hit singles such as "Beginning," "Don't Call Me Back" and a five-track EP titled Love and Light.
While Joeboy has ascended into popstar royalty, winning the hearts of girls across Africa, he has also amassed a reputation for making songs that are short and to the point. "I promise you, I genuinely do not care if it is one-minute. If it is sweet, it is sweet. There is no deliberate reason behind it, it is not something I plan. To be honest, it stops when it stops and if it is there, I don't try to force it to make it three minutes" Joeboy says to me candidly when I sit with him just before his performance at a virtual concert in Lagos, Nigeria.
Backstage at the venue, Joeboy dons a black corduroy ensemble, and not long after he arrives at the building where the virtual performance is to take place, he is swamped by people of different age groups, who attempt to take pictures with him. One woman in her late 30s, presumably a facility officer at the building, rushes in after the crowd disperses and takes pictures with Joeboy. Afterwards, she openly declares with unbridled joy "Finally!! My enemies must see that I have met Joeboy" like she had achieved a lifelong goal. This is the impact that Joeboy possesses.
Joeboy's music, often love-centric, contains infectious melodies that spread warmth and joy. It is no wonder he has accrued almost half a billion streams across streaming platforms. Finally, when the room clears and the songs to be performed at the virtual concert have been scheduled, I speak with Joeboy about his long-awaited debut album titled Somewhere Between Beauty and Magic. "The album is finalised but with the way I move, if I wake up in the morning, and some spirit or strong conviction comes that I should change something, I will." Joeboy says to me frankly.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photo: Yusuf Oluwo
Why did you choose to name the album Somewhere Between Beauty and Magic?
You know the first project was Love and Light. I spoke with Oxygen Mix—my mixing engineer—about what we should name the next project. When we were in Ghana riding quad bikes somewhere, Oxygen was like this place is beautiful. "Let's call it somewhere between beauty and magic." Another reason why we settled on the name is because the album consists of songs that are about different parts of love. Love is beautiful. Love is magic. These were songs I made with those influences.
How many songs are on the album?
For the singles before the album you put out "Lonely" and "Celebration," why did you choose those songs?
It just felt like the right time to put out those songs, and it was just the way I was feeling at that particular point. Because last year was really wild for everybody, for me personally as well. I just started enjoying last year around December. Also, there was so much negative energy on social media, it was crazy so that is why I decided to put out those songs.
You wanted to put out the album last year.
It was supposed to be out on October 30. Then on October 9, I dropped "Lonely" then End SARS happened, and I was getting serious disses like why is he dropping music now? If I had known, I would have stopped it before then.
Was that why you went to the End SARS protests?
You think I went to the protests because of that? No, it is an issue that affects every young person so I was still going to go either way.
Photo: Yusuf Oluwo
How did you make the 2020 smash hit, "Nobody," with DJ Neptune?
(Laughs) So I had a song with DJ Neptune initially, but I really wanted to keep it, because the song was really mad, then we agreed that I should. Then he sent another beat and that turned out to be "Nobody," and that too turned out to be mad.
How long did it take you to create the album?
Roughly, five months but I was just editing; removing and adding. I record a lot of songs and send them to a particular set of people to listen to. The album was A&R'd by Eazi, King Promise, Samuel & Oxygen Mix.
Was there a theme?
Basically, I just wanted to make good music. I feel when you try to follow a particular theme, you might get stuck.
What was the most difficult song to record on the album?
I think it was "Show Me." It is not like it was difficult, we recorded it and when we wanted to master it, the files disappeared and you know when it comes to 're-recording,' you have to feel that emotion again.
What's your personal favourite?
It has to be "Count Me Out" because that was the most personal song on the album and it was the last song I recorded on the album.
Photo: Walter Banks.
Why did you decide to drop a five-track EP, Love and Light, first?
I remember when I dropped "Baby," it was just "Baby" and the visualiser and I was not really out there. The same thing with "Beginning" as well. People just knew the songs. Eazi was like lets put them in a project so that people would know it is the same guy behind these songs.
Why the long wait from then till now for your debut album?
I was ready to put out an album in March 2020 if it was up to me, but there were some hold-ups so we had to wait.
What is the pinnacle for you?
I do not think there is a pinnacle for me. I just want to make music. I do not have a target except I get tired of music. I just want to keep doing music and help as many young artists as I can along the way
What has changed since you became a superstar?
Just being careful of things I say and things I do, because there is this form of responsibility that is on you.
Do you feel your music is versatile?
Yeah. I believe when people listen to the album, they will realise that there is a lot of versatility. I think when it comes to singles, you can't be too versatile.
Joeboy - Lonely (Official Video)youtu.be
What does it mean to be an African popstar?
It is a very good feeling (laughs). East Africa and Africa as a whole has shown me so much love, it is crazy. I remember I met Baby Fresh at a studio in 2019 and he was like "Where are you from?" I was like "I am from Ogun State, Nigeria." He was shocked. He said the first place he heard my song was in Uganda, and they were singing it word for word. They are also very supportive with streams and shows.
Is there anyone you are looking forward to collaborating with?
Aya Nakamura. Justin Bieber, I think we are connected. See now, Justin Bieber's break-out was "Baby," Joeboy's too was "Baby" (laughs). We both [have the initials] JB. We both have a song titled "Lonely" (laughs again). It will be really nice if we make a song together
The album has no features, why is that?
Debut album, I really want it to be just me, that is one thing. Also, when it comes to songs I really like, I don't like featuring people but before it drops, I might add one or two features. WurlD, Simi, or Fireboy.
Who is Joeboy when all is said and done?
Just a very normal guy that likes video games.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I want to be remembered as that amazing artist that always kept it real.
What next for Joeboy after the album?
Promote the album. Videos. Then, I would move to phase two of my career. I just want to help others. If I see a song I really like, I would jump on it and maybe shoot a video for something, I am not trying to sign anybody though. There also might be a deluxe version of the album.
Is there a sophomore album in the works?
Yeah, definitely. It is possible this year, I think six months space is enough time to drop another one.
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