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Bren Joy on  'Arcane,' Revisiting Tumblr-Era R&B, and Manifesting Good Days [Q&A]

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Photo: Red Bull

After a year of non-stop success, Nashville-born, LA-based R&B singer Bren Joy capped 2021 with a showstopping performance at Red Bull SoundClash. SoundClash, a country-wide competition-like show where two artists face off and perform against each other, landed in Nashville and invited R&B artist Bren Joy and rising pop star Jake Wesley Rogers to battle it out on their hometown stage.

Thousands of fans gathered to view two of their favorite artists and cheer them on. The contestants took the stage and put on an exhilarating performance that showed off their immense talent. The event included the duo performing their own songs, each other’s songs, and bringing out special guests to accompany them on stage, including Sheryl Crow, Lennon Stella, Joy Oladokun, and Landon Sears.

The 23-year-old started writing music at the beginning of 2018 and released his first three singles, “Henny in the Hamptons,” “Scottie Pippen,” and “Twenties,” later that year. The tracks earned him placements on editorial playlists and the attention of a devoted and growing fanbase that has had a first-row seat to his surging career. In May 2019, he released his debut record, Twenties,  an eight-song project that merges Bren’s love of gospel, R&B, hip-hop, jazz, and pop Touching on the different emotions and experiences you encounter during the beginning of your twenties and conveying an underlying theme of hope and self-love, it embraces today’s music culture while highlighting something fresh.

Ones to Watch had the chance to talk with Joy about his involvement on League of Legends'  Arcane soundtrack, revisiting Tumblr-era R&B, and what's to come.  

Ones to Watch: You’ve been getting a lot of recognition lately for your work alongside Denzel Curry and Gizzle on League of Legends' "Dynasties & Dystopia." Can you tell me more about your involvement?  

Bren Joy: I grew up playing video games, just not League of Legends. I have many friends who played that and Runescape, so I knew it. When they asked me to do it, I wondered, “Why me?” because the lineup was very different, and it’s a very intense show. The specific scene is one of the mega scenes of the season. So yeah, at first, I did feel it was a weird pairing, and I think that’s what made it so fun. They were very accepting of my weird ideas and encouraged me to just go for it. So I was at home, and in 30 minutes, I just laid down the first thing that came to mind, which was that chorus, and next thing you know, we had it.

Did they tell you what the song would be used for?

No! They sent me the track, and they said it’s gonna be a fight scene, but I had no idea it’d be such an important scene. So then I saw it and watched the whole entire season, and everyone was like, “Yo, this is crazy!” It was wild.

Is it something that you’d be open to doing again?

Totally. I think it’s fun to do moments like that to really push my art and my sound outside of what I’m used to. I feel like people are so used to hearing me in this very R&B, very demure soundscape. So it’s nice to branch out and show different parts of my voice ad my writing.

League of Legends is known for incorporating music into their world-building and storytelling. When it comes to your own projects, is coming up with visuals or an aesthetic something you prefer to plan out in detail, or is it something you feel out as you go?

For that project specifically, I had to plan it out and look at the scene they sent so I could look at it and gauge if what I was doing was too much or too weird. When it comes to everything else, I visually know what I want, especially right now, which is a strange place to be in. I visually understand what the next project will look like and what I wanted visually to embody. I think now I’m trying to make music. Usually, I make music first and then visuals, and usually, that’s how it goes. I feel like I have videos and visuals, and I’m trying to add the music, so it’s kind of like reverse right now. That’s where my head is at the moment. In five years, maybe I’ll be completely opposite, but right now, that’s my flow.

How would you describe your aesthetic sonically and visually right now if you had to give it any kind of label?

I will say what I’m writing right now for the next year is very 2015, Tumblr R&B. In 2015, that was when Childish Gambino, Theophilus London, and Frank Ocean were coming up. The Internet was big. It’s super nostalgic. That era of R&B is what I’m very inspired by, so I think that’s where my sound is heading right now. I feel like we’re in that middle lane. So yeah, that’s where I’m trying to get to.

Alongside writing your own music, you’ve been a part of several songwriting projects for other artists. What makes for a great creative partner and collaborator?  

One, someone that creates a safe space. I think it’s essential. It was weird because when we went to Atlanta and LA and stuff like that, I was very weird about just being queer and being in the space. You know how people are. So, I look for someone that instantly has that very welcoming energy. Innovation also is a huge thing. If I’m working with someone, I don’t want to do something regular. I’m like, let’s get weird, let’s do some cool shit. Even if they use the song or don’t use the song, at least they’ll have something that’s left field from everything else in their catalog because nine times out of ten, they’ll go back to it. So yeah, that’s what I look for. Someone willing to step out of the box and what they know works for their catalog.

What has been one of the biggest surprises that you’ve learned in that whole process?

Something weird I learned, when we’re writing for specific artists, I always get in the room, and this is not me being a narcissist; it’s just sometimes people realize you’re the best singer in the room. I found people don’t cut songs from really good singers. People will tell me, “Okay, you can sing, but you’re singing it too well. Like you can’t cut the song.” It’s crazy. So the least well singer in the room will cut the song that we just wrote. When that first happened, I was sitting there like, “What?” and they would explain that the song works, but you can’t sing it because you don’t want to intimidate anyone.

So how are you feeling going into your first Red Bull SoundClash? How are you prepping for the event?  

I feel good! I think it’s such an eclectic setup. I think I’m trying to figure out how to best approach it, and I’m stacking up to the minute before. I’m figuring out the best way to approach it because it’s not just a concert, it’s this whole event, but I’m excited. I feel safe with Jake on the stage, and I feel safe with Jake singing my music. I think that’s very important, doing it with an artist you feel will respect what you write and vice versa. So yeah, it’s a crazy concept, and we’re gonna have a blast.

What do you want to manifest for yourself for the next year in both your personal and professional life?

I feel like I should say good health, especially after the last couple of years. I have so many ideas in my head, and sometimes I have a hard time being confident enough to execute them to the best of my ability. And so I just want to manifest a beautiful album. It’s the first time I’m going to create a project with Warner on a full label that’s top to bottom brand new. So yeah, good art. Good health. Good days.

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