Meet the new Willow. The Smith family singer who’s spent most of her life in the spotlight is turning to her pop-punk and emo roots on her upcoming fifth album, which she previewed on Tuesday (April 27) via the angsty rocker “Transparent Soul.” The track featuring Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker was accompanied by a zero-Fs-given visual in which Willow goes full goth in black bondage pants, giant spiky necklace, combat boots and lots of middle fingers flying.
“I don’t f—ing know if it’s a lie or its a fact/ All your little fake friends will sell you secrets for some cash/ Smile in my face, then put your cig out on my back/ If you ever see me, just get to runnin’ like the Flash,” she snarls over the insistent beat and funky bass before the guitars rush in for the swooning chorus.
“Transparent soul/ I can see right through just so you know (x2),” she sings into the camera with a menacing smile in the Dana Trippe-directed performance video in which Willow, 20, shows off her guitar skills. According to a statement, the as-yet-untitled album is due out this summer, and Willow says it’s part of an evolution of her sound that transpired over the COVID-19 lockdown.
“I am so grateful for this tune because it was created in such an introspective time (during the first couple months of quarantine),” she said in a press release. “It was the song that proved to me that I needed to let go of the insecurities I had about making a project of this genre.” While Willow is best known for the R&B sound she explored on her first four albums and on such hits as her 2010 breakthrough jam “Whip My Hair,” the demos she wrote during the pandemic were more guitar-focused, inspired by such musical heroes as My Chemical Romance, Avril Lavigne, Blink-182, Fall Out Boy and Paramore.
In an interview with Apple Music 1’s Zane Lowe on Tuesday, Willow described the thrill of recording a song with her hero Barker. “Travis is one of my favorite artists. And it’s so interesting because he is a drummer, but he’s so much more than that,” she said. “Being in the studio with him really showed me how multi-dimensional his artistry really is … He literally heard the song once and played it. He was like, ‘Oh, that’s perfect,’ one day and played it perfectly once.”
That session was part of a new process for Willow, who recorded her initial demos at home and then re-recorded the tracks in the studio when the coast was clear. “I thought this was a really dope outlet for a new energy I wanted to bring to my music,” she said of the songs she worked on with collaborator and boyfriend Tyler Cole, who also lent a hand on her self-titled 2019 album and last year’s The Anxiety. The singer said she also took a lot of inspiration from her mother, actress-singer Jada Pinkett Smith, whose nu-metal band, Wicked Wisdom, she accompanied on the road from ages 3 to 7.
“I was always so inspired by the power of her voice,” said Willow, who wasn’t sure she could tap into the same furious rock energy as her mom. “I never felt like I could sing that kind of music because I was always trained to sing R&B and pop … I realized that it’s not my voice that can’t sing this kind of music. I was afraid to sing this kind of music because I wasn’t sure what people would think.”
Watch the “Transparent Soul” video below.