WILLOW SMITH IS LETTING US IN
By Awa Gueye
July 23, 2019
Willow Smith was born at the turn of the century. She just missed the nineties, a time she understands herself well enough to know she would have loved. One who deliberates deeply, unable to take things lightly, her attraction to the past is not in tune with the current trend that romanticizes it. Her dreams of before are not fashion, nor a fantasy of a version of the past. More than just a longing for baggy jeans or palm pilots, she seeks connection. Willow’s nostalgia for the recent past is as vulnerable, simple, and beautiful as her latest album.
In the age of invention and technology, internet connection is booming, Wifi in high demand, yet personal connection is scarce. On her self titled album, Willow assumes the role of explorer, traveling in time to preserve the history of human connection. She begins as a bird on her song “Like a Bird”, describing herself as “perched on a tree” and “with a broken wing”. Perhaps she finds it difficult to participate in the world, unable to move because of her broken wing; her inability to escape her mind with social media in the way her peers can. Her aversion to technology as substitute for real world experiences sometimes leads her to be a watcher, taking in the world alone or with other birds.
Of course Willow is a bird. They are the descendants of dinosaurs and along with fish the oldest animals we have. I don’t know what I believe happens when we pass, but I do not think it is Willow’s first time here. If it were, I think she could accept the loss of real relationships in this age and retreat to her phone as a lot of the newbies can.
Willow has let us in. The record is self-titled — it is her. She has matured enough to understand that in order to get the deep connection most of us are looking for, we must give it. And so we are offered a window into Willow’s bond to her identity and all that makes it.
Willow has shared the experience of this very personal album with her strongest connections. As her only named feature, her brother and forever collaborator Jaden makes an appearance on the song “U KNOW.”
Also, for the first time, Willow allowed another person to have as big a say as her on her work. Previously protecting herself she would work along without creative suggestions from others. She has learned to protect herself and still allow others into her process as proved by this gift she has created with co-producer Tyler Cole.
View this post on Instagram
☀️<GRATITUDE>☀️ I’ve always felt like the studio was my cocoon/safe haven. For a LONG time I never invited producers or was even open to creative suggestions from anyone. I couldn’t ask for a better first experience with co-producing an album. Having another perspective other than mine in the studio really brought this album TO LIFE ‼️Stream ‘WILLOW’ for clear skin 😂
With “Female Energy, Pt. 2”, Willow connects us to her previous work. We get to explore her truth as she navigates the transition from youth to woman. She asks for help, “tell me, how am I to feel?” And continues with “I don’t know if I can chill, I need to scream it loud”. Again, staying true to herself instead of the norm, Willow yells. She does not create any sort of filter to turn her emotions into a brand of vulnerable. She is just honest. She tells the truth not only in lyrics but in production too. Listening to the album sounds like listening to her play it for you in your living room.
Throughout this record but specifically in tracks like “Time Machine” or “Overthinking IT” (my personal favorite), Willow discusses her relationship to time. In “Time Machine” she explores what she would do if (you guessed it) given a time machine. She fantasizes hanging out with Basquiat in NYC or maybe even Kurt Cobain. Her need for flight surrounds this generations disconnect. May as well go somewhere else since no one is really here. But Willow is not selfish. She has the foresight to see the damage that is being created by our virtual buffers. She warns us to look up, and that even if we think we are present and not alone we’re wrong.
In “Overthinking IT” she discusses needing to breathe and learning to take her time. She is overwhelmed by the love she has to give and the work she has to do so much so that it cripples her at times. Smart as she is, she recognizes she needs to take time for herself too.
Thank you for the music Willow, I like sharing a home planet at the same time as you.