Willow on the racism her mother faced as a rockstar: “At every single show, she won them over”

In a new interview with NME, the LA artist explained how she is "continuing the legacy" of Black rock acts with her new heavier sound

Willow has spoken of her mother’s experiences of racism while reflecting on the attitudes towards people of colour within the rock music scene.

The Los Angeles artist sat down with NME for this week’s Big Read cover feature, in which she spoke about her latest album, the pop-punk-inspired ‘Lately I Feel Everything’.

As NME wrote in a four-star review, the record sees the singer “following in the footsteps of her once-rocking mother Jada Pinkett-Smith’s band Wicked Wisdom” as she teams up with the likes of Travis Barker and Avril Lavigne.

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During the Big Read interview, Willow recalled being introduced to the rock world by watching her mum play live shows. However, she also witnessed Jada subjected to racist and sexist abuse.

“She showed me what being a woman is really all about,” Willow told NME. “There are literally no words to describe having to get up in front of people who literally hated her, every night. She did it with such grace and power. And at every single show, she won them over.

“By the end of the show, the people who were calling her racial slurs and throwing things at her were like, ‘Actually, they kinda went off’. That made it really worth it.”

Willow
Willow on the cover of NME

The musician explained that she doesn’t feel like she has anything to prove with her latest album as a result, but said it’s “just a road to continue down”.

“My mum did her thing, as did so many other beautiful black women like [US metalcore band] Straight Line Stitch’s Alexis White,” Willow continued. “It’s not about proving anything; it’s about continuing the legacy.”

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Having been influenced by ’00s groups such as Blink-182My Chemical Romance and Paramore, Willow was asked why it’s taken until her fourth studio album to lean fully into the rock sound.

“It’s a mixture of a few things,” she told NME. “I had so much respect for the rock genre, but I didn’t know if I could give it exactly what it needed. I was trained very specifically as an R&B singer and I had seen my mum screaming and doing it so perfectly.

“For a really long time, I just didn’t feel like I would measure up.”

 

Acknowledging that there’s “a certain level of reckless abandon” within rock, Willow said: “Specifically, I think the magnitude of oppression that any minority in America has historically experienced, it puts something inside of us that makes us want to growl a little bit and scream.

“I think pop-punk is a very beautiful expression of that,” she added.

Elsewhere, the star described ‘Lately I Feel Everything’ as “an amalgamation of everything that I wanted to be when I was 13”.

“It’s not just about the crazy guitar riffs or driving drums,” she said. “The angst, the darkness and the moodiness were very important to me.”

Elsewhere in NME‘s Big Read cover feature, Williow spoke about how Radiohead reignited her passion for music, what it means to be a Gen-Z spokesperson in hosting Red Table Talk with her mother Jada and grandmother Adrienne Banfield-Norris, how she sees Lavigne and Barker as “pop-punk royalty”, how it feels to live under the constant glare of the media, and looked ahead to her upcoming London headline show.

Willow is set to perform at the Electric Ballroom in Camden on Thursday (December 9). Next year, she’ll open for Billie Eilish at select US shows on her ‘Happier Than Ever’ world tour.

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