Image courtesy of Willow Smith

Willow Smith: “Right now, my career is on 10 but my life is in chaos”

After sharing her "deepest darkest fears" on new album 'Lately I Feel Everything', the 20-year-old musician tells us she's exhausted and needs grounding.

by Willa Bennett
26 July 2021, 5:08pm

Image courtesy of Willow Smith

"I really do feel everything, and it's very fitting for this moment!" Willow Smith yells into her phone as she drives through Malibu, California, just days after releasing her fourth solo album, Lately I Feel Everything. "I'm just so happy that it's all happening with a project that I'm so proud of and that I put so much work into," the 20-year-old multihyphenate says. The body of work, produced in tandem with Tyler Cole, features 11 tracks of nostalgic collaborations with Blink-182's drummer Travis Barker, Cherry Glazerr, Tierra Whack, Ayla Tesler-Mabe, and 00s pop-punk icon Avril Lavigne, who Willow first direct messaged on Instagram as a fan. The album found an audience immediately online.

The first single, Willow and Travis' "Transparent Soul", quickly became a TikTok trend thanks to the soundbites: "I knew a boy just like you / he's a snake, just like you" and "all your little fake friends will sell your secrets for some cash". It racked up over 78 million streams on Spotify alone and became Willow's first Hot 100 entry. She jokes that "that fucking charting single" was created alongside Tyler in her literal closet one afternoon. "I wasn't like, 'Oh my god, this is a hit single,' but I thought we needed to keep on [at] this," she says of the now global phenomenon’s beginnings. 

Compared to her previous releases – Willow began putting out music in 2010 when she was only 10 years old – Lately I Feel Everything speaks to her sensitive side. "I just say my deepest darkest fears," she says of her hyper-specific, relatable lyrics. Her pop-punk vocals are at times cutting, but others vulnerable, as she sings: "You open up to me like a flower / I just want to see you bloom". The personal album is a strategic departure from the pop-oriented songs on 2015’s Ardipithecus, which only makes the record's success more overwhelming for the singer-songwriter. 

"I've always wanted to make a pop-punk album," she says. "I felt like I really struck a balance between the more moody alternative atonal music that I really love and that angsty, powerful pop-punk groove." Willow calls the album’s lyrics the "shining star" of the project, pointing to them as the thing she’s most proud of right now. "I'm also proud that I had the courage and the strength to put myself out there in this music," she adds.

Though, of course, the world already had an idea of who she was. Willow made her debut in Hollywood at the age of seven with an acting stint in I Am Legend next to her father, Will Smith. Her career continued to evolve as she approached adolescence and started to develop into the on-screen personality most know her as today – she's outgoing, intelligent and vocal about who she is. Willow describes her upbringing as "a journey" grounded in an ongoing quest for self-discovery.

"Growing up, I had journals upon journals of nonsense,” she says. “I would write everything down, even if they weren't even words." These fragments of self-expression would become lyrics, which would subsequently turn into songs. Eventually, she started releasing them, with singles like "Whip My Hair" and "Wait A Minute!" proving incredibly popular, though they’re understandably much less relevant to Willow today. Now the talented artist is better known for her genre-bending music, aesthetic online presence ("I like to use my social media as like an art form"), and forward-thinking confidence. On Red Table Talk – a candid talk show on Facebook Watch which she hosts alongside her mother, Jada Pinkett Smith, and grandmother, Adrienne Banfield-Norris – Willow has become an influential voice for young people, sitting across from her family and having unprecedented conversations about race, queerness and culture. 

"For a very long time, I was very afraid to be a kid,” she tells us. “I didn't want anyone to judge my family or look at us in any weird way. I wanted to stay not-controversial." She stops herself by laughing at her statement, then adds with clarity: "That didn't work."

On Red Table Talk, Willow recently made headlines after opening up about her bisexuality and relationship with polyamory, confidently stating that, "with polyamory, I feel like the main foundation is the freedom to be able to create a relationship style that works for you". For those of us who had been following Willow on social media since she was a teenager, the conversation was unsurprising, especially because one-third of Americans identify non-monogamy as their ideal relationship status, according to a recent study. Still, the press quickly reported Willow's point of view as groundbreaking, turning her statement into breaking news. 

Willow reiterates that relationships are a crucial agent for self-discovery. "I'm just trying to become a better person overall in how I relate to all of my relationships – platonic, romantic, all different kinds,” she says. “Right now, my career is on 10, but my life is in chaos." She explains that she has found herself exhausted and withdrawn from those closest to her throughout this record’s brutal press cycle. "Creative energy and romantic energy are very similar. I'm constantly using my creative energy for things, and trying to pull from that same well is very difficult. You just have to replenish. You just have to replenish and try to find ways to reset and rejuvenate," she says, with a long exhale. 

For Willow, the coping mechanisms that have allowed her to take care of her mental health have come in the form of meditation, self-help books, therapy and spirituality. "I hold on to my spirituality like a freaking lifeboat!" she says. Now that Lately I Feel Everything is out, Willow has made the conscious decision to put her energy into herself before moving on to the next project. "I need to get grounded," she says. "I need to kind of push pause on some things and just get grounded again." But that’s not to say that creating music doesn’t also play a part in maintaining a positive state of mind – for Willow and others.

"I make music so that other people can feel uplifted and can feel inspired and can look at life from a different perspective," Willow says. "I use music as a way to control my mental and emotional state. I'm an open book, honestly." 

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Willow Smith