Last month, singer/songwriter Willow Smith released ‘Transparent Soul,’ the first single from her upcoming studio album— showing the world a different side of her as a musician. The track, which featured Blink-182’s Travis Barker on drums, was a decisive break from her earlier releases, and yet still has the same heart and soul that has defined Willow’s entire career.
‘Transparent Soul’ seems to draw on the pop-punk music that defined the early 2000s, music that came from bands such as Paramore, Fall Out Boy, or even Barker’s own band, Blink-182. The song features the hard-hitting percussion and pop-punk power chords that defined that era of music, as well as the angry, snide lyrics that empowered a generation. “I knew a boy just like you/ He’s a snake just like you/ Such a fake just like you/ But I can see the truth.”
The single was released with an accompanying music video, featuring Willow in all-black attire and combat boots, seemingly personifying the anger and angst of the song. The music video exemplifies how much Willow has grown— both as a person and as a musician— since her 2010 hip-hop release: ‘Whip My Hair,’ which climbed charts and cemented Willow’s identity as a hip-hop musician.
Now, Willow is seemingly rejecting this identity, showing fans that she will not be constrained by genres. When asked about her foray into pop-punk, Willow expressed apprehension and uncertainty at first. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Willow explained that she always wanted to do this type of music— but was worried that she didn’t have the voice for it. “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.”
However, Willow was empowered by her mother’s own foray into the nu metal genre in the early 2000s. Jada Pinkett Smith formed the metal band Wicked Wisdom in 2002, which released two albums and performed at Ozzfest in 2005. Willow, who was a toddler during her mother’s metal years, was inspired by her mother’s music and it led her to explore the angsty genres that resonated with her the most. “I was always so inspired by the power of her voice,” she said, in a recent episode of the Facebook show Red Table Talk, “I realized that it’s not my voice that can’t sing this kind of music. I was afraid to sing this kind of music, because I wasn’t sure what people would think.”
When COVID-19 lockdowns hit last year, Willow decided to use the opportunity to shed her insecurities, using the isolation as a time to explore the musical avenues which she was too self conscious to explore before. “I always felt like I wanted to do it, but for some reason was really insecure and felt like I couldn’t,” Willow explained. “And so when COVID hit and quarantine started, I just kind of needed something new — everything was slowing down, and I wanted to try something that I had never tried before.”
So rather than spending her quarantine watching Tiger King and baking bread, Willow decided to spend it reinvigorating a genre that has been dormant for the past ten years, paving the way for a new generation of artists to embrace the power chords and distortion that empowered a generation. Much like fashion, music is cyclical. Artists build off of each other, and each generation builds the foundation for those who follow. Recently, we have seen a revitalization of the 80s genre, with songs such as The Weeknd’s 2019 release ‘Blinding Lights,’ which featured a synth-pop keyboard hook that was reminiscent of the sounds that defined that decade. Now, it seems as though the early 2000s might be having a moment as well— as a new generation of musicians discovers the joy of combat boots and anarchy.