WILLOW goes against the grain on her debut Alternative Press cover
Like it or not, Willow Smith has taken every label thrust her way and dismantled them piece by piece to create a sound and a sense of authenticity that leaves no room for question marks. Over the course of four albums and several EPs, WILLOW has evolved into an undeniably genuine individual while putting her talents on full display. Whether it’s her spirited 2020 release R I S E alongside Jahnavi Harrison or her cathartic alternative anthem “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l” featuring blink-182’s Travis Barker, WILLOW thrives in a multitude of musical spaces. Leaving no stone unturned, WILLOW sounds just as comfortable creating soulful, R&B-tinged tracks as she does singing through her most recent collaborative release.
“I feel like in some cases genre can be helpful because it is historical, and the only reason why we’re seeing so much genre-mixing today is because it’s 2021 and so much has evolved,” WILLOW says. “I feel like it’s really case by case, but overall, I’m all for getting rid of the categories and just doing whatever you feel. But sometimes when I’m conceptualizing things, I do need to know each different kind of genre that I’m going to be nodding to—like laying out a road map that’s specifically for me.”
In her debut Alternative Press cover interview, WILLOW delves into the influence of Avril Lavigne’s The Best Damn Thing, My Chemical Romance’s Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, Deftones’ White Pony and more. But despite drawing inspiration from noughties emo, pop punk and alternative, there was an invisible barrier between WILLOW’s passion for music and acceptance in the community.
“I remember going to some of my peers when I was in school and expressing to them that I wanted to perm my hair and do the classic emo swoop to the side and them just looking at me going, ‘I don’t think that that’s going to be a good look for you,’” WILLOW recalls. “I remember feeling exactly like, ‘Wow, I just want to be a cute emo girl and just live my life.’ There’s a barrier there, every single time. And that’s one of the reasons why I loved watching my mom on Ozzfest and touring metal. A lot of people didn’t want her to be doing that. A lot of people felt offended and angry that a Black famous woman was there in their community, doing something that they didn’t want her to be doing. She got so many death threats; people were throwing shit at her onstage, just being really, really racist and nasty and sexist. And me seeing that happen and seeing how gracefully she dealt with it, I was like, ‘Damn, if this is what I’m going to have to go up against out there, I’m going to have to do some mental and emotional training.’ And she helps me do that.
“Obviously, pop punk and heavy metal are two extremely different genres, but I think Black people in the rock world in general are still pretty rare,” WILLOW continues. “There’s just a tension there and a resistance that I really wanted to push back against. And on top of the fact that I wanted to push back against that, I just love rock, and I always have for my whole life. Those are two really big reasons why I decided to make this project.”
Besides breaking the metaphorical glass ceiling of Black representation in alternative music, similar to her mother before her, WILLOW reflects on her sonic journey to her forthcoming record. Set to release this summer via Roc Nation/MSFTSMusic, WILLOW’s transformative new album is a testament to her passion for alternative music as well as a reflection on her power and strength as an artist.
“I spent so many of my teenage years just being angsty and depressed and being like, ‘I hate that song [“Whip My Hair”],’” WILLOW admits. “I thought I hated that era, hated everything about it. But I realized as I grew up, I’m still saying the same shit. I’m still telling women and people of all colors to stand up for their truth and to take that leap to truly know themselves and to be honest with themselves. I feel like that song was just a different version of that same message, and when I realized that, I realized there’s no reason to be upset. I was preaching some real stuff, and I should be proud of that. Taking back that ownership and that feeling of power and that feeling of just like, ‘I did that…’ I should carry that with me in my life as a badge of compassion and be in service to more people who were inspired by that.”
Aside from an all-new interview with Jenessa Williams, WILLOW’s debut cover also features a brand-new photo shoot from the legendary photographer Atiba Jefferson. A master behind the lens, Jefferson was able to capture WILLOW’s punk-rock spirit and create a visual extension to her fifth studio album.
In addition, Issue 395 also features a vast array of alternative artists not limited to the world of music. Timothy Ware-Hill, director of the Netflix Original Cops And Robbers, candidly speaks on behalf of his animated short film and what’s next in his creative journey. Alternative Press also spoke with Pretty Sick on their upcoming EP, Comedown, DE’WAYNE on his debut album, STAINS, Shamir Bailey on their Bipolar Butterfly streetwear line and more. Across the pages of Issue 395, there’s no shortage of alternative representation that points toward the future of the community.
You can order WILLOW’s debut Alternative Press Issue 395 below.