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The inside story behind Jorja Smith "Imperfect Circle"

We break down Jorja Smith’s sumptuous track, ‘Imperfect Circle’

28th Nov 2016

Despite being 19 years old, on her track ‘Imperfect Circle’, Jorja Smith sings of a concern which spans beyond her years.

From her ‘Blue Lights’ debut, Smith made it known that her social commentary and artistry are inseparable entities. However, whereas ‘Blue Lights’ focuses upon British police system injustices, ‘Imperfect Circle’ addresses the history of international injustices. For many this would be a difficult task. Yet in two verses, a couple of chorus-repeats and an outro, the singer-songwriter makes her concern clear. Essentially, Smith is aware of the ‘issues in the news that need discussing’ yet is simultaneously conflicted when asking if ‘there [is] any point if they just keep repeating?’ This track presents patterns of events and thoughts as cyclical – but how do we escape this imperfect circle?.

“Round and round we go.”

The word ‘round’ is used 103 times throughout this 4min 35 second track. The word ‘and’ (used 83 times) is the next most frequently sung word you’ll hear through your headphones. After hearing the phrase ‘round and round we go’ repeated more than twice, you could probably be forgiven for finding it monotonous. However, based on Smith’s lyrics, she needs her listeners to feel this way in order to convey how repetitive and mind-numbing our cyclical history feels. As promised via her tweets, Smith takes us on ‘a lil journey in [her] world’ and invites us to echo her melodic questioning: “Will this ever end?”

“Eenie meenie minie moe…Look, this game is not fitting.”

As Smith asks, “so who is left then?” there is a sense of despair. This increases as she speaks of an external force “knocking us down one by one.” Smith likens this to a game of “Eenie meenie minie moe.” However, like many seemingly innocent nursery rhymes, this one alludes to racial oppression, as the rhyme’s earlier lyrics have included the n-word. Smith observes that there is “too much news abusing colour” whilst asking if she would be “paint[ed] red” if she “was darker?” She also questions the normalisation of how being “stop searched” can lead to the end of life. Smith’s words encourage one to note how the slain black bodies seen in 2016 can match the images in history books.

Despite including allusions of injustice towards black communities, Smith leaves room to consider other intersecting injustices. Smith’s exclusionary phrases, “you can’t sit here, you can’t come here”, send one’s thoughts to this year’s divisive discussions surrounding immigration and the ongoing refugee crisis. It’s not certain where Smith dates her song’s history to begin when recalling repeated instances – but that adds to the nebulous nature of experiencing repetition. The crux of Smith’s questioning is simply: “why is this happening again?”

“If I saw Martin would he tell me that he’s had a dream?”

Smith understands history’s ‘Imperfect Circle’ to go beyond geographic spaces and time frames. Eerily yet beautifully, she creates a world where she’s able to interact with the late Martin Luther King – is Smith in 1963 at March on Washington or is he with Smith in the present day? When MLK gathered a crowd ‘here today to dramatize a shameful condition’, which ‘today’ does he speak of? 1963 or 2016? Sadly, Smith concludes that an optimistic ‘dream’ for equality and freedom 50-odd years ago, should ‘stay asleep.’

No place to go?

When hearing the words of a 19 year old who understands our existence to travel in circles ‘like we got no place to go’, what is the next step? As we draw to the end of the year, Jorja Smith has intelligently captured a feeling that has been sung, howled and cried amongst many people on various platforms in various situations. From a generation which seems to be bound to the ‘now,’ Smith’s understanding of an ‘Imperfect Circle’ simultaneously sits in a past, present and future.

Ending as it begins, Smith repeats the ‘round and round’ phrase until it becomes indistinguishable with the instrumentation which has carried it. Perhaps this is our cue to decide whether we can imagine breaking this repeated cycle.

Listen to the first released song from Jorja Smith’s ‘Project 11’ here:

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