WILLOW
Willow Smith is unapologetically herself on her debut album. (Illustration by Jessica Shaklee, University of Georgia)

Willow Smith was just 10 years old when her hit single “Whip My Hair” became an overnight sensation. Smith was born and bred into a life under the spotlight due to her parents’ status in Hollywood. However, Smith always felt out of place in a lifestyle where she craved autonomy and anonymity. Smith’s parents always encouraged her creativity and curiosity, so making music was a natural progression, and she had the power to reach millions.

Smith was supposed to go on a world tour as a child, but she was riddled with anxiety. She canceled her tour because of the pressure and soon fell into a deep depression, using self-harm as a way to cope with the negative emotions.

She distanced herself from music because she felt like it was the culprit behind her downward spiral — the demise of her happiness. Smith lived a life of isolation and removed herself from the public. She leaned on her family’s support and realized that music was the only outlet that gave her freedom from her dark mental state. Then, “WILLOW” was birthed.

“WILLOW” inhabits the essence of Mother Nature and femininity, creating a sensation of spiritual growth. Smith is effervescent and untamed, yet her voice is soothingly grounding. Listening to “WILLOW” feels like you have gone on a stroll in an enchanted forest, allowing the wind to guide you back home. Smith follows her own direction and ideologies throughout “WILLOW,” giving the album authenticity and individuality.

Smith has always been a force that influences and reflects the youth today, but she is also impossible to confine. She uses her music as a platform to express and nurture her own thoughts and puts out ideas she wishes to see more of in the world. Whether she is singing about groundbreaking revelations, exposing society’s obstructive manipulation or celebrating womanhood — Smith knows who she is, both inside and out.

Sonically, “WILLOW” has been classified as experimental pop, but one label alone doesn’t justify the mixture of all the influences her sound has to offer. For example, the track “Female Energy, Pt. 2” has a folk-inspired quality to it. Smith delivers a hint of soul with the way her voice captures passion and conviction.

The airy acoustic guitar strings carry a timeless harmony. Smith sings, “Oh, and I’m falling into the arms of naked truth. I’m not surprised to see myself reflecting the universe.” Her spirituality and connection to the Earth inspires a certainty of the essential unity among the polarity that surrounds society today.

She ends the song with words of enlightenment and power about her identity: “Am I to feel bolder because of all my pumping blood? I am human, I am woman. I’m drifting down my life, light up this time. Light up this time.”

Her dedication to distinguishing herself from a world that praises assimilation rises above all else. In her track, “PrettyGirlz,” Smith touches on the way men are brought up to only celebrate one type of beauty. She lists the traits that society deems women must have in order to be considered a “pretty girl.” The beat is simple and has that same organic, acoustic guitar riffing in the background.

She sings, “They want the girls with the hips. They want the girls in the movies, want the girls with the prettiest smile. Want the girls with the lips and the cascading hair. Little do we know that vanity we see, we all share.”

Smith exposes the way society and social media reduce women’s physical bodies to a shopping list of what they must acquire in order to be sought after or loved. Smith goes on to debunk these superficial myths and shares what qualities she believes are beautiful in a woman.

She sings, “I want a girl who’s got a light that makes me squint when I look in her eyes. She doesn’t give a f— when emotions run amuck. I want a girl who knows herself like her favorite book right on the shelf.”

Smith stresses the importance of emotional strength and self-understanding. This song also represents a sexual awakening and expression for her as well. It’s about the vast comparison between what society wants from women and what types of women she is attracted to. The track ends with a volcanic electric guitar solo that raves and runs with her jumpy vocals.

“WILLOW” is a time capsule that reflects the way Smith tries to operate in a society where her thoughts are at war with her own generation. The mainstream ideals and popular culture her generation prioritizes provide another moment for Smith to expose her truth. The track “Time Machine” has a dreamy, vintage tone, as Smith wails out what type of woman she would be if she lived in the years 1983 and 1993. She expresses how much fuller and more comfortable she would be in another decade, seeing her reflection in an alternative universe.

She sings, “Baby, if I had a time machine, I’d go back to 1983. I’d be out there playing make believe. I’d be in the streets of NYC, sipping lemonade likely. Twenty-first century me, Twentieth century dreams.”

The soft, electric chords act a synthesizer, releasing listeners into Smith’s reflection of all she could have been. She goes on to sing about her plot to escape from today’s generation.

“I don’t care what anyone says, everyone’s disconnected these days. Everyone is looking at their phone, trying to feel like they are less alone. I’m here to tell them that they’re wrong.”

Smith idolizes a time when social media didn’t overpower the ability humans have to connect with others. “WILLOW” gleams with spiritual confidence that she can overcome shallow moments. Smith shines light on her fears that were previously drowned in darkness.

Through her music, Smith has gained a greater perspective on the world and her place in it. She spoke in an interview with Apple Music on how she was able to change her mindset and find meaning in life.

“Everyone is looking at you to be a role model and to use your platform to do something good and positive. That’s just too important to just be like, whatever, I’m just going to be sad and depressed. That doesn’t make any sense. No, if you have this platform and people listen to you, be vulnerable. Say something important. People are feeling the way that you’re feeling. Don’t just sit in the shadows and be alone. Let people know they are not alone.”

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