Willow Smith is making waves with nu-metal — a sound comprising heavy metal, hip-hop, alternative rock, and other genres — as shown by an inspired Mother’s Day performance for her mom Jada Pinkett Smith that received high praise on social media. The multitalented singer soon had fans wondering when she was going to release a full-length rock album.
However, Willow says the support wasn’t always there, and at one point she was bullied for listening to rock bands like the Grammy award-winning group Paramore because she didn’t look like the typical emo fan. During a recent interview with Alexis White for V Magazine, the 20-year-old revealed how she was teased for her eclectic taste in music.
“Being a Black woman in the metal crowd is very, very different on top of the pressures that the music industry puts on you,” Willow explained. “Now, it’s like an added pressure of the metal culture, the metal world, and just rock in general. I used to get bullied in school for listening to Paramore and My Chemical Romance.”
In the 2000s, bands like the ones the young actress mentioned were leading mainstream punk rock with songs like “Misery Business” and “Welcome to the Black Parade.” However, Willow didn’t feel like she could be a part of those fan bases, adding that there was also a lack of representation in those areas. And when she did see Black people, like her mother, who was the frontwoman of the metal group Wicked Wisdom, they were treated poorly.
In an interview with Alternative Press this month, Willow recalled the pushback she received from her classmates when she expressed her interest in punk rock: “I remember going to some of my peers when I was in school and expressing to them that I wanted to perm my hair and do the classic emo swoop to the side and them just looking at me going, ‘I don’t think that that’s going to be a good look for you.’ I remember feeling exactly like, ‘Wow, I just want to be a cute emo girl and just live my life.’”
The “Whip My Hair” singer hopes that her latest album can show Black girls and boys that it’s OK to listen to other genres and that there’s space for them. “Just through the music that I’m putting out right now and the representation that I can bring to the mix, I just hope that the Black girls who are listening to my music and listening to this album see that there’s more of us out there,” she explained to White, who herself fronted a metal band, Straight Line Stitch, from 2000 to 2015. “It’s a real thing. You’re not alone. You’re not the only Black girl who wishes she could flip her hair to the side and wear black eyeliner, you know what I mean?”
Willow’s current single “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l” featuring Blink182’s Travis Baker already has garnered well over 5 million streams on YouTube since its release in late April. The singer’s album which is said to be releasing sometime this summer under Jay-Z’s Roc Nation brand, will also feature Avril Lavigne, another prominent figure in the punk rock scene and an artist Willow grew up listening to.
“I’m so excited that I’m going to be having a song on the album with Avril Lavigne. She is so iconic,” she gushed. “It’s really nice to be able to have a quintessential pop-punk record with the pop-punk queen.”