(April 10, 2022). The much maligned Smith family has a bright spot: WILLOW.
The daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith was a surprise guest on this weekend’s SNL (April 9) performing with Camila Cabello on the latter’s latest single “Psychofreak,” from Cabello’s just-released album Familia.
Cabello was the billed musical guest on SNL, but WILLOW made a surprise visit—and a welcome one at that, especially given recent events involving her famous parents (still the butts of jokes on this same episode of the late-night sketch show).
Imagine what it must have been like for WILLOW to be backstage preparing for her performance while SNL regular Colin Jost quipped on “Weekend Update” about her dad’s recent ban from the Oscars (although the jokes were decidedly lighthearted: Jost remarked that the ten-year Academy ban might not actually be a bad thing for Will Smith after all, and that a harsher punishment would have been to make the “Men In Black” actor host next year’s four-hour snooze fest).
But WILLOW just seems to be unaffected by it all, doesn’t she? From her very limited social media presence in the days after her dad’s infamous slap of Chris Rock at last month’s Oscars, to Saturday night’s bold SNL performance.
Even this weekend’s potentially triggering news of an alleged letter she wrote in 2011 to Jada’s former flame, Tupac Shakur, asking the late rapper to come back (to life) so she and her mom “could be happy again” hasn’t seemed to derail WILLOW, despite unwarranted attacks like that of rapper and eternal troll Kodak Black (his vile threats don’t bear repeating here but I’ll note that WILLOW was only eleven years old at the time the letter was allegedly written).
Her collabo Saturday night with Cabello on “Psychofreak,” already a bop, was a home run onstage. The chemistry between the two women was and is palpable. The song—released Friday (4/8) along with its official video (below)—is a dark, trippy pop number that perfectly pairs the pop star with Latin-music leanings (Cabello) and the increasingly alternative rocker (Smith) in a way that allows each to shine without losing their musical identities.
The lyrics to “Psychofreak” also couldn’t feel more appropriate.
On the chorus, Cabello sings, “House in the hills is a house of cards, blink and the fairytale falls apart.” WILLOW later follows with the seemingly self-aware “wish I could be like everyone, but I’m not like anyone.” When Cabello closes the chorus by singing, “Maybe I’m an alien, Earth is hard,” you get the sense that the song was written with Willow’s personal circumstances in mind. It certainly feels like her family’s fairytale image has crumbled in the blink of an eye. And few would disagree that WILLOW is about as different as they come (a good thing, I might add).
The “Whip My Hair” singer’s SNL triumph comes in the same week that her recent collabo with rapper-turned-rocker Machine Gun Kelly, the punky track “Emo Girl,” re-entered the Hot 100 at No. 84 after having peaked at No. 77 earlier. The uptempo rock jam features WILLOW trading verses with MGK and she more than holds up her end of the deal. The album on which that song appears, MGK’s mainstream sellout, was this past week’s No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
The reentry of “Emo Girl” on the Hot 100 comes only two weeks after her long-running hit with ANXIETY, “Meet Me At Our Spot” featuring Tyler Cole, exited that chart. It spent 26 non-consecutive weeks on the list and peaked at No. 21 last November. It was a viral sensation that gave WILLOW her first top-40 hit since “Whip My Hair” eleven years earlier (when she was just ten years old).
“Meet Me At Our Spot” was inescapable on TikTok last fall, as it soundtracked many videos of people in all kinds of situations: trying out different cartoon character filters, playing air-instruments, showcasing their recent summers. The emo-sounding track had that understated vibe that just feels right for WILLOW (with vocal stylings reminiscent of aughts superstars like Avril Lavigne and Michelle Branch) and offers a sharp contrast to all the drama swirling around her family right now.
More importantly, “Meet Me” was an ear worm that reminded us just how good pop music can be and that Willow Smith is as capable a musician as anyone out there making hits today.
Her SNL appearance with Cabello was a well-kept secret that the show’s producers didn’t promote, likely at the 21-year-old WILLOW’s request.
I get it, she’s probably suffering from as much “slap fatigue” as the rest of us and didn’t want the headlines to be all about that (or to steal from Cabello’s SNL moment).
For now, with these recent musical triumphs and her above-the-fray persona, it sure feels like WILLOW is winning. Maybe when all the fervor dies down about “the slap” and its fallout, the still very young singer/model/talk-show host will get a chance to really shine in what appears to be her true calling: making some great-sounding rock music!
DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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