Song You Need to Know: Jorja Smith, 'Burn'

From the time Jorja Smith had just one song on SoundCloud, to her current status as an R&B darling, the singer has weaved social commentary into her tales of youth, self, and love. At 17, she wrote her first single, 2016’s “Blue Lights,” to recognize the fear of police and proximity to crime that black people experience. On the debut album that followed, “Blue Lights” precedes “Lifeboats (Freestyle),” a rap-sung hybrid about economic inequality. Last summer, she released “By Any Means” as a contribution to the Black Lives Matter movement, and in December, she rallied against misogynoir on Enny’s “Peng Black Girls” remix.

Nestled into Smith’s new EP Be Right Back is “Burn,” a gentle track plainly tackling burnout. Smith sings of a stubborn woman draining herself while chasing her goals: “Hard to be real with your dreams/No silent movie and no puppet strings/Can’t hold you up, you’ve got to hold yourself,” she warns. Burnout may seem less weighty than the topics Smith has engaged with before, but emotional and physical exhaustion rages under capitalism, and has been heightened by the pandemic. Balancing the personal and the professional has always come with the particular challenges of bias, hypervisibility, and invisibility for the black and brown women who have been disproportionately affected by the international crises of the last year.

Produced by Top Dawg Entertainment’s Kal Banx and Jeff “Gitty” Gitelman (a collaborator to H.E.R. and Mac Miller), “Burn” is soothing and light, like a careful back rub. Wrapped in Gitelman’s sunny electric guitar and bass, the song is a warm invitation for women to put their needs in front of their desires, especially as they relate to ambition. “The fire’s always there, no one needs to get hurt,” Smith offers with understanding.

Find a playlist of all of our recent Songs You Need to Know selections on Spotify.

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