The word nepotism gets thrown around anytime the child of a celebrity gains any sort of fame themselves. However, you would be a fool not to see the talent and hard work of Willow Smith. Like many children of celebrities, we see them grow up and watch them go through the same journey to find themselves as we’ve gone through. They just have to go through it in the public eye. Surely, that’s not easy. Not only has WILLOW taken on that journey with grace, but she’s proven that she is a straight badass and a powerhouse in the music world. To watch someone grow up through music is a unique experience and WILLOW’s is one worth taking in.
WILLOW stepped into music in 2010, when she was only 9, with “Whip My Hair”. The song made it to number 11 on the U.S. Billboard’s Hot 100, number 2 in the U.K., went platinum, and landed her a nomination for BET’s Video of the Year. She became the youngest person ever to sign with Jay-Z’s label Roc Nation. Clearly, music is her calling and she was only getting started.
Looking back on “Whip My Hair” and the artist WILLOW seemed to be then doesn’t seem like the same person. Years later, on Red Table Talk, her Facebook Watch show with her mom Jada and grandmother Adrienne Banfield-Norris, she said, “I definitely had to forgive you and daddy for that whole ‘Whip My Hair’ thing. I spent a couple of years trying to regain trust for not feeling like I was being listened to or like no one cared how I felt. I had to forgive myself because I felt guilty because everyone is trying to make me better, trying to make my dream [come true]. But I didn’t really understand what my dream entailed.” She went on to take a year off of music.
“Whip My Hair” was later followed by more singles, music videos, an EP, and live performances. However, it wasn’t until 2015 that she released her first album. On Ardipithecus we started to see her growth. This time she was being true to herself and what she wanted to sound like. Now in high school, she began to shift to a more R&B tone and began to step away from pure pop music. She put in the work by fully producing and writing this album, making it a real testament to what was happening in her mind at this time in her life.
She told the magazine Fader, “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. Ardipithecus is my first album in my entire career and it makes me feel so blessed to be able to share my evolution with the LightEaters as I continue excavating my inner worlds.” Already at 15, she felt things deeply and fully gave other fifteen-year-olds the space to do the same.
At 17, we saw her next step forward with her second album The 1st. This time she picked up a guitar and we started to hear a more alternative sound. Just as she always had, she was sharing her innermost thoughts and even if it wasn’t your favorite music, it was real. A seventeen-year-old telling you what it’s like to be a seventeen-year-old. This time with a little bit of grunge thrown in there.
Punk music is full of emotion and vulnerability, and the ability to make the listener feel like they’ve been punched in the face (but in a good way, ya know?). As WILLOW came into her own and fully became her own person, we should have known she was the perfect candidate for the next punk rocker.
Red Table Talk was another platform where we really got to know WILLOW. She started the show as a teenager and since has become a full-fledged adult, having conversations with the previous two generations of her family, which I wish everyone could get the opportunity to do. Throughout the years she has revealed a lot about herself. During her “Whip My Hair” years, she struggled with depression and self-harm. She and her family talked to experts during the beginning of the pandemic about COVID-19. She has opened up about racism and had an honest conversation with Olivia Jade about white privilege after the college admission scandal. WILLOW is incredibly open about her sexuality too, being bisexual and curious about polyamory, and speaks about it without the stigma that gets attached to talking about sex so fluidly. She holds her own and shows the world what it’s like to be unapologetically yourself.
All of this has led to what we see now—an artist taking on her spot as a punk-rocker. In 2019, she teamed up with Tyler Cole to co-produce her next album, WILLOW. This album can’t truly be locked down into one genre but it is fun and real. From there, she and Tyler Cole released an album called The Anxiety. This album gave us “Meet Me At Our Spot”, which later blew up on TikTok and basically took over the world. WILLOW was (and still is) obviously resonating with people. In 2021, “Meet Me At Our Spot” would become her highest-charting song since “Whip My Hair”.
If we can tell anything about WILLOW by now, it’s that she doesn’t just make music for music’s sake. She makes music that is a reflection of who she is, and she connects with people. Literally just before the entire world shut down, and life as we knew it changed, she took her art to another level. On March 11th, 2020, Tyler Cole joined her at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Geffen Contemporary exhibit, where they locked themselves in a box for 24 hours and showed the 8 stages of anxiety. Guests watched for free as they gave silent examples of paranoia, rage, sadness, numbness, euphoria, strong interest, compassion, and acceptance. One side of the box was made of glass, to allow people to watch. The other three walls were made up of canvas where they could write affirmations. WILLOW and Cole spent three hours on each stage and onlookers were allowed to watch for 15 minutes.
Afterward, they went into a room that had self-help books and places to donate to mental health organizations. WILLOW spoke to the LA Times about the experience saying, “This is not so that people are like, ‘Oooh!’ This is for awareness. The first thing we’re going to be writing on our title wall is something along the lines of: ‘The acceptance of one’s fears is the first step toward understanding.’ So then you know this is on something real. This is for a real cause.”
In 2021, WILLOW made the pop-punk big time with “Transparent Soul” featuring Travis Barker. A couple of months later, she released her most recent album, lately I feel EVERYTHING, and it feels more real than ever. This album absolutely punches you in the face. She lets all of her thoughts hang out there for everyone to see, especially after everyone collectively went through the trauma of the past couple of years. She is raw and gives her listeners permission to be the same. She told Billboard, “It was me coming to a point where I just said ‘eff it’ and wanted to have fun. This album is the most I’ve let myself loose.” However, in true WILLOW fashion, it’s not just about fun. It also means something. She goes on to say, “In the guitar world, it’s heavily dominated by white men and I just wanted to come in and fuck it up. I hope to see more women of color rocking out and playing guitar and bass, and I want to be their cheerleader. I want to be in their service.” She’s out here breathing new life to a genre that we love and doing it organically.
For the past 12 years, we’ve watched the journey and an artist truly come into her own. WILLOW never allowed anyone to box her in and it has been incredible to experience her becoming more and more herself as the years go on. Her life is an inspiration to fight for yourself. She was once the girl who knew that “Whip My Hair”, a song that people love, wasn’t for her. It wasn’t who she is. WILLOW is vocal about things people are afraid to talk about and does it with eloquence and intelligence. She rose to her true talent in a time and for a generation that desperately needed to be understood and know their deep feelings exist. If you haven’t already, take a listen to her music and let her punk soul open up your mind. You could start with her latest single with Camila Cabello, “psychofreak”. WILLOW’s voice shows her incredible power and growth. Then you mix in lyrics like “wish I could be like everyone, but I’m not like anyone” and you instantly feel connected to her. WILLOW gets better as time goes on, and she’s just going to keep blowing us away. She’s grabbed our attention, and she’s about to take over the pop-punk world.