WILLOW’s “lately I feel EVERYTHING:” Let’s give her the crown, yes?
WILLOW’s new record says a lot of things about herself and the artists that’ve influenced her sound. Let’s review them all, shall we?
Let’s set the premise for this by placing WILLOW and her newest album, lately I feel EVERYTHING, in the context of four of her contemporaries: Miley Cyrus, Avril Lavigne, Olivia Rodrigo, and herself (surprise!).
Every self-respecting music critic hates to be called “that one guy who compares artists.” But there’s a method to this conceit that’ll help put WILLOW’s album in a new light and setting, so just enjoy the ride!
And so, we begin with…
What WILLOW has produced with her new album is undeniably a rock record, one filled with an edge and spunk and an ability to go balls-to-the-wall and just scream your feelings out loud. The obvious first frame of reference, when set against the scene of music today, is with what I consider Cyrus’ opus, Plastic Hearts.
The reason why Plastic Hearts really worked so well and captivated such a vast audience is because it helped us see a rawer side of Cyrus that we hadn’t seen before in her music. The person that she was on that record was someone we’d all somewhat recognized over the years, but her musical output was never truly reflective of it. Her naturally rebellious spirit that blossomed since her Disney Channel days didn’t really become a factor in her career till the album.
What WILLOW achieved with her album is essentially the same effect, of introducing to us a version of herself that we’d all seen to an extent: the person with ‘tude who didn’t follow conventional norms and was on the verge of breaking out. And what lately I feel EVERYTHING did is sledgehammer her way out the box that she and we as an audience had put herself in, becoming an artist that we kind of already acknowledged was there to begin with.
In that, it’s one point for WILLOW.
Let’s move on to one of WILLOW’s collaborators on the album, apart from the electric Travis Barker and a dynamite turn from Tierra Whack, that being Lavigne.
Lavigne is the anti-pop goddess that so many of us grew up worshipping and pledging allegiance to. Her entire brand was fixated on straying away from the status quo and presenting an opinion of the world and our pop culture that was distinctly anti-mainstream. But even though her sound was different, she was ultimately feeling the same emotions any human would. There’s no difference between what Taylor Swift says on Red and what Lavigne says on Let Go, it’s just a bunch of different bells and whistles.
That’s really an important way of understanding where WILLOW’s new record comes in. She’s saying the exact same things any of us would expect a 20 year old to say, bathed in the same sort of personal growth and ecstasy and “why the f*** did you leave” moments, in that different packaging.
What it does is present the exact fact that this is someone not even old enough to legally drink and their thoughts that aren’t supposed to be taken as gospel, but merely as raw musings in their current state of mind. Long story short: it’s not deep, don’t take it to be, and you’ll be great!
It’s why “G R O W” is such an absolute album highlight, because by having Lavigne on there, it manages to bring in nostalgia (yay!), an actually universal understanding of human emotion, and two absolutely dynamite vocalists with enough raw passion and attitude to set off a thousand ships (sorry, Helen of Troy).
In many ways, WILLOW is like the anti-Rodrigo. Rodrigo let her words and her narrative, of the broken-hearted and the wronged, of the unlucky in love and slightly luckier in life, serve as a way to give meaning to her music and enhance it.
WILLOW, on the other hand, lets the music serve as a launching point for her voice and her specific ideas. The hard-edged musicality is what seems like the main base for the album, with her own words weaving into them.
Both have the ability to go in with complete abandon on their music, and while Rodrigo’s words cut deeper, WILLOW’s sound does. And both are fantastic musicians with such a keen understanding of what they’re trying to say and honing in on it.
A lot of us are probably a little confused by WILLOW’s new record. The new sound is welcome, and the influence of Jada Pinkett Smith on there is palpable. But it feels out of place compared to the rest of her discography, no?
I mean, in our heads, she’s still the girl with braids dipped in paint wanting to whip her hair back and forth. At least, she used to be, this is probably the most mainstream attention she’s received since.
From a critical standpoint, I’d say the album came from a place of wanting to finally shout out “I am not that person!” And it’s sad if that were the case, considering she’s still having to make that proclamation three full records later. But it ultimately, I think, went from a place of wanting to make a point to a place of actually realizing that this is a sound she’s extremely comfortable with and this feels more like what she’s born to do.
In other words, she’s having FUN, which is something the three other artists above have all displayed in their best work.
This probably didn’t feel much like a review, but it is more of trying to figure out where WILLOW’s artistry and influences come from. Seeing an artist’s music in the right context allows you to add new perspectives that make your listening experience so much richer.
Music is subjective, as always, and you could disagree. So who am I to tell you what’s good and what’s not? What I can say is that this is a fantastic album that definitely deserves a listen, and doing that with a history lesson on where it all comes from (at least in my eyes, this could’ve just been the whim of a rubber duck, who knows) makes it a more fulfilling experience.
Think of it as a recommendation on how you should engage with it rather than why. Thank me later!
Stand-out track: “G R O W” (petition for more Avril Lavigne on our playlists, please)
Less of a stand-out: “Lipstick”
You can check out the album right here!