South Bay jazz keyboardist Joy Dawn Hackett recently went through a metamorphosis, emerging on the other side as JOY., the pop singer.
“It’s not jazz,” Hackett says. “It’s high energy. It’s a lot of fucking fun. It’s good for the indoor house party, indoor club season coming up.”
JOY.’s first single, “Uptown Hood,” was released earlier this month on streaming services. The wavy single spins a melody of harp and synthesizer over a bouncy backbeat, while the lyrics spin the tale of someone regularly and consistently on their daily grind. The song marks a new era for the active musician, an era of pop music she plans to use to take over the South Bay.
“Uptown Hood” finds Hackett likening herself to a bandit, or “desperado,” on the run for survival as she drives to an uptown neighborhood to deliver a mysterious package. Her lyrics paint a vivid picture, with her suave, vintage Cadillac Eldorado playing the role of valiant steed on her journey across a sunny and wild West Coast.
Hackett says this single offers just a glimpse of the world she’s creating with her upcoming EP, expected to drop sometime in October. The album is yet to be named, but will contain five tracks that are all different in feel and perspective. All of it represents a new side of Hackett that she’s intentionally trying to explore—a rebirth in her style as a performer.
“I’m on here as a singer. I’m retired as a keyboard player, actually,” she says.
Inspirations for the project include SZA, Anderson .Paak, Doja Cat and others that skirt the line between several music styles while still selling out amphitheaters and stadiums. These artists appeal to emotion through storytelling—whether it’s SZA’s tales of romance and heartbreak, Doja’s keen flirtatiousness or .Paak’s lyrics about rolling spliffs while growing up in a church.
Hackett grew up in Santa Clara, where she was homeschooled throughout middle school. While playing keys in her high school jazz band, her musical identity began to form.
“Once I started playing jazz in high school, I became an elitist. I said ‘Katy Perry sucks,’” Hackett says, on her days as a lowkey, adolescent hater.
After high school, she attended San Jose State for Jazz Studies. The last few years, she has gigged around the Bay Area on keyboard, frequently performing with her school’s professors and other session musicians throughout San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland.
Hackett says a 10-day trip to Cuba for SJSU in 2017 opened her eyes to the way the world sees her, an experience that helps shape her art now. Even in a different country, she says she was treated with a higher level of reverence and affection by the locals because she is considered light skin there—a type of discrimination she said she went to Cuba to escape.
“You can’t just run away from your problems, that’s what I learned there,” she says.
The experience put her through a “spiral of emotions” that transformed her understanding of culture and race as a Black Filipina woman from the Bay. The trip was a moment of intense growing pain. As JOY., she says she wants her music to reflect her life’s experiences instead of just sounding nice.
It was a tectonic shift in her understanding of music.
“You can write a song, but you can’t write a song without knowing anything about yourself,” she says.
With that, her days as a hater faded. She started to appreciate more musical styles and performers. All of a sudden, Katy Perry was alright.
As JOY., Hackett is now on a different path as a musician, with a different goal: a spot at the top of the pop charts. She’s planning new music drops soon, but also more travel. Having vacationed in Atlanta recently for a roller-skating trip, she plans to take her skates to more places that help shape her understanding of music.
“A good musician can make someone cry with one chord. This is a jazz sort of thing—a good musician can create a beautiful and convincing solo with one note. I think what it really takes is awareness of yourself emotionally, because in the end this is art. It all has to come from yourself somehow.”