>> Willow Smith attempts to once again reinvent herself musically through an atmospheric, dreamy, pop release that hits just barely more than it misses.
Willow Smith, as both an artist and public figure, has gone through many, many transformations in the public eye from a very young age, as a child star of two very, very famous parents. Due to this, it’s always been interesting to see where her sound has evolved between each release, with her discography embodying the “phases” of youth quite perfectly. Each album resembles a young person trying on a completely new style, leaving many elements behind throughout their growth and transition. With this latest release of ‘WILLOW,’ we see Smith doing this yet again, grasping on to many of dream pop, reggae, rnb, and indie pop’s trends and traditions, while the messaging in her lyrics is still lying very much in the realm of that trademark teenage philosophy: “everything was better before I was born, and I hate everything now”. We see this most obviously with the track “Time Machine” where Willow embarks on a journey into the past, dreaming about what she would do if she could go back to the MTV and Kurt Cobain era. There’s something very appealing about the rhythms and sounds she lands on this, and many other tracks. The overall dreamy atmosphere of “Like A Bird” is a fantastic opener, that transports a listener into the exact frame of mind Willow’s looking to have them in, in a world where all you really desire is to fly away, free as a bird. Every track is clearly pulling ideas from both old and new genre conventions, from psych rocky, grungy, guitars on “Overthinking IT” to the acoustic pop-esque strumming on “Female Energy, Part , the reggae rhythms on “Pretty Girlz” or the electronic experimentation and trap drums on “U KNOW.” All of these ideas, while quite different, are incorporated in a way that doesn’t feel at all disjointed, and allows ‘WILLOW’ a great playing field to try out new concepts with her beautiful, soulful vocals and falsettos.
Where this project struggles the most lies within what Smith actually does with that playing field. The production, instrumentation, and the sound of her voice are all really strong, but it feels as if when it comes to songwriting itself, ‘WILLOW’ has a long way to go. Her lyrics range from average, to preachy, to downright uninspired, and while she finds some absolutely fantastic grooves for herself in select places, she’s definitely still learning how to hop on a track in a meaningful way. On a project this short, the lack of substance in any area is a lot more obvious, and that is extremely apparent here. Because of this fact, the project comes dangerously close to fading into the background, instead of making its mark.
Willow Smith is an outstandingly promising artist, and she makes that strikingly clear with this self titled release, especially considering the rebranding she’s done for herself. The problem for her, unfortunately, is that while she’s come a long way since she first began releasing music nearly a decade ago, she’s yet to escape her critics’ claim that she is unable to stick to one idea without some bumps in the road. It’s clear she desperately wants to be her own artist and explore her own ideas, but these ideas are heavily reliant on those of some of the most popular artists and conventions in musical history. ‘WILLOW’ is an album that shows Willow Smith’s promise and potential- now it’s just time for her to reach it. 3.3/5 <<