How Willow Smith pays homage to punk culture with her music
Willow Smith has been in the public eye all her life, but her musical identity has always been an extension of herself. Her career so far has felt like a break from her parents’ famous association and a way for her to symbolize her self-reliance. His single”transparent soulfeatures Blink-182’s Travis Barker and is a tribute to black punk culture and early 2000s rock music.
The four-bar count in the intro is a clear homage to the famous Ramones to count, and angular guitar chords add a steady energy to the track. Smith’s stellar vocals add a sense of beauty not usually present in punk music, and the song’s structure gives space to both the instrumentation and the vocals to lead the track.
Traditionally, punk songs deliberately try to make their vocal delivery as rough and unappealing as possible, but Smith’s vocals complement the jagged instrumentation beautifully.
Punk music was created in response to the excessive and indulgent nature of 1970s rock music. While popular bands like the Ramones and shock found mainstream success in the UK and US, black punk bands mostly found only underground success or were forgotten by history.
Death, for example, were a punk band formed in 1964 and were one of the first black punk bands to exist, but their names are rarely seen or documented in historical punk music records. Their name combined with their style of music was abrasive for their period, so they were shunned from record companies and had difficulty funding their projects.
Smith’s music draws inspiration from these unsung pioneers while adding his own artistic flair to the genre.
Punk music has made its way into the mainstream and its popularity has grown with the number of popular artists paying homage to the era and its icons. In modern culture, black artists have been more vocal in taking stylistic and musical inspirations from punk music.
The three-way alternative rock band BLACKSTARS CHILDREN combines indie-style instrumentation with saturated colors and a punk aesthetic. Playboi Carti has fully co-opted its “vampire rock staraesthetic that borrows heavily from punk icons, and his album cover for his 2020 album All Lotta Red pays homage to the punk publication of the 70s Slash magazine.
This stylistic change spawned many memes and generated a lot of free publicity for Playboi Carti. Throughout Smith’s career, his music prior to this single was mostly neo-soul inspired. His latest solo album, 2019’s “WILLOWis filled with R&B-inspired hooks and soaring choruses, and its art direction was very psychedelic.
Songs like “Time Machine” and “Feminine energy part 2“focus heavily on ambience rather than instrumentation, and Smith’s vocals are saturated with effects in order to create feeling. While Smith doesn’t have to deal with the issues that many independent artists face, like funding his singles or producing his own music, his main problem is maintaining the authenticity of his music and vision.
“transparent soulis a new artistic direction for Smith and illustrates his newfound confidence as an artist. For someone with a platform like her, this drastic change shows her unapologetic nature as a creator, and her fans seem pleased with her new musical style. The change represents growth for artists of his stature, and this new direction is exciting for old and new Smith fans alike.
While the female R&B genre has stars like SZA and Ari lennox, Smith should serve as an inspiration to artists who fear changing their style due to fan backlash or commercial viability. His album will clearly continue and build on these musical ideas, and his latest project will add another chapter to his creative identity.