At the tender age of 9 years old in 2010, Willow Smith released her debut single, Whip my Hair. By that time she already had an extensive personal artist history that dates back to her days as an apprentice witnessing her family create music for the world. Prior to her releasing her first album, ARDIPITHECUS in 2015, her biggest hit peaked at 11 in the top 100 billboard chart, she had featured some of the biggest artists in American popular music at that time and she had experienced the life of a touring artist through her mother’s rock band, Wicked Wisdom (2003-2007). Today, in anticipation of her forthcoming studio album, Willow comes back with t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l, her first foray into the pop-punk genre featuring the drummer of the rock band Blink-182, Travis Barker. t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l was released 27 April, along with what Willow refers to as a ‘visual performance’ on YouTube. From creating R&B, pop and alternative soul music her entire career, Willow cites artists such as Fall Out Boy, Paramore and My Chemical Romance among her influences for this new endeavour. When you listen to t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l and watch her visual performance, you can hear and see the references, particularly Hayley Williams of Paramore sonically while leaning over to TLC, Missy Elliot and Busta Rhymes visually.
Willow begins the single by expressing the words, “I don’t f**kin’ know if it’s a lie or it’s a fact. All your little fake friends will sell your secrets for some cash”. In her performance, she channels a grungy aesthetic, sporting a heavy amount of black attire and silver spiky jewellery, including black latex pants and big black combat boots. As the lyrics go on further, she sings, “I knew a boy just like you. He’s a snake, just like you” and in the second verse, “I knew a girl just like you. She was vain, just like you”. Those two phrases are uttered directly parallel to each other and Willow continues to refer to these two subjects equally as people she can see through. The visual performance depicts her in-between multiple frames — all sharing the edginess of punk — with Willow adorning black eyeliner, single black braids styled up as she shreds on an electric guitar in an empty white studio. Artists don’t necessarily reveal much of a clear accuracy about their personal lives in their lyrical content, however, there is a lot more weight that is added in the interpretation of t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l now that Willow has revealed that she wrote the song herself at a “very introspective” time of her life. Willow explains that the single was inspired by a quote from Hindu guru Radhanath Swami; the quote being, “It is said that a saintly person is so pure that he or she acts like a spotless mirror. When we come in the presence of such a mirror-like soul, we can see both the beauty and ugliness of our inner life.”
It would be remiss to not acknowledge the ways in which Willow’s success in the music industry is derivative of her family’s background and henceforth, close proximity to major record labels, access to artistic resources and an almost perfect geographical plain, having grown up in Hollywood, Los Angeles. Now we get to witness her musical arrival into the contemporary punk scene — a sonic, aesthetic and theoretical space of mobilising aggression that cannot be separated from the creativity of Black femmes. Rico Nasty, The Txlips, The Skins, Big Joanie and Doja Cat are some of the artists that come to mind when I think of popular punk today. In mainstream media and hegemonic musical history, punk has been portrayed as a genre with no Black femme presence, although we know that to be false. From Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Poly Styrene, to Skin and Grace Jones, punk shares its primary trait with Black woman, which is perceived anger or aggression, regardless of the accuracy. Willow attached her visual performance on YouTube with a text that reads, “I am so GRATEFUL and EXCITED to start this new journey! LET THE VIBES COMMENCE” and to her I say, welcome home, the angry Black girls have been waiting for you.