The current state of fear seems to be engulfing and sweeping the nation overnight. The anxiety of the world is something that just seems unavoidable and everyone is feeling it – whether we are worrying about the deadly pandemic, the political climate, or the future of planet earth – fear is in the air.
However, to Willow Smith, the anxiety the world is feeling intensely right now is something she has been suffering from most of her life. From the moment she was born, Smith was immediately a spectacle for the public eye to judge and dissect, due to her parent’s infamous status in Hollywood. Smith naturally was exposed to music growing up and originally found it a way to creatively express herself when she was a child. She dropped her first single, “Whip My Hair” when she was only nine years old and it became a hit sensation, garnering her even more public attention.
She was then pressured to go on a worldwide tour – to which the idea to Smith became terrifying and stressful. She expresses the immense amount of pressure that she felt to be an artist and to be successful – especially given the expectations that the world and her parents had for her. This sensation of a lack of control ultimately led Smith into a downward spiral.
During one of the Red Table Talk series that Smith’s mother Jada and her grandmother host – she reveals how this lack of being granted personal autonomy affected her mental health. “I definitely had to forgive you and daddy for the whole “Whip My Hair” thing. It was mostly daddy because he was so harsh at certain times. It was a couple of years, honestly. Trying to regain trust for not feeling like I was being listened to or like no one cared how I felt.
Willow Smith ended up expressing her fears regarding pursuing her music career and ended up canceling the world tour she was supposed to embark on. In a moment of pure anger and desperation, she shaved her head bald.
The guilt she felt for being stifled from pursuing her dreams due to her mental health struggles was something that Smith has had to carry for quite some time. She stopped making music for years but recently has had a newfound love towards understanding that music is something crucial to her identity and a way to unleash the tension that she holds within.
She dropped her debut album, “WILLOW” in the summer of 2019. Smith has found comfort in indulging in yoga and meditation as a way to cope with the anxiety and depression that surrounds her. It’s evident that her connection to nature and spiritual practices had a massive effect on developing the sound for the album. “WILLOW” has some tracks that are pure folk ballads, while others gravitate towards more electric guitars riffs and screeching vocals.
When these two very dynamic sounds come together it reflects the lack of unity that she feels in regards to her emotions – expressing both the inner peace and the chaos that resides within her. Smith has just dropped a new album with a rumored partner, Tyler Cole, titled, “THE ANXIETY.”
“THE ANXIETY” showcases Smith disregarding the need to run or deny the anxiety she battles. The melodic and soulful melodies that she once displayed on “WILLOW” is deserted – “THE ANXIETY” is a full-on, hard-core punk album. Even when Smith and Cole implement gentle acoustic guitars strings and abandon the bellowing vocals – their lyrics still reflect a sense of frustration and defiance.
The cover art of the album is a musky grey image of both Cole and Smith’s faces screaming, mouth agape and eyes closed. Instead of shielding her mental health battles from the world – Smith is now fully embracing and expressing them to her fans in bold ways that stretch beyond her music.
In an effort to raise awareness for anxiety, Smith and Cole held an art demonstration at MOCA in which they trapped themselves in a glass box for 24 hours. The 24 hour time period is extremely calculated and purposeful. “Joined by her collaborator Tyler Cole, the 19-year-old will cycle through eight stages of anxiety: paranoia, rage, sadness, numbness, euphoria, strong interest, compassion, and acceptance. They will spend three hours in each stage.”
The originally white walls that they are entrapped by became their own canvas for letting others who are also suffering from anxiety know that they stand alongside you. Smith and Cole spray paint over the bleakness with quotes like “You are not alone” and “Exit the Ego.” Fans come and go- as Smith is no longer running from the limelight she was forced into and is instead using her platform to uplift others who may be going through similar issues.
The re-claiming of power and the journey towards embracing negative emotions that Smith is conveying with, “THE ANXIETY” – showcases a profound sense of both artistic and personal growth.
This sense of acknowledging the bad while also not allowing it to take up all the space inside you is something that Smith is working towards in her music. On the track “Are you Afraid,” Cole and Smith sing in harmony, “I can feel the time passin’. That’s the anxiety attackin’ and I’ve been through all the sad shit. So ima let you have this. Baby you can never throw me off balance. Ima need a challenge.”