Willow Smith in article about album Transparent Soul
Willow Smith's new single demonstrates her versatility as an artist. (Illustration by Adam Rappe, Columbia College Chicago)

Willow Smith Ventures Into New Musical Territory on ‘Transparent Soul’

With years of artistic experience under her belt, the young musician continues to experiment with her sound on her latest single.

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Willow Smith in article about album Transparent Soul

With years of artistic experience under her belt, the young musician continues to experiment with her sound on her latest single.

Over the years, longtime listeners of Willow Smith have watched the incredibly talented young artist navigate through music production, acting and modeling. Despite only being 20 years old, Willow Smith has grown by immense leaps and bounds, honing her musical talents and exploring different genres.

With a prolific discography that crosses boundaries and defies traditional musical conventions, it is no surprise to see her upcoming studio album will be a complete 180-degree turn from her last album, “WILLOW.” Breaking free from the stylings and direction of her previous work, her latest song, “Transparent Soul,” represents an angst-filled, pop-rock venture for Smith.

Beginnings

Smith began exploring music at the age of 8 when she began receiving R&B vocal lessons. A combination of early musical training and the influence of her superstar parents inspired Smith to carve her own path in music. Smith draws a lot of musical inspiration from her mother and her time with her metal band. In an interview with W Magazine, Smith said,  “I went on tour with her when I was 7 or 8, when she performed at Ozzfest with her band, Wicked Wisdom. Seeing a strong Black woman onstage singing rock was so amazing—but a lot of people weren’t happy about seeing a Black woman in that space. I saw her gracefully do her thing while so many people were being racist and sexist and just not being nice. But she handled it with such strength.” A few years later, Willow Smith released her infectiously catchy 2010 hit “Whip My Hair” and has been nonstop since.

Ardipithecus

Smith’s career grew further upon the release of her debut studio album, “Ardipithecus.” Though Smith was only 15 when the album was released, she knew she wanted control over the direction of her music. In this album, listeners see Smith beginning to find what themes and concepts her work will feature.

“Ardipithecus” is centered around incredibly personal themes and the experiences Smith was undergoing while writing the album. The album delves into themes of self-discovery, spirituality and coming of age. When explaining the unconventional title of the album, Smith told The Fader via email, “Ardipithecus Ramidus is the scientific name of the first hominid bones found on earth. I wanted to name my musical compilation after it because, while I was making these songs I was in such a transitional state. Digging deep in the soil of my heart and finding bits and pieces of my ancient self that tell stories, which end up being the lyrics to the songs.” The album is a soulful, honest look into Smith’s life and feels like the lyrics were ripped straight from the pages of her diary.

“WILLOW” and The Anxiety

Released in 2019, her third album “WILLOW” was written and produced entirely by Smith alongside fellow musician Tyler Cole. The eight tracks cover a vast range of genres from ‘90s-esque chick rock, infectious dance pop and her signature mix of hip-hop and R&B. Much like her previous releases, “WILLOW” is an extremely personal record featuring tracks that center around themes of female empowerment, growth and romantic relationships

Following the release of “WILLOW,” Cole and Smith again joined forces to begin a collaborative project titled “The Anxiety” and subsequently released their eponymous debut album in March of 2020. In the album, fans of Smith see an even bigger glimpse of her willingness to express her vulnerabilities through her experimental music.

The project’s official Spotify page reads, “The project showcases the anxiety that both Willow and Tyler endure on a day to day basis and how they cope with it. ‘The Anxiety’ sonically embodies the overwhelming feeling of a person on the brink of an attack. Their universal goal for this project is to use their voices to advocate for mental health awareness and help those who specifically suffer from anxiety.” All of the tracks on the album vary wildly from one another, but all share a common thread that tells a story very personal to Smith and Cole. In “The Anxiety,” listeners also get a preview of the unexpected and angsty new direction Smith will be taking for her upcoming album.

“Transparent Soul”

In April, Smith released a performance visual for her new single, “Transparent Soul,” featuring Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker. The performance visual and its alternative theme is an entirely new direction for Smith, but she pulls it off with ease as she truly embodies every bit of her early 2000s inspirations.

Created from the seemingly endless boredom of the early stages of the pandemic, “Transparent Soul” is an effortlessly cool homage to her favorite early 2000s era music. In the performance visual video, Smith dons all the classic stylings of 2000s pop-punk meets metal fashion, such as spikes, neon cobalt blues and intricate graphic eyeliner. To complement the style, the visual was filmed and edited much like music videos reminiscent of the era. Not much is currently known about what the full album will entail, but listeners can anticipate hearing a new side to Smith with the help of pop-punk legends Avril Lavigne and Travis Barker.

Regardless of her genre, Smith’s writing is what shines the brightest throughout all of her work. Since the start of her career, Smith has been fiercely dedicated to writing and leading the creative direction of her work. All of her work is intricately crafted, and listeners can practically feel how intimate her music is to her. Each album feels like a distinct, unique chapter in Smith’s life reflected through her lyrics and artistry.

At her core, Willow Smith is an artist. Her versatile range of musical styles makes her one of the most promising artists of this generation, who will only improve with each release. Longtime fans, casual listeners and new audiences can all find something to love in Smith’s discography and there is no doubt that the release of “Transparent Soul” will only grow her incredibly vast fanbase.

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