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WILLOW < COPINGMECHANISM > Album Review

“she’s an act that has blossomed into something remarkable”

WILLOW <COPINGMECHAMISM> Album Review

WILLOW’s musical journey has been a complex one. The daughter of Will and Jada Pickett Smith, she has released some pretty abysmal singles Whip My Hair, 21st Century Girl and Fireball featuring Trinidadian rapper Nicki Minaj in 2010 and 2011 respectively, aged just ten years old, prompting the saying; just because you have the money and the power to do something, doesn’t mean you should. Having said that, for a girl of her age, she did have some strong potential, potential that she used for her first three records as well as her collaborative album The Anxiety with Tyler Cole that were released from 2015 to 2020. Despite singles Wait A Minute! and Meet Me At Our Spot going viral on TikTok, it wasn’t until 2021 when she released t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l with Travis Barker that people started to notice her, including me, with that track being one of my favourite songs of last year. Her last record lately i feel EVERYTHING was incredibly clunky and poorly executed, which was a real shame as someone who has mad potential, but she’s an act that has blossomed into something remarkable.

WILLOW drops her fifth studio album, <COPINGMECHANISM> this weekend, an album I am very on the fence about before listening to it. I’ve only heard two of the singles, and one is very strong, and the other is pretty good, so I am hoping that the 21-year-old could utilise the potential that she has on this record and learn from the mistakes of her previous album released 15 months prior.

The first track on the album is the lead single to <COPINGMECHANISM> titled <maybe> it’s my fault and this is a track that I loved from the second I heard it back in June. It’s rocky, it sounds different while still staying mainstream and the influences that impact WILLOW’s sound are ever present in the track. The production is sublime, especially with that impressive finale, the overall song works in multiple ways and it’s one of my favourite tracks of the year so far. However, I’ve noticed my first red flag with this record, as I don’t think <maybe> it’s my fault works as an album opener, so unless the album convinces me otherwise, it doesn’t sound this is an album has the careful curation that it deserves. On the contrary, however, Falling Endlessly is a stunning track. Like <maybe> it’s my fault, it sounds very different while still having mainstream appeal, but the reason I like Falling Endlessly so much is that this sounds like WILLOW, it doesn’t sound like anyone else could write or produce a song like this, while it still having a very relatable sound. It’s expertly done and I’m beyond impressed. curious/furious however carries on WILLOW’s sensational sound we’ve heard throughout the record. This one showcases the artist’s naturally talented vocal ability with the bridge and pre-chorus being particularly impressive. Is the song anything special on its own? Not really, but WILLOW’s natural ability and charm make it likeable, so I’m a fan.

WHY? is a track that sounds quite cluttered, like two different songs clunked together in a three-minute track. The chorus in particular is pretty weak, in regards to it sounding like a hundred other ballads that are currently trending on TikTok, but the verses are very strong and neither of the songs work together on the finished piece, leaving me quite puzzled when the track concluded. Moving onto the album’s title track, <COPINGMECHANISM> is very much inspired by the early-naughties pop-punk scene, giving off real My Chemical Romance energy. The track is painfully average, unfortunately, with nothing special about it. I expected much more from the title track, but the one thing I don’t understand is that in an interview with Billboard, when asked about the album, WILLOW was quoted saying: “I wanted to go for rock. I didn’t want to go for pop punk”, and while a lot of the album thus far sounds rocky, <COPINGMECHANISM> is by far the most pop-punk influenced song on the album so far, so why she would call her album “<COPINGMECHANISM>”, the track that has the most pop-punk inspired sound when she’s been quoted saying that the album isn’t pop-punk, I find a very confusing decision.

Split is the first full-scale rock ballad on the album, and it’s a very good song. The production sounds strong, as do WILLOW’s vocals and the chemistry of the band too, it’s a nice-sounding rock ballad. Does it stand out? Not really, but it is great to listen to in the moment. hover like a GODDESS is the second song I’ve heard from this album, and it’s a great song which uses multiple sounds and rock tropes powerfully, but compared to the lead single, <maybe> it’s my fault, it doesn’t have the wow factor, but still a great song either way. Moving onto one of the big highlights of the album for me, ur a <stranger> is a 2 minute-long rock polymath, utilising lots of older rock sounds used by the likes of Slipknot and Metallica, but once again, making it sound modern and mainstream, something near enough impossible to do with this subgenre of rock music. I love WILLOW’s vocals here, her lyricism is strong and the way she performs that poetry is even stronger, utilising every aspect. It’s absolute perfection and is up there with one of my songs of the year. Wow! Just wow!

Following on from that standout, the next track, Perfectly Not Close To Me is disjointed and messy, but that’s exactly why I love it. This is the only track from <COPINGMECHANISM> that has a vibe like this, and the best way to describe it is that feels like modern art, something not everyone is going to get and something not everyone is going to like, but for those who do get it, they really understand it and its fantastic. The track also features American musician, Yves Tumor and his influence on the song adds to the song immensely, making this textbook for how a track feature should be. I’m absolutely blown away by the real execution WILLOW, Yves and her producers have put into this song, and as someone who has never heard the music of Yves Tumor, it makes me want to immediately, but this is perfect from start to finish. No Control is another great track, it’s nicely written and has great production throughout, but it does sound very different from the rest of <COPINGMECHANISM> so the overall song feels very disjointed with the record, but the song on its own is very good. Onto the finale, BATSHIT! has the same issue as I had with WHY? earlier in the album in the way that the track sounds like two different songs pressed together in the editing suite, and it doesn’t work. The verses sound okay, but the rest of it sounds brilliant, which makes this sound even more disappointing.

So WILLOW’s fifth record is certainly a mixed bag. It has more highs than lows, with the lows being unutilised potential, cluttered production and unmemorable disjointed tracks that I forgot about seconds after I heard them, but at its height, we have track of the year material that’s made with such passion, rawness and identity, with sounds I haven’t heard employed in this way before. I’m struggling to put into words how I feel about it if I’m honest. Overall, I think WILLOW has achieved something very big here, she’s made mature sophisticated tracks but with that mainstream appeal, really advancing on a genre that’s incredibly popular right now. The album is experimental and strong in dedication and had the potential to be a five-star album, but it’s frustrating because the flawed tracks restrict that. But regardless, I applaud WILLOW for her effort here, if she can make another album like this and expand upon it, her sixth record could be album of the year material, and I can’t wait to hear how it sounds.

Ranking: ⭐⭐⭐

Highlights:

<maybe> it’s my fault

Falling Endlessly

ur a <stranger>

Perfectly Not Close To Me (feat. Yves Tumor)

Tracklist:

  1. <maybe> it’s my fault
  2. Falling Endlessly
  3. curious/furious
  4. WHY?
  5. <Coping Mechanism>
  6. Split
  7. hover like a GODDESS
  8. ur a <stranger>
  9. Perfectly Not Close To Me (feat. Yves Tumor)
  10. No Control
  11. BATSHIT!