When it comes to dealing with stress or trauma, a coping mechanism helps maintain emotional wellness. And in a post-pandemic world where mental health is at the forefront, WILLOW’s <COPINGMECHANISM> is a timely and transparent body of work. Originally slated to release late September, WILLOW’s fifth studio album recently arrived with rock-fueled energy. The half an hour whirlwind features 11 songs, including a collaboration with experimentalist Yves Tumor. <COPINGMECHANISM> is wholly impressive with screamo vocals and pithy lyrics. 

“I wanted to go for rock. I didn’t want to go for pop punk. I didn’t want to go for what’s necessarily popular right now,” WILLOW told Billboard in an interview earlier this year. “I wanted to go for the heart of rock music, which to me is a deep outcry — maybe about pain, maybe about joy.” Interestingly, the album’s artwork is a depiction of an electric guitar smashed into a television screen. Perhaps indicating both self-expression and musical evolution. 

Read more: WILLOW talks about her influences, working with Avril Lavigne and more

WILLOW began releasing music in 2010, at the age of 9, with her bubblegum pop single “Whip My Hair.” After a hit record and a musical hiatus, the former tween idol experimented instrumentally during her adolescent years. WILLOW delivered her full-length debut Ardipithecus in 2015, her sophomore album The 1st in 2017 and her self-titled LP in 2019. Ultimately, making a solo comeback in 2021 with her fourth studio album lately I Feel EVERYTHING. The pop-punk release, which pays homage to 2000s punk bands like blink-182, was a venturesome transition. Before lately I feel EVERYTHING, WILLOW’s sound ranged from alt-R&B and neo-soul to experimental pop and psychedelic-folk.

On <COPINGMECHANISM>, the 21-year-old parts ways with her pop-punk era and unleashes the bonafide rock star within. The coming-of-age album is obviously grittier and more mature than her past work, with inspiration from Evanescence, Paramore, Crowbar and Queen. WILLOW tackles common themes like love, heartbreak, healing and isolation. “There's no time for fight-or-flight/Think I'm gonna freeze, no peace in my head,” she reveals on “WHY?” Sonically, WILLOW manages to capture a nostalgic feel and progressive sound throughout the album. Lyrically, she connects with listeners and herself simultaneously, almost like a form of melodic self-help. “Because life doesn't choose either side/Win or lose, right or wrong/It's a battle that's all in your mind/You better open wide,” WILLOW advises on “curious/furious.”

The album’s opener “maybe it’s my fault” kicks off the project on an upbeat note. Unexpectedly, the tempo changes toward the second half with the breakup anthem “Split.” And the heavy-hitting closer “BATSHIT!” reverts the album back to its metal-inspired roots. Climactic tracks include the emotive bop “Falling Endlessly” and the self-explained ode to womanhood “hover like a GODDESS.” What makes those particular songs noteworthy are the catchy and bouncy life lessons intertwined with epic guitar riffs. Truthfully, even if you aren't a Gen Z-er dealing with the ups and downs of life, the album has the power to rekindle the vulnerability and awkwardness of young adulthood.  

As the offspring of famed actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, and the younger sibling of multi-hyphenate Jaden Smith, WILLOW’s raw talent outshines the nepotism hearsay. Although <COPINGMECHANISM> isn't entirely original content-wise, there’s a newfound level of confidence on this project. Like her mother, the frontwoman of 2000s nü-metal band Wicked Wisdom, WILLOW is a pioneer at a time when young Black women in rock are a rarity.