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The Student Voice of Forest Hills Central

The Central Trend

The Student Voice of Forest Hills Central

The Central Trend

The Student Voice of Forest Hills Central

The Central Trend

WILLOW’s seventh album, empathogen, showcases her creative nature and transcendental lyricism

The album cover to WILLOWs latest album, empathogen, featuring her with a wide-open smile.
Willow Smith
The album cover to WILLOW’s latest album, empathogen, featuring her with a wide-open smile.

WILLOW’s music has never particularly stuck out to me. 

 When it was omnipresent in 2021, I casually respected “Meet Me At Our Spot!” by THE ANXIETY—a duo composed of WILLOW and Tyler Cole. Similarly, I didn’t necessarily find “Wait a Minute!” by WILLOW—debatably her most popular song— to be an inherently “bad” track, but it was never so catchy that I listened to it by choice. 

Even though her music has never particularly appealed to me, my opinion has been partially biased, as it has been based on only her most viral hits. However, upon streaming her latest album empathogen, I developed a fonder appreciation for her music. Without its internet prevalence swaying my opinion, I experienced WILLOW’s true artisticness for the first time.

Although I have never been well-versed in WILLOW’s discography, that isn’t to say she is an amateur in the music industry. empathogen marks WILLOW’s sixth studio album—an impressive feat for someone only 23 years old. 

The record’s cover, a simplistic portrait of WILLOW with a wide-open smile, serves as an indicator as to how its songs sound: somewhat mellow, down to earth, and individual to her personal style.

The album differentiates itself from her previous releases—notably, the only other release of hers I have been relatively familiar with, lately I feel EVERYTHING. WILLOW’s sixth album has a less resentful nature, as symbolized by the lowercase font of each song. 

To begin, WILLOW kicks off the album with a jazzy track that sets the relaxed mood of the entire work. “home (feat. jon batiste)” showcases her powerful voice through not only the chorus but also the background vocals she incorporates. The song’s acapella-esque feel sets it apart from many other, new musical releases that don’t typically feel so individualistic. 

The second track on the album, “ancient girl” sounds almost like it could be a folktale with its short tellings of a historic, free-spirited character. The track isn’t a personal favorite of mine, for it leans a bit too heavily on WILLOW’s unique vocal abilities. 

While she undoubtedly has a beautiful voice, she sings “Girl, ah-ah-ah-ah” a bit too frequently for my personal preference. Nonetheless, the track serves as a quick refresher to compliment some of the more upbeat and less serious songs of the release. 

The record’s cover, an simplistic portrait of WILLOW with a wide-open smile, serves as an indicator as to how its songs sound: somewhat mellow, down to earth, and individual to her personal style.

Accordingly, the third song on the album, “symptom of life,” is one of the most energetic facets of the record. As WILLOW shared in a recent press release, the song is a juxtaposition with its incorporation of light piano sounds, accompanied by the harsh clash of a bass. Because of its relatively fast pace, “symptom of life” makes for an adequate track for the upcoming summer.

WILLOW incorporates many transcendental themes into her songs, as seen in the 4th track, “the fear is not real.” In this track, she sings of how she is not alone in her struggles, as many before her have dealt with the same issues. Its acapella moments characterize it as being similar to the earlier track, “home (feat. jon batiste).” 

My personal favorite song off of the album, “false self,” is one of its more dynamic components. Although starting at a quick speed, the tempo picks up even more as WILLOW launches into an emotionally evoking chorus. This catchy section, undoubtedly my favorite part of the entire album, compels me to sing along. With its frustrated, psychological theme, the chorus could easily be compared to one of girl in red.

As her sixth track, WILLOW falls back into a more relaxed rhythm with “pain for fun (feat. st vincent).” The song, though moderately paced, has a somber note to it, as it has a central topic of yearning. This dejected nature is exemplified clearly in the last few bars, as WILLOW and St. Vincent harmonize to sing, “So alone and so at home.”

However, with “no words 1 & 2,” WILLOW transitions back to the album’s overarching jazzy aura. Staying true to the title, the song is entirely without words. Nonetheless, WILLOW still incorporates her vocals in her background accompaniments. 

Sticking with the mellow nature of her wordless interlude, “down” is another leisurely-paced track. The song doesn’t have an inherently “sad” tone, but rather a calm one; thus, it can serve as an adequate evening unwinding complement. 

As WILLOW begins to wrap up the album, “run!” showcases remnants of her previous releases. The song has a tense notion to it, as it begins with WILLOW crying out, “I can’t get out.” She sings of her intrusive thoughts and how they are inescapable to her. This frustration is clearly displayed in her tone of voice, and bears some resemblance to the earlier track, “false self.”

In “between i and she,” WILLOW presents her free-spirited essence as she sings of being alone, but in touch with nature. It has a vibrant sound and transcendental nature—both of which make it one of my favorites of the album. 

“I know that face.,” the album’s 11th track, includes piano accompaniment, giving it a jazz quality. The track bears a similar sound with some of the other songs—like “home (feat. jon batiste)” and “no words 1 & 2.” Nonetheless, I would consider “I know that face.” to be the best of the album’s “jazzy” tracks. 

WILLOW’s final words of the release, “b i g f e e l i n g s,” ends the album on an upbeat, spirited note. Including all of the album’s most notable elements—jazz instrumentals, acapella, and liveliness—it effectively summarizes the release.

Overall, WILLOW’s album was better and more appealing than I expected it to be. Granted, I didn’t enter with enormous expectations, but I ultimately enjoyed the release. While I can’t say that I enjoyed it to the point where I would listen to it often, every so often, perhaps I’ll put it on. 

Of course, just because it wasn’t my cup of tea doesn’t mean it is substandard work. WILLOW’s style is relatively unique in contrast to many of the uniform artists of her generation, which distinguishes it as respectable (at the very least). 

So, whether looking for music to diversify your music taste or simply looking for a background soundtrack, empathogen is worth a listen.

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About the Contributor
Elle Manning
Elle Manning, Staff Writer
Elle is a sophomore beginning her first year on The Central Trend. She loves to read novels, create extravagant Pinterest boards, and journal in her seemingly scarce free time. Her biggest passions include writing and fashion, and she hopes to one day be able to combine the two into a future career. She has been a cheerleader since fourth grade and continues to spend her time on the sidelines every football season. In the spring, she enjoys playing tennis, even though she is still learning. She is often found with Spotify open; she loves to listen to music from a variety of different genres and decades. Most recent musical fixation: Weyes Blood Dream school: Columbia University Favorite book: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt Favorite comfort films: All of The Twilight Saga (primarily the first two movies)

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