by Petra Chase
On July 16th, Willow Smith, known as Willow, released her fourth solo album, lately I feel EVERYTHING and the dramatic title is no exaggeration. In her best album yet, Willow’s emotional rawness is intensified by pulsing production and rebellious angst. Her edgy punk-rock outburst might appear left-field when compared to her neo-soul and experimental pop discography, but her comfort jamming alongside Avril Lavigne and riding the punchy drum rolls of punk-rock veteran Travis Barker of Blink 182 proves she’s found her most expressive and effective sound yet.
Going punk-rock has been years in the making for Willow. Her mom was the lead singer of the nu-metal band Wicked Wisdom and introduced Willow to that realm of music at a young age. Despite being intrigued by heavy metal and punk-rock throughout childhood — she cites Avril Lavigne as her teen idol — her 2010 debut, “Whip my Hair” defined her as a pop musician at eleven years old.
She recently opened up to V Magazine about how racial stereotypes caused her to repress her passion for heavy metal and rock. Like so many other things, rock music history has been whitewashed and has systematically erased the influence of black creators. Racial stigmas fastened Willow to a more tamed sound up until this point. She’s quoted, “I just hope that the Black girls who are listening to my music and listening to this album see that there’s more of us out there.”
Willow’s authenticity is what saves her derivative styles from coming across as cliche copies of past eras. The garage band pop-punk style of “Gaslight”, “Transparent Soul”, and “Grow” feels like the soundtrack of an early 2000s teen movie in a summery, nostalgic way, but the catchy hooks are tainted with spiritual wisdom and soulful vocal flair.
Whether she’s showcasing her vocal versatility or skillfully whaling her voice behind muffled grunge, Willow remains fierce and self-aware. Tackling topics like dependency, spiritual growth, and setting boundaries, Willow turns her vulnerability into a strength.
“Naïve”, is woefully beautiful and smooth, matching the melancholy lyrics: “You hate and then you love, but what’s the ratio/ Tell me, are you ready or you not/ Life’s a movie, and it sucks, but I can’t stop watching.” Her voice may have been trained for R&B, but her voice is just as powerful and smooth pining into the melancholic guitar ambience.
Riled up from years of repression, her emo rock-star side is let loose like an unhinged teenager rebelling against her parents. “Breakout” is the heavy metal climax that brings the album to a screeching halt, where the spirit of rebellious youth akin to The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” empowers Willow to free herself from anything that holds her back, taunting “No one woman should have all that power.”
Willow is just as dramatic banging her head up and down as she was whipping her hair back and forth, only now she’s found her sound and she’s more self-assured than ever.
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