While scrolling on TikTok, it’s highly unlikely that one could manage to avoid Willow Smith — now known by her stage name, WILLOW — whose songs instantly caught fire on the platform. An audio based on her 2020 track “Meet Me at Our Spot” has been used in more than 1.8 million videos on the app, one of several WILLOW songs to become a breakout hit in recent years — and for good reason. WILLOW’s signature sound shifts effortlessly between soft alternative and punk rock, the latter of which dominates her latest LP <Copingmechanism> and has quickly caught the attention of fans given its addicting throwback to the early-2000s punk scene.
In <Copingmechanism>, WILLOW leans even further into rock angst, traversing the line between heavy metal and pop with tracks such as “<Coping Mechanism>” and “<Maybe > It’s My Fault,” which explore genre-bending sounds with more emotion and curiosity than her prior solo efforts. Her previous record, Lately I Feel Everything, situates comfortably on the fringes of pop; however, this time around, WILLOW jumps head first into punk, a genre that has recently seen a resurgence in the mainstream. The likes of Olivia Rodrigo have, in some ways, been at the forefront of this female-led revival of pop-punk — a genre that is traditionally male-dominated and historically problematic. WILLOW, however, breaks through the noise.
With her latest album, the fifth entry in her discography, the 21-year-old singer is more in her element than ever before. The anarchic energy that fuels <Copingmechanism> is fresh and all-encompassing, reflecting much of what mainstream pop music strives to be in 2022. The near-metal sound that WILLOW showcases in this record goes beyond current trends, relishing in its own nonconformity and mustering a spirit that has yet to be seen from another young performer in recent years. Her riotous vigor carries each track into the next, leading listeners unpredictably around every sonic corner.
Musically, the record combines infectious pop with the high octane energy of heavy metal, in some ways resembling the lesser-known 2020 release I Disagree from internet phenomenon Poppy. The two artists mesh pop and metal together to create a catchy yet offbeat take on screamo, notably undercutting the genre’s misogynistic roots. Similar to I Disagree, <Copingmechanism> feels inherently anti-patriarchal, despite the fact that neither record explicitly addresses these themes. Even still, the rebellious attitudes that define WILLOW’s LP are enough to suggest, at least, that her artistry is fueled by identity.
In “Hover Like a Goddess,” WILLOW sings intensely about queer love, offering an energetic representation of longing in a style uniquely her own. The track is a prime example of the ways WILLOW moves against the grain, undoubtedly inspiring fans to do the same. This emphasizes the significance of <Copingmechanism> and its place in the punk sphere; the record embodies disobedience and rebellion, not just for the sake of doing so but because it must. <Copingmechanism> screams to be heard in a space that would otherwise disregard it, and this alone is a powerful feat.
Nonetheless, the record leaves its listener wanting to hear more of what WILLOW has to offer. With an unusually short 29-minute playthrough, it certainly lacks breadth and leaves directions unexplored; but, in the end, none of this matters. What matters is that <Copingmechanism> allows listeners to peer into the mind of WILLOW — an artist who has become an online enigma whose unique style is reflected nowhere else in pop. For all intents and purposes, this is WILLOW’s world, and we’re all just living in it.