Willow Smith goes pop-punk | The New Yorker
Willow Smith spent most of her teenage years trying to get around her celebrity birthright and rise to a higher calling. She was determined to put “free thinker and bohemian musician” above “child of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith” in her biography. “Take the money, take the fame / All I want is the truth,” she sang on “8,” in 2014, before naming the transformation she was going through: “My third eye opens. “
Now twenty years old, Willow has been making music for half of her life, mainly to seek a glimpse of the divine or, as she puts it, to be of service to life on this planet. But working with her creative partner, Tyler Cole, on a collaborative album called “The Anxiety,” in 2020, led Willow to look inside: Before the pandemic, the two voluntarily locked themselves in a box at the Museum of Contemporary. LA Art for twenty-four hour performance with live and online viewers. They spent most of their time staging eight stages of anxiety – paranoia, rage, sadness, numbness, euphoria, keen interest, compassion, and acceptance – in an effort to raise awareness about mental health. The performance had the side effect of awakening something in Willow; she said The face, “The biggest thing I’ve learned about myself since I released ‘The Anxiety’ is that I have a lot of deep emotional issues that require my attention.”
Willow’s fourth solo album, “Lately I Feel EVERYTHING”, which was released as a result of this awareness, is her least spiritual but most existential release. She dives into the catchy sounds of pop-punk and alternative rock to take into account her own limits and those that others may impose on her. She intends to break free. By far the best and most assured music of his career to date, the album is the first to maximize his talents, exteriorizing the pent-up and accumulated angst of his teenage years. “I need you to tell me when I’m naive / Because I know I can be,” she yells at “naive”, and it often seems like she’s working through her unique experience and disorienting – an arty, New Age black girl and reluctant child star born into Hollywood royalty, deploying a proven musical style that signals the hustle and bustle of being young and mixed.
There is a bite in Willow’s voice as she navigates these songs about addiction, insecurity, and progress. Its sonic evolution reflects its lyrical evolution: both have gone from blurry and inexpressive to daring and insistent. When she doesn’t measure the distance (“Come Home”) or the time (“4ever”) in a relationship, in the more discreet moments of the album, she is evaluating her own behavior or purifying herself directly. Songs like “Lipstick” and “Don’t SAVE ME” erupt into screaming hooks that strive to break free from self-doubt. Part of that doubt, Willow confessed, came from making this kind of album. To that end, Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, who became Gen-Z’s pop-punk ambassador, appears on three songs, as if certifying Willow’s credentials. This cushion is not necessary. Willow has never seemed more comfortable, more cowardly, than she rides these unruly riffs.
This album was characterized as a left field transition, but it is simply the latest development for an artist who has already channeled Alanis Morrisette and Tori Amos. Willow’s music was already increasingly guitar-oriented, but on previous albums it shied away from the genre and pre-established attributes that come with classification. “I feel like in some cases the genre can be useful because it’s historical,” she said. Alternative press. “Overall I’m all for getting rid of categories and doing what you feel like. But sometimes when I’m conceptualizing things, I need to know every kind of genre I’m going to be nodding my head to, like building a roadmap that’s specifically for me. On this album, the ghosts of pop-punk’s past inhabit his songs, conveying decades of nostalgia. These sounds and their history amplify his own thoughts on dissent.
Willow also challenges this story about “lately I’ve been feeling EVERYTHING”. Alternative musical subcultures such as pop-punk are often disproportionately associated with whiteness, and black artists and fans have faced intolerance in such spaces. Willow cited her mother’s experience at OzzFest in 2005 when she tactfully confronted racists while performing with her nu-metal band Wicked Wisdom as an incentive to move in that direction. . Beyond creating the intergenerational line of black mother and daughter rock stars, Willow spans a niche but growing movement that aims to diversify punk and other rock genres and fight erasure. from their black roots. In 2003, James Spooner’s documentary “Afro-Punk” explored the alienation of black participants in these communities, and a series of festivals called Afropunk was later created as a sort of fix. Willow’s music has always been aimed at the alternative rock audience, but now the affinity is not only pronounced but unmistakable.
Compositionally, the punk style suits Willow. She’s more centered than she has ever been in these songs, and less mystical. Its intention is explicit: to harness the charged and powerful energy of punk to express an overflow of emotions. His early albums, which were mostly self-written and self-produced, were bursting with ideas and turned into a jumble of sounds often labeled as “alternative R. & B”. In fact, the music covered a much larger space between hallucinatory soul and instrumental dream-pop. Her eponymous 2019 psychedelic album continued her quest for personal enlightenment, with wispy songs that seemed to dissolve into the atmosphere. Cole, who co-produced this album, returns for “Lately I Feel EVERYTHING”, and the two are pretty sure they are together. With the punk plane laid out in front of them, they know exactly which walls to break.
Breaking down barriers is at the heart of the album’s goal, and Willow spends as much time imagining a way forward as following in the footsteps of her predecessors. In recent interviews, she has spoken out about avoiding black stereotypes and taking over a guitar world dominated by white men, which causes her to move away from the R. & B label for good. and is heading for even more useful pop-punk. R. & B. may convey a racist connotation, listing experimental black musicians to whom the term is applied meaninglessly. He carries the kind of burden that prompts artists like Willow to challenge the genre. When she sings in a high pitch, closer to the album, “¡BREAKOUT! », On the fact of going beyond what is intended for him, the result is a voluntary, almost joyful subversion. “I don’t want to be chained, chained / In my mind,” she sings, describing the psychic toll of internalizing other people’s expectations. But “lately, I feel EVERYTHING” finds her closing a track earlier, on “GROW”, with Avril Lavigne, where she springs through her “growing pains”, choosing optimism and lending her support to all who are. faced with similar confusion. The real antidote to feeling it all is the comfort of knowing someone else already has it.