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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Let's take a look at Nazi-inspired fashion.
Villains always have the best outfits.
From Darth Vader's polished black space armor to The Joker's snazzy purple suit, bad guys always seem to show up their protagonists in the fashion department.
Way more handsome than Batman. static.giantbomb.com
But could there possibly be a real world equivalent to the type of over-the-top villain fashion often found in fiction? It would have to be sleek and imposing, austere and dangerous. Probably black.
Maybe it's him. Maybe it's fascist ideology.
Let's call a spade a spade. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Nazi SS outfit is very well-designed. The long coat tied around the waist with a buckle portrays a slim, sturdy visage. The leather boots and matching cap look harsh and powerful. The emblem placements on the lapel naturally suggest rank and authority. And the red armband lends a splash of color to what would otherwise be a dark monotone. If the Nazi uniform wasn't so closely tied with the atrocities they committed during WWII, it wouldn't seem out of place at Fashion Week. Perhaps not too surprising, considering many of the uniforms were made by Hugo Boss.
Pictured: A real thing Hugo Boss did. i.imgur.com
Of course, today, Nazi uniform aesthetics are inseparable from the human suffering doled out by their wearers. In most circles of civilized society, that's more than enough reason to avoid the garb in any and all fashion choices. But for some, that taboo isn't a hindrance at all–if anything, it's an added benefit.
As a result, we have Nazi chic, a fashion trend centered around the SS uniform and related Nazi imagery.
History of Nazi Chic
For the most part, Nazi chic is not characterized by Nazi sympathy. Rather, Nazi chic tends to be associated with counterculture movements that view the use of its taboo imagery as a form of shock value, and ironically, anti-authoritarianism.
The movement came to prominence in the British punk scene during the mid-1970s, with bands like the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees displaying swastikas on their attire alongside other provocative imagery.
Very rotten, Johnny. i.redd.it
Around this time, a film genre known as Nazisploitation also came to prominence amongst underground movie buffs. A subgenre of exploitation and sexploitation films, Naziploitation movies skewed towards D-grade fare, characterized by graphic sex scenes, violence, and gore. Plots typically surrounded female prisoners in concentration camps, subject to the sexual whims of evil SS officers, who eventually escaped and got their revenge. However, the most famous Nazisploitation film, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, flipped the genders.
The dorm room poster that will ensure you never get laid. images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com
Ilsa was a female SS officer and the victims were men. She spent much of the movie wearing her Nazi uniform in various states, sexually abusing men all the while. As such, Ilsa played into dominatrix fantasies. The movie was a hit on the grindhouse circuit, inspiring multiple sequels and knock-offs and solidifying Nazi aesthetics as a part of the BDSM scene.
Since then, Nazi chic fashion has been employed by various artists, from Madonna to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga, and has shown up in all sorts of places from leather clubs to character designs in video games and anime.
Lady Gaga looking SS-uper. nyppagesix.files.wordpress.com
Nazi Chic in Asia
Nazi chic has taken on a life of its own in Asia. And unlike Western Nazi chic, which recognizes Nazism as taboo, Asian Nazi chic seems entirely detached from any underlying ideology.
A large part of this likely has to do with the way that Holocaust education differs across cultures. In the West, we learn about the Holocaust in the context of the Nazis committing horrific crimes against humanity that affected many of our own families. The Holocaust is presented as personal and closer to our current era than we might like to think. It is something we should "never forget." Whereas in Asia, where effects of the Holocaust weren't as prominent, it's simply another aspect of WWII which, in and of itself, was just another large war. In other words, Nazi regalia in Asia might be viewed as simply another historical military outfit, albeit a particularly stylish one.
In Japan, which was much more involved with WWII than any other Asian country, Nazi chic is usually (but not always) reserved for villainous representations.
OF COURSE. i.imgur.com
That being said, J-Pop groups like Keyakizaka46 have publicly worn Nazi chic too, and the phenomena isn't limited to Japan.
In South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand, Nazi imagery has shown up in various elements of youth culture, completely void of any moral context. For instance, in Indonesia, a Hitler-themed fried chicken restaurant opened in 2013. And in Korea, K-Pop groups like BTS and Pritz have been called out for propagating Nazi chic fashion. Usually such incidents are followed by public apologies, but the lack of historical understanding makes everything ring hollow.
So the question then: is Nazi chic a bad thing?
The answer is not so black and white.
On one hand, seeing Nazi chic on the fashion scene may dredge up painful memories for Holocaust survivors and those whose family histories were tainted. In this light, wearing Nazi-inspired garb, regardless of intent, seems disrespectful and antagonistic. Worse than that, it doesn't even seem like a slight against authority so much as a dig at actual victims of genocide.
But on the other hand, considering the fact that even the youngest people who were alive during WWII are edging 80, "forgetting the Holocaust" is a distinct possibility for younger generations. In that regard, perhaps anything that draws attention to what happened, even if it's simply through the lens of "this outfit should be seen as offensive," might not be entirely bad. This, compounded by the fact that Nazi chic is not commonly associated with actual Nazi or nationalistic sentiments, might be enough to sway some people–not necessarily to wear, like, or even appreciate its aesthetics, but rather to understand its place within counterculture.
Ultimately, one's views on Nazi chic likely come down to their own personal taste and sensibilities. For some, Nazi chic is just a style, an aesthetic preference for something that happens to be mired in historical horror. For others, the shadow of atrocity simply hangs too strong.
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Summer Walker returns and is no longer playing games.
Summer Walker loves creating music but despises the music industry.
She regularly considers retirement and ended her 2019 tour early because of social anxiety. "I hope that people understand and respect that at the end of the day I'm a person, I have feelings, I get tired, I get sad," she said in a video post. "I don't want to lose myself for someone else." She was relentlessly vilified for her decision. Fans cited stiff meet-and-greets and chalked up Walker's cancellations to a sense of entitlement.
Then she was presented with the "Best New Artist" award at the 2019 Soul Train Awards, and her hurried acceptance speech was dissected by tasteless memes all across the country. Walker's candid cries for understanding remained completely ignored by years end. The truth of the matter is that Walker suffers from anxiety and stage fright that is all but totally crippling. So she did what any misunderstood artist does, she disappeared and stopped saying anything at all.