By Lysa Legros
Willow Smith, who goes by the monogram, WILLOW, released her fifth studio album “<COPINGMECHANISM>” on Oct. 7 through Roc Nation and MSFTS Music.
The album is an edgy continuation of the pop-punk sound of her previous albums fueled by the tumultuous devastation of a broken heart.
WILLOW never intended to write an album centered around romance, but she found herself using songwriting to cope with a difficult breakup. As she reflected on her split and considered her method of processing it, she realized that she wanted to explore how she and others manage distress in greater depth.
“We all have our own coping mechanisms and if we can analyze them and see what they are, we can start getting better,” she told NME.
“<COPINGMECHANISM>” introduces the listener to the story of a young woman in the midst of a polyamorous breakup. As she shifts between feelings of anger and despair, she learns to move on.
The album, which features a blend of pop-punk, metal-core and nu-metal, as well as dashes of ska-punk, is both volatile and cathartic. WILLOW croons, wails, hisses and screams. The basslines roar, rumble, shriek and whine. Despite the variety of sounds showcased on the LP, each of the eleven tracks transitions well, creating a cohesive depiction of what it feels like to break apart and put yourself back together.
The opening track, “<maybe> it’s my fault,” introduces the incident that led to the end of Willow’s throuple. The song begins with the speaker’s account of how she initially met the third member of her relationship: “Met her at a party, I said, ‘She seems nice. Every time I thought about it, I got butterflies and when I told you, we agree that she's alright.” Then, it immediately juxtaposes the innocence of their first meeting with the cataclysmic conclusion of their relationship: “Should've saw the signs, now we're in a fight.” As Willow reflects on the incidents that lead up to her break-up, she realizes that both she and her exes are at fault. This epiphany, however, does not soothe her heartbreak.
“<maybe> it’s my fault” opens with an upbeat grungy guitar melody, which swells into industrial guitar riffs as a baseline ebbs and flows. WILLOW’s piercing lyrics cut through the feathery backing vocals. The song closes with a culmination of its soft and hard elements: piercing guitar jar against soft backing vocals and Willow’s hoarse scream, “Maybe it’s my fault!” which breaks through it all.
This first song presents the album’s thesis: how WILLOW processes her breakup and how her coping mechanisms bring her both catharsis and understanding.
Like “<maybe> it’s my fault,” the next song on the album, “Falling Endlessly,” is split between the past and present. In the past, WILLOW pretended to get along with her ex’s friends, in the present, she attempts to recover from her breakup. In both scenarios, she feels as though she has put on a “shallow” act, “losing [her]self” to carry on through the day. In the past, she felt that she had lost her identity trying to be someone else, but in the present, where she no longer has her lover, she has lost her sense of who she truly is. ”
In “curious/furious,” WILLOW processes the emotions she felt in “Falling Endlessly.” She begins to heal. She “refracts the wisdom to heal the abyss,” but she is still angry. She doesn’t want to start a fight, but when “it gets heated, that’s just what [she] likes.” Her battle isn’t with her lover — but with herself. “It’s a battle that’s all in your mind.”
While self-blame is a prevalent theme in the previous songs on the record, in “<COPING MECHANISM>,” the album’s title track, WILLOW starts to hold her lover accountable for the end of the relationship. She wonders why she cheated on her: “had your eyes locked on someone else, no, you couldn’t help it, or could you?” She wants retribution, she wants her lover to “cry,” to match the “rivers flowing from [her] eyes.” In “<Coping Mechanism>,” she copes with anger.
Just as “<COPING MECHANISM” is addressed to WILLOW’s ex, “Ur a stranger” is directed to her ex’s new lover. She is upset because they kicked her out of her relationship and betrayed her. “I gave you the lady, such a shame you’d forget about me.”
“Ur a stranger” starts slow, but gradually builds in volume and intensity as it incorporates elements of the metalcore genre. The song climaxes as she stutters, “I can’t – I can’t—I can’t breathe.” She is unable to speak or breathe when she sees the couple that she had once been part of.
“Batshit,” is the album’s incendiary conclusion. Here, WILLOW realizes that she does not need her exes’ approval. Once more, she reflects on her relationship with her first lover and realizes that she was dishonest even then. Yet, in contrast to the earlier tracks on the album, she takes these observations in stride. Sure, she’s “coming for [her lover],” but she’s less affected by her betrayal than she had been in earlier songs. She “murder[ed] [her] ego with a hatchet,” but she also built it back up.
In “<COPINGMECHANISM>,” WILLOW shows that it's possible to rebuild your identity — even after you are wrenched apart from the people who affirmed you. “<COPINGMECHANISM>” may be a breakup album, but at its core, it is a story about rediscovering your self-worth and joy after losing the things that defined you. It is an LP that you can feel.
“Anyone who has experienced any pain or their heart needs a place to allow itself to feel and be human,” WILLOW told the Rolling Stones. “I want this album to inspire people to have that emotional catharsis and to purge all of their feelings of unworthiness to grow into the beautiful, amazing person that they’re meant to be.”