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Every week we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is lately I feel EVERYTHING, the new album from WILLOW.
On one hand, pop punk — and the Big Feelings that it evokes — can feel like the ultimate indulgence. Especially if you came of age during the height of the early ’00s pop punk and emo boom, the sheer whisper of pop melodies over power chords might make your bones recoil at the memories of your own unchecked teenage angst. But what if that sound, and that angst, grew up with you? And even moreso, what if those Big Feelings were entirely warranted? In the midst of a greater pop-punk revival, WILLOW and blink-182’s Travis Barker teamed up to mature the genre on lately I feel EVERYTHING, in an extreme pivot for the 20-year-old artist.
“I think that there are a lot of things happening socially and politically, and I think that people just want to scream and growl and express themselves because this time in life and in America and on Earth is not easy, and it's very, very chaotic and sus,” Willow Smith told Nylon of the pop-punk revival. “I think that people just want to live and have fun and not feel like impending doom is always around the corner.”
Pop-punk royalty Avril Lavigne, notable collaborator on the track “G R O W” and an early formative influence for WILLOW, succinctly added, “The genre always gives a voice to the kids who were told to shut up their whole life, and I am not surprised there is a revival.” And while there’s certainly plenty of the pop punk’s trademark straightforward malaise (see 36-second interlude “F--K You”), the contents are far from simple teen rage. Lavigne and Willow’s shared track infuses Smith’s longtime spirituality: “I've been putting work in, healing myself / Still got room to grow,” they sing. Emotional maturity is abundant elsewhere, like on the whip-fast and feather-light track “Gaslight,” where WILLOW sings, “I blew out the gaslight, now I feel a different way / I'll just love me instead.”
While the album can get stuck in some of the genre’s classic pitfalls, like overstated lyrics (“I think we live in a labyrinth / That was created by my mind”) or occasionally predictable arrangements, it’s hard to criticize them for leaning in. And it more than compensates with its tighter and genre-evolving moments like standout Tierra Whack-featuring “XTRA” or metal-influenced “Come Home.” Besides, if there’s one thing WILLOW and her various collaborators allow across lately I feel EVERYTHING, it’s permission to go ahead and feel it in its entirety, by any means necessary. And as a Black and queer artist who grew up adoring pop punk, Smith strives to carve out that space for feeling for listeners who may not have always had simple acess to or seen themselves reflected in it.
“I just want all of the Black girls who were bullied in school for liking punk and metal, and for trying to perm their hair and flip it to the side and do all of this shit — I'm here for them and I want them to feel seen and want them to feel heard,” Smith also shared with Nylon. “That's my bottom line.”
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, editor and creative producer and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.