Within a family of such eminent standing in the celebrity world, Willow Smith might’ve been forgiven for lurking in the shadow of her actor-musician parents and brother, all vastly prominent in their spheres.
Smith, known mononymously as WILLOW, has absorbed the abundant talent from the family pool and forged her own career as a singer-songwriter, nurturing her gift since bursting onto the scene with the well-known single “Whip My Hair” back in 2011. Let’s fast-track ten years. Willow has basked in the success of five career studio LP’s, with the most recent, Coping Mechanism, receiving lavish reviews for authenticity and an ever-expanding musicality from its creator.
To say Willow has been a prolific shooter in the music trade would understate her devotion to her passion, where an original voice has weaved around an eclectic and roaring musical identity. After delving into the world of pop-punk with her fifth album’s predecessor lately I feel EVERYTHING, Willow has plunged headfirst into a sonic boom of rock-laden sound, quilting heavy bursts with tender, melodic sequences that again combine with woozy distortions and instrumentals that crash and tumble like a rolling storm. This might seem like a lot, and maybe it is. Melding so many facets to an already multi-faceted arsenal was something that would have seen a lesser artist crumble to dust, but not Willow.
Frankly, notions of her platform being served on a silver platter, sparse though they are, have been duly eradicated by now, and even the most dubious cynics must come to realise this is a global star with every bit of walk to match the talk. Every ounce of Willow’s song writing ability and natural lyricism has been expertly partnered with the professional sheen of guitarist and producer Chris Greatti for the recording, with the ensuing finale an 11-track masterpiece crammed with a rollercoaster of emotive and nuanced artistry.
As the music claps and crashes like thunder, Willow’s vocal performance emerges as the ray of light at the breaking of the storm. Certainly, she twists and turns as she goes, but she does so with aplomb, singing operatic verses and screeching heavy roars with a clarity many vocalists can only dream of. The album’s intro, ‘<maybe> it’s my fault’ embodies her flexibility, with hints of sweetness succumbing to an intensity that arises with the story of a first big fight within a relationship. The sort of distorted ballad succeeds in depicting a journey, a testament to Willow’s skill as a first-class storyteller, and seeps with emotion so profound in its sincerity.
This is cram packed into a track standing at 2:42 in length, but it works so well, and flows naturally. It kicks the album off, taking flight and setting the course for further excellence to follow.
Photo: Dana Trippe
The ten ensuing tracks do not falter, with dynamism and versatility rising to the fore. There is an iron-clad resolve to Willow’s craft that ostensibly wasn’t quite there before, maybe not as refined, and complete, a true musical whole not two years into her twenties.
Multiple genres continue to lace around each anthem, Willow will sing and scream, yes in screamo style, and yes it works. ‘hover like a GODDESS’ invites the listener toward an endearing sound, beckoning toward a sweeter and more ‘mainstream’ sound. Another string to a vibrant bow. Willow’s incredible voice gets increasing acclaim with ‘Split’, displaying a vocal range that emits incredulity at its power and control.
The closing number ‘BATSHIT!’ feels a fitting tribute to the tracks gone past, with an experimental and defiant core partnering a thumping tempo, whilst injecting smatterings of beautiful falsetto to round off a truly excellent project. This blend of music feels like it shouldn’t work, but it does. Willow exceeds expectations and then some, nurturing an embedded aptitude for creativity and releasing it in the shape of her own making,.
It is worth remembering Willow is still only 21, and already at a point in her career where she should be regarded as a perfectly innate artist. Original, eccentric, excellent.