Bunny Schaaf | Staff Writer
Oct. 13, 2022
WILLOW, otherwise known as Willow Smith, is the daughter of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, whose music career took off with the release of her album “ARDIPITHECUS” in 2015, and, prior, “Whip My Hair” in 2010.
Her career has always remained within the pop scene. However, with the release of “lately I feel EVERYTHING” in 2021, the young artist redefined her sound with more post-punk and afrofuturism elements. She also worked with artists like Avril Lavigne and Cherry Glazerr on this album, who themselves had gained popularity from teenage audiences for pop punk and electronica focuses within their music. For the past year, WILLOW has been acknowledged as a post pop-punk artist. This reputation continues with the release of her latest album, “<COPINGMECHANISM>,” released on Oct. 7.
“Split” was the hit single most recently released to promote the album, which does a relatively good job of displaying Smith’s vocal control within the first minute of content, exploring her range and keeping even the heavier, punky backing track to the wayside to focus on the softness and intonation of her voice.
This presents a theme that is common throughout the entirety of this new album: the refined nature of her new work. While “lately, I feel EVERYTHING,” earned its own praise, it lacked the production that “<COPINGMECHANISM>” clearly has as WILLOW cements her style.
“<maybe> it’s my fault,” is the opening track of the album, as well as a previously released single, and explores all of the previous – and current – genres that WILLOW has aligned herself with: indie rock, bedroom pop, pop punk and metal. The blend of elements works well, and they’re united by Smith’s confident vocal performance.
The following few tracks of the album, especially “curious/furious,” remain relatively reserved with more focus on the modern pop sound. Despite this, “WHY?” and “Falling Endlessly” in particular showcase impressive guitar and vocal work that align with the evolving sound of post-punk and mainstream metal in 2022. This parallels to artists like Poppy, a metal, post-punk vocalist, and Rico Nasty, an afrofuturism and metal rapper, earning WILLOW a spot among some of the most popular artists within her genres.
“<Coping Mechanism>,” the title track, abandons the focus on softer vocals that remain present within the first half of the album and serves as a taste-breaker when listening through “<COPINGMECHANISM>”. Despite some of the taunting or desperate lyrics – “I need a coping mechanism from you,” and “…you couldn’t help it, or could you?” – WILLOW delivers a talented and relatively seasoned performance for her young age.
Among the latter half of the album, “hover like a GODDESS” especially stands out. It contrasts every other song on the LP aside from its follow-up track, “ur a <stranger>,” by incorporating a more ethereal sound throughout the melody and more interesting lyrics as well, deviating from the sadgirl narrative that had thus far littered the release, while still maintaining the theme of infatuation and desperation that has been carried on throughout the album’s storyline.
The auditory texture is much more successful in these songs despite the incorporation of several genres in the prior tracks. These make for the most successful songs on the entire album, with a notably high production value and the impressive, smooth transition between stereotypical pop punk and something much more interesting.
The final track on the album is “BATSHIT!” which also happens to be the most intense song, incorporating most of WILLOW’s metal inspiration and having the least pop-focused sound; though, Smith’s vocals do not take the spotlight here. The actual musical value, the performance of the musicians, is the most stunning aspect. “BATSHIT!” provides the most impressive backing track out of all of the songs on the album and, to be honest, I wish the rest of the album would have delved deeper into the sound found in “BATSHIT!” and “hover like a GODDESS.”
“<COPINGMECHANISM>” is not a bad album. However, there are discrepancies between the auditory interest of the songs.
There are some impressive compositions, especially later in the album, as well as confidence from WILLOW that has not necessarily been heard in such consistency before, and high production value, but there is simply not enough interest there to make the entire album successful.
Many of the songs on the album blend together. While this can work in some cases as a storytelling device or intentional flow of music, it does not work here. I can’t tell when certain songs end and others begin, which makes the album feel monotonous and repetitive. Despite WILLOW’s movement toward punk and metal, the sentiment of generic pop songs and pop sound still have a hold on a lot of her music. Additionally, songs like “Perfectly Not Close To Me” and “curious/furious” turn me off of the album for their poor lyrical and musical choices. This is especially unfortunate as “Perfectly Not Close To Me” is the only collaboration on the album, something WILLOW saw success with in “lately, I feel EVERYTHING.”
I really wish Smith would have explored more of the unconventional and art-focused elements found in some of the songs. If she would have taken time to incorporate more of the elements from “hover like a GODDESS,” “Split” and “BATSHIT!,” I believe she would have found more success in individualizing herself within the pop punk sphere, and shedding her reputation as a pop artist.
For an album intended to be a ‘spiritual exploration’ of her music career, “<COPINGMECHANISM>” largely feels like another processed pop album that has taken an edgier stance in order to distinguish itself. Smith’s voice and some of the production choices can make the album more interesting or successful at times, but all-in-all, the release is neither good nor bad. It’s okay, and it fulfills the role it takes on.
Regardless, “<COPINGMECHANISM>” is worth the listen if you enjoy pop music, but don’t expect to be saving every song off of the album.