Willow Smith Makes Pop-Punk Her Own on 'lately i feel EVERYTHING'
Published Jul 15, 2021Willow Smith didn't think she was capable of singing rock music. Her pivot from dreamy pop and R&B to angsty punk rock was a surprise to her fans, but was nearly universally embraced when her earworm of a single " t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l" dropped a few months ago. Her affinity for the pop-punk acts of the early aughts such as My Chemical Romance, Paramore and Avril Lavigne, as well as her mother Jada Pinkett Smith (the former frontwoman for nu-metal band Wicked Wisdom), paved the way for her to follow down the rock path. But as she's described in a recent Rolling Stone interview, "When I first started doing my own music and my parents got me a vocal coach, we only did pop and R&B kind of vibes, and so for my entire life, I didn't think I had the voice to sing this kind of music or sing rock in general." Her fourth studio album, lately i feel EVERYTHING, proves her doubts wrong — Willow's new pop-rock sound, drenched in early 2000s nostalgia, finds her sounding right at home.
The enigmatic, spiritual songs of Willow's 2015 debut album Ardipithecus garnered mixed reviews, but the album showcased her abilities beyond the "Whip My Hair" one-hit wonder child of Will and Jada, and as someone who was beginning to carve out her artistic vision. She would continue to expand her spacey sound further on The 1st (2017) and Willow (2019), of which the latter found Willow dropping all existential dread and instead letting loose on an expression of freedom and a celebration of breaking out of toxic friendships and relationships.
lately i feel EVERYTHING lead single " t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l," featuring Travis Barker, continues this liberated energy right off the bat for a track about ditching fake friends that would fit perfectly on Paramore's Brand New Eyes. Barker lends his drumming talents to other tracks including "Gasoline," a bright, punchy anthem that has "anime opening theme song" written all over it, and "G R O W," which also features vocals from the pop-punk princess herself, Avril Lavigne. Hearing Lavigne and Willow harmonize over clapping rhythms and jubilant guitar chords recalls the former's 2007 album, The Best Damn Thing.
Willow's eccentric vocals and borderline cartoonish enunciation of words fits the theatricality of emo and pop-punk genre. She cohesively slides between hitting sky-high notes and low roars within the same tracks, like on "don't SAVE ME," which has a dark drop that satisfyingly crashes hard to the ground. "Lipstick," the second single, is a smoky and animalistic metal track that puts Willow's soaring vocals front and center. Meanwhile, rap-rocker "XTRA," featuring Tierra Whack, is effortlessly nonchalant while remaining full of buoyancy.
A longer runtime could have benefitted the record. Most tracks are criminally brief which fits into the punk ethos, but often finds the songs ending just as they reach their climax or take an interesting turn. This is especially true on the Cherry Glazerr-featuring closer "¡BREAKOUT!," which packs a riot grrrl punch, but sidesteps its full potential to be an epic curtain call after only two minutes.
It's inevitable that lately i feel EVERYTHING will be relentlessly compared to its influences and predecessors, but Willow manages to pay homage to the subculture while putting her own spin on it. Even with rock influences being interwoven into the music of her contemporaries such as fellow Lavigne and Paramore disciple Olivia Rodrigo, Willow leans all the way into the authenticity of the sound and stands out as a result. (MSFTS Music/Roc Nation)