Willow's latest album, lately i feel EVERYTHING, is an absolutely stunning entry into the pop punk canon and a vivid glimpse into the future of rock and roll.
Anyone who's been following Willow's career shouldn't be surprised by this. Willow has always been a futuristic artist, one step ahead of everyone else in terms of both her lyrics, her music, and the way she presents herself to the world.
The lately i feel EVERYTHING release cycle started out with a bang with the release of "t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l," a banger of a track featuring Blink-182's Travis Barker. The song, with its vitriolic chorus and absolute refusal to take shit, inspired a number of TikTok covers (many of them by femmes and women of color), many of which Willow enthusiastically reposted on her own social media accounts.
Quickly it became clear that Willow's pivot to pop punk was about a lot more than unleashing her own internal angst. She was trying to start a movement, bringing women and girls and femmes along with her.
WILLOW - t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l ft. Travis Barker (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
This general theme of empowerment is front and center on the album, which borrows many stylistic choices from its pop punk predecessors but which is distinct from much of the canon based on the fact that it is largely full of positive messages. Self-love, healthy boundaries, and perspective are common threads; so is female empowerment and simply not taking shit.
It's not that there's no angst — there definitely is, but through it all, Willow is constantly converting her pain into hope and positive changes. Some of the album's lyrics do feel like they were drawn directly from the increasingly popular self-help corners of the Internet, while others are more diaristic; and altogether it coheres into a whole that's both motivating and inspiring without being corny or prescriptive.
"Grow," Willow's slightly too-sweet but still charming collaboration with Avril Lavigne, is the most obviously positive and inspiring track on the album, seemingly designed to inspire young listeners. Elsewhere, Willow is more directly confrontational and larger-than-life: "No one woman should have all that power," she growls on "!BREAKOUT!," a direct reference to and reinterpretation of Kanye West's iconic line.
WILLOW + Avril Lavigne - G R O W feat. Travis Barker (Visualizer) www.youtube.com
Later in the song, in classic Willow fashion, she gets metaphysical, even alchemical, writing prescriptions for global and internal healing: "I don't fuckin care what you thought of / I can give life to the slaughtered / I can set fire to the water / I can change the world / I'll heal my mind," she sings, and it's hard to doubt her. Willow has always been a bit more evolved, and lyrically she gets deeper than most other mainstream artists even try to. Perhaps the most surprising thing about all of it is that it works so well.
There's a strong undercurrent of feminism that buoys each of these songs, connecting the album to riot grrrl contributions of the past while reminding the masses that the future of punk is not only female — it's POC-led and it's fucking badass.
Listening to these songs, and watching the covers that Willow has been reposting, one can't help but be reminded of the scrappy but powerful sounds of the Linda Lindas, the band of 11 to 14 year olds who filled their school's library with enraged and defiant punk jams. At this point it's hard to deny that the best and most original rock music is being made by women, and this album is a tribute to that — a tribute to the punk-rockness of women learning to thrash out on instruments with the cathartic abandon traditionally reserved for men.
The Linda Lindas - "Racist, Sexist Boy" (Live at LA Public Library) www.youtube.com
The album isn't all about empowerment or representation, though. Willow would never boil herself down to a single identity marker. She's a great musician through and through, and no matter how punk rock she gets, her music still bears the slick glitter of refined production and carefully designed arrangements. She knows when to unleash a perfect guitar solo, like on "Come Home." She knows how to write a power ballad, as seen on "naive." She knows how to thread genres and features seamlessly, as seen on the Tierra Whack collab "XTRA."
And she knows how to put on a show. Just recently, Willow shaved her head during a performance of her iconic 2010 hit "Whip My Hair," making headlines and garnering praise for the pure punk-rockness of it all.
That song came out when Willow was just a young girl, and became a sort of early sonic meme. Its virality was detrimental to Willow's mental health, and she disappeared from music for a while afterwards. On lately i feel EVERYTHING, Willow seems sometimes to be speaking to the music industry itself. She can see right through it; the zeitgeist is transparent, and she's ready to shatter every glass ceiling between herself and her own power.
Some of the songs don't feel fully formed, but if anything, that's just evidence of how much Willow can grow. One imagines she might dive deeper into concept albums in the future, getting more and more ambitious with age. In a way, this whole album cycle was a concept album in itself, and it'll be fascinating to see where Willow goes from here. She's one of the most interesting artists around, and with lately i feel EVERYTHING she's given us all a gift.