Electric Ballroom, London
With her angsty, powerful vocals, the daughter of Will and Jada achieves her final form as an alt-rock star
In the four years since Willow Smith last performed live in the UK, the 21-year-old has been through multiple artistic transformations. On 2017’s The 1st, she was a raw singer-songwriter in the vein of Tracy Chapman or Fiona Apple; her eponymous 2019 album ventured into psychedelic soul. With this year’s pop-punk-influenced Lately I Feel Everything, it feels as though Willow has found her final form as a Black alt poster girl for Gen Z. (Her mum, Jada Pinkett Smith, previously fronted the nu metal band Wicked Wisdom.)
Her angsty but powerful vocals are right at home in Camden’s sold-out home of rock. The show starts with a special guest, which turns out to be her older brother, Jaden. Perhaps spooked by the recent deaths at the Astroworld festival, he checks that the crowd have enough space and asks fans to cross their arms if they feel uncomfortable. Amid clouds of smoke, he performs his song Icon, then introduces his little sister. “Once upon a time Willow would go on stage and then I would go on stage,” he says. “But now the tide has turned.”
Willow’s set feels like a metamorphosis – a young artist coming into her own, belting out long clear notes that dwarf the sound of her guitarist and drummer. A few tracks in, she pulls her woolly hat off to reveal a bold shaved head; she puffs nonchalantly on a cigarette like a rock star and shows off her prowess on guitar on Female Energy Part 2. Between songs, she instructs fans to fill the room with positive energy. “I’d really like to know your deepest darkest fears and aspirations,” she says. The atmosphere of liberation proves contagious when a fan throws their wig in the air at the crescendo of TikTok favourite Meet Me at Our Spot.
Notably absent from the setlist is her debut single Whip My Hair, released when Willow was 10 years old. She has spoken about being traumatised by that era of her career. More than a decade later, she’s an artist whose anxieties, frustrations and pride fuel her most beloved music to date. “I couldn’t have asked to come back and had a better show than this,” she says, beaming at her fans.