No matter how you swing it, Willow Smith won't stay on the ground.
The first song on her newest album is appropriately called "Like a Bird." Beginning over delicately picked electric guitar, it layers her reverb-washed harmonies over an expansive bass-line. The product is heady, transcendent, and reminiscent of Kevin Abstract or maybe some of the moodier parts of Beyoncé's Lemonade, but ultimately, it's all uniquely Willow.
Image via Complex
Not so long ago, of course, Willow was being forced into an image that was very much not of her own devising. At ten years old, Will and Jada's precociously talented daughter found her way into the spotlight with the song "Whip My Hair."
What ensued, apparently, was a nightmare. "Whip My Hair" shot to success and topped 2010's charts, but with that success came the immense pressures of fame, and the Internet's cruelty. Co-signed by Jay-Z and poised for industry domination, Smith fell into a spiral of depression and self-harm. During this time, she fought bitterly with her father, who apparently was trying to pressure his children into the spotlight. For a while, she considered quitting music.
When she returned, it was on her own terms. In the interim after "Whip My Hair," Smith had found solace in spirituality and science, and those themes weave through all of her new music. 2015's ARDEPITHECUS was a sophisticated, futuristic work of experimental R&B, and it covered everything from evolution to climate change to her own confusion at the state of the world.
That album came out when Smith was 15. Many of its songs felt like teenage diary entries, smashed together with spiritual wisdom beyond its writer's years. Often, the combination worked, particularly on songs like "Marceline," which blends playful escapism and real social critique, with a cosmic thread running through it all. The same went for 2017's The First, which focused closely on the chaos of the teenage experience but also offered an unusually vast and poetic perspective on human life and the universe at large.
Willow - Marceline (Lyrics) www.youtube.com
Her newest self-titled album, Willow, contains fewer idiosyncrasies. It feels like the work of a mature artist, whose worldview has merged into a unified whole that's porous enough to contain multitudes. Musically, the album is smoother and dreamier than her previous work, buoyed by grainy guitar layers and echoing harmonies.
Lyrically, it's similar to her previous output, continuing to meld implicitly ordinary observations with spiritual, otherworldly themes. "I am human, I am woman," sings Willow, sounding like a space queen or a messiah—anything but an ordinary human. Throughout the album, she's in a constant state of becoming, from naturalist to futurist, lover to time traveler, lonely girl to enlightened woman.
She's also a resolute feminist, which is particularly apparent on the standout "PrettyGirlz," a song that initially appears to be about the beauty standards that women know too well. Willow doesn't stick to "love yourself" clichés, though; she does a 180 on them. Halfway through, the song becomes a love song about a pretty girl.
Willow is openly bisexual, and in a way, the song speaks to the complexity of the lesbian and bisexual femme experience. These relationships can often be complicated by existent beauty standards, but they can also transcend them entirely, opening up a space outside of heteronormative constructs.
At the end of the song, Willow bundles up these emotions and themes and washes them away in a rolling climax of synths and drums and furious guitar. The music speaks for itself, or Willow speaks through the music. Her message is clear: She's transcending expectations, soaring above it all.
Image via Wheretoget.it
Willow produced every song on the album, alongside Tyler Cole. It's decidedly experimental, combining gospel influences with dream pop and hip hop. Her brother Jaden brings rap to the table, delivering a verse on "U KNOW." On that song, Smith goes fully occult, singing, "Falling into memories of Anunnaki dreams / Falling over ley lines and sacred geometry." Then Jaden appears, his voice initially almost unrecognizable through a cloak of autotune. "U KNOW" is a song about finding patterns in the unfathomable, making constellations out of disparate stars. It's full of holes and empty spaces, and can feel like an imitation of depth—kind of like a tattered mandala tapestry on a dorm room wall—but it always manages to maintain its magic, like all of Willow's work. A lesser artist would be unable to elude corniness in the way she does, but there's something in Willow's voice that makes you believe her completely, even when she's singing about aliens or energetic flows.
The album closer, "Overthinking IT," is Willow at her most grounded. Over a guitar progression reminiscent of reggae and surf rock, she doubles back on the previous song's esoteric speculations, resolving to chill out and focus on what's important.
Of course, she never really touches the ground, and always keeps one foot in the door to the mystical dimensions. Clearly Willow cannot be confined. She might not achieve the mainstream success she could've if she'd continued on the "Whip My Hair" track—but she's creating high-quality, innovative work that stays true to her values. At 19, she's only just taking off, testing her wings. We'll be lucky if she decides to bring back some of whatever she finds above the clouds.
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Bandcamp is waiving revenue shares today, and you should support POC artists.
Today is another Bandcamp Friday, meaning until midnight tonight, the platform will be waiving revenue shares and letting artists take 100 percent of profits.
Now more than ever, as Black Lives Matter protests occur around the world, it's extremely important to lift marginalized voices. The music industry has repeatedly erased Black voices throughout history, despite the fact that most mainstream genres were invented by Black people.
Red Table Talk should be discussed in groups like a book club.
Jada Pinkett Smith began the Facebook Watch show Red Table Talk with the intention of it being a hobby.
Over a year and thirty-seven episodes later, it's become a must-watch program, gaining millions of views per episode. On the show, Smith usually congregates with her daughter, Willow, and mother, Adrienne Banfield Morris, to discuss pressing issues. The intergenerational show centers on the three black women as daughters, mothers, and grandmothers who discuss difficult subjects. They dig into societal taboos and illuminate deeply ingrained problems in our families, in our country, and within ourselves. Every episode explores new questions, revelations, and personal insecurities.
On Facebook, the comments section is flooded with debate and gratitude. In a period when our country is more divided than ever, so many Americans are longing to come together and for a platform to discuss what's gone unheard. Whether the three women are discussing white privilege, child brides, or sexuality—the red table feels like a safe space for understanding, with the underlying certainty that we're all equally human.
Yet, we're still different. Red Table Talk sends out the flashing message that different perspectives and active listening can transform a generation—if we're open to it. For 20 minutes per episode, what happens at dinner tables across the country is happening on your screen, allowing viewers to reflect on serious conversations based around respect.
Red Table Talk should be one of the most watched educational programs, discussed in groups like a book club, where introspection, deliberation, and debate are possible.
With that in mind, during every discussion in your personal life, you should reflect on the following questions and maybe pose them to others, thoughtfully and respectfully.
- How can I productively contribute to this conversation? Should I participate or sit back and listen?
- Do I have privilege here? If yes, how do I use it to benefit others and undo the oppressive systems in effect?
- What are my biases?
- What is my intention in contributing?
- Do I dominate conversations? If yes, how can I work to become a better listener?
- Am I being defensive or attempting to inform in a positive fashion?
Should White People Adopt Black Children?
Unpacking White Privilege and Prejudice
The Racial Divide: Women of Color and White Women
Questions discussed include:
Should white people adopt any child of color?
What are the responsibilities of a person raising a child of a different race?
Do you believe that white people pass down their own biases and internalized racism to their children and in their everyday lives?
How can people teach children to be inclusive?
Can people unteach and undo exclusionary mentalities in adults?
Can all women come together or will race continue to divide us based on our experiences and prejudice?
True or False: Race is a construct. We are the human race.
How can people include and make space for other POC, when race has become such a black and white issue?
Toxic Organizations and Mentalities
Children Forced into Marriage— A National Disgrace
Leah Remini: Setting the Record Straight
Molested As a Young Boy: An NBA Star Breaks His Silence
Questions discussed include:
Why do people raise their daughters with different standards than their sons?
Why do people feel shame when they themselves are the victims?
How can we advocate for the destigmatization of sexual abuse in our society and in our laws?
Becoming a mother can become a source of strength, but also a burden— how can we find support in our everyday lives?
At your lowest, how do you motivate yourself?
True or False: Only you can get yourself out of a bad situation,
Everyone should go to therapy— yes or no?
Should we trust the laws our government enforces, when so often they work against many members of our society?
Does religion cause more harm than good?
Should people indoctrinate their children into a faith at a young age?
Unconventional Relationships: Can Multiple Relationships Work?
Common: Breaking Destructive Cycles
Infidelity: Can Your Relationship Last?
Questions discussed include:
Would you consider participating in a polyamorous relationship? If not, why? If yes, why?
Can polyamorous relationships last and be balanced?
Why do many consider the nuclear family to be the ideal norm in our society?
How do you learn to trust other people?
Being closed off can be a way to protect yourself: Why do people shame others for having walls?
Meanwhile, vulnerability is treated as a strength nowadays: How can we create healthy, emotional boundaries in our everyday lives?
True or false: You can only love someone if you love yourself.
Why do people consider cheating to be the end-all, be-all worst betrayal in a romantic relationship?
True or false: Once a cheater always a cheater.
How can you rebuild trust after cheating?
Are we, as humans, meant to be monogamous?
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