Joy Oladokun’s “Proof of Life” Will Save Your Soul

Decades from now, I imagine I will be sitting around a campfire in the woods with my oldest friends – queerdos who have retired to the mountains with our dogs, partners, and guaranteed incomes. Wearing flannel and overalls, one of my friends will light a blunt. [Calm yourself – it will be legal everywhere by then.] Another will throw out a question to our group, “So where were you when you first heard Joy Oladokun’s Proof of Life?”

Some of us will quietly think. One of my friends, the one with the voice of an angel, will sing a bit of the chorus from the final track on the album, “Somehow:”

I know what goes up comes down
And if you stick around
Life can change with the weather
Oh, somehow things just get better

Maybe someone will join in with the chorus, and I will smile, remembering the first time I heard those words. It was another cold, gray Friday in Ohio. I was neck-deep in work, as I always was back then. The world was on fire – as it always is somewhere. I will say that I played the album from top to bottom the morning it was released. I will tell my friends about how I repeated it until the sun shined a few days later, how I knew it would be an album that I would hold dearly just as the songs held me.

I imagine my friends will all nod, smile in agreement, and we will spend the evening swapping stories and bits of Proof of Life. We’ll talk about that time in our lives – when some of us wanted to die, when others that we loved did, and when we were just trying to make it through each day while our world was crumbling. We will toast to freedom and Joy Oladokun, the queer Black Bruce Springsteen of our generation, for an album that brought us to this moment.

If you’re still reading, I recommend stopping here. I recommend getting in a car, finding a backroad to drive down with the windows down (mountains preferred), and blasting Proof of Life through the speakers. Maybe ask a friend or lover to accompany you — definitely not a hater though, this ain’t no hating music. This album is holy water.

With her fourth studio release, Nigerian-American Joy Oladokun sought to bring the world an album that sees us, everyday folks, in our struggles and offers us a glimpse of hope. In short, she succeeds. Released last Friday, Proof of Life is a collection of tender ballads, uplifting anthems, and truth-filled realities that encapsulates what it means to be “just trying to make it” in this moment. It’s music for those of us who are growing, loving, aching, and wandering aimlessly (and sometimes hopefully) through a world on fire.

Like her previous albums, the thirteen-track masterpiece showcases Oladokun’s voice which is somehow always equal parts raspy and smooth as butter. With production and songwriting collaborations from some heavy hitters, Proof of Life has got the juice to make it an instant indie classic.

If you’re a fan of Oladokun (or even just an indie music fan), there’s probably a chance you’ve already heard a few of the tracks on Proof of Life. The album’s first single, “Keeping the Lights On,” actually dropped in January 2022 right after her Austin City Limits performance. Co-written with industry titans, Mike Elizondo and Ian Fitchuk, it is your typical uplifting indie-pop anthem. In it, Joy Oladokun sets the tone for the rest of the album – this is an album that sees us fighting through the darkness. Her voice reminds us, “It ain’t easy” to keep the light on but Joy says, “we won’t let go” and it’s easy to believe her.

Other standout singles from Proof of Life include “Sweet, Sweet Symphony,” a dreamy duet with Chris Stapleton, and “We’re All Gonna Die” which features Noah Kahan. The Stapleton duet is exactly what you might expect – perfect in all of the ways. If you’re a queer couple looking for your wedding song, this might be it. I’m actually considering re-marrying my wife just to slow dance to it under some twinkle lights in a repurposed barn. As if that wasn’t enough, the video for the song is probably the cutest thing I’ve seen in ages.

When I first heard Oladokun’s duet with Kahan, “We’re All Gonna Die,” I first thought, “damn, this is so relatable.” The song’s sound is upbeat (think the aughts pop-rock), but the message definitely feels so connected to the activism and feelings of so many of us millennials and Gen Z-ers – reflective of generations screaming, fighting, and escaping our way to the end of the world.

Three years into a pandemic that has changed our lives, Proof of Life feels like one of the few albums that somehow finds a way to capture the grief and uneasiness that accompanies our daily existence. In “Changes” (first released February 2023, cowritten with Semisonic frontman, Dan Wilson), Oladokun sings, “people still don’t understand / What it’s like to hope again and again knowing / That heartache’s gonna be there ’til the end.” I have thought about “Changes” almost every day since I first heard it earlier this year. In these words (and rest in the song), Joy’s queerness, Blackness, and loving spirit shine in the raw and hopeful truth-telling. This is not the only song where this happens. On “Taking Me for Granted” and “Somebody Like Me,” Oladokun’s smoothness is backed by gospel choirs (shout out to the amazing The McCrary Sisters) that leave me feeling as blessed as my grandmama did after Sunday service. Think: Black Church vibes but queer with guitar (+ post-church brunch).

This album is worth listening to just for the last minute of “Somebody Like Me” which makes me just want to yell, “Go ahead and pass the collection plate!” Church is in session and Pastor Joy is in the pulpit.

She comes by her holiness honestly – she was raised in the church and led worship services growing up. But Joy Oladokun always keeps it real about the nuances of her journey with sexuality, spirituality, and life. Another raw ballad, “The Hard Way,” begins “​​Jesus raised me, good weed saved me.” All the queers say, “Amen!”

With the exception of one track, “Revolution,” that I’m still learning to love – Oladokun does not miss. Don’t get me wrong, “Revolution” is a beautiful song with an even lovelier message of community and change. Whenever I hear it, I think, “montage of underdog boxer training in their old gym for a big fight.” I guess the “miss” is not really anything Oladokun did, except for keeping the Maxo Kream feature on this song. I love some of Maxo’s work, but this weak verse gives “weird Christian rapper” vibes in the middle of the song. I hate to say it but… was Macklemore not available for this one? These days, Maxo is caught up in some legal trouble so I doubt they’ll ever perform it live together (which might also be a blessing in disguise).

Joy Oladokun’s Proof of Life is top-shelf gold. There’s a song for everyone (unless you’re a racist homo/transphobe – if that’s you, there are no songs for you). With soulful refrains and sounds that wrap you in warmth, this album is a reminder that we’re not so alone in this sh*t of a world and leaves us believing that somehow things will get better.

You can stream Proof of Life now.

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shea wesley martin

shea martin (they/them/theirs) is a brilliant, queer, gender-expansive writer raised at the intersection of gospel and go-go (shout out to the DMV). With southern roots and Black queer magic, shea writes nonfiction, fiction, and poetry that smells like your grandmama’s kitchen and sounds like a deep blues moan. Find them dreaming on Twitter.

shea has written 30 articles for us.


  1. opened autostraddle to this article while listening to Proof of Life this morning!! Thank you for putting into words how this album feels like a soft space to land

  2. I’m so glad you wrote about this record! I have been listening to it whenever i need to be lifted up again, and you captured so perfectly all the pieces and parts of it that are so endlessly beautiful

  3. This is a gorgeous review that starts with a vision just as uplifting as this album. I’ve been listening to it a lot. My toddler loves it too, she likes to dance to “Keeping the Light on”!

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