If there’s one good thing to come out of Y2K revival, it’s Willow Smith collaborating with Blink 182's Travis Barker to create a pop-punk banger for the ages.
On Tuesday, Smith released “Transparent Soul,” a tune that has the DNA of Paramore and aughts J-Rock with a video that will make you want to buy Tripp pants and a chain wallet. But it’s all coming from a Black woman, a factoid that I—a Black woman who fell in love with punk in the 2000s—deeply appreciate. Sure, there were plenty of Black girls at the time who were shopping Hot Topic, reigning as scene queens on MySpace, and forgoing a press and curl for choppy cuts and emo bangs, but we didn’t see ourselves reflected in the artists we listened to at the time. We had Fefe Dobson for a hot second and that was about it. Despite Black womens’ contribution to rock—from X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene to Smith’s own mother, actor Jada Pinkett Smith, who was the frontwoman of nu-metal band Wicked Wisdom—the genre was still dominated by white men and was regarded as a white genre for white people.
Smith’s song doesn’t so much make the case for Black women in pop-punk as much as it serves as a reminder that we’ve always been here.
In the grand tradition of pop-punk, “Transparent Soul” acts as a vehicle for angst about untrustworthy men (“I knew a boy just like you/He’s a snake, just like you”), conceited women (“I knew a girl just like you/She was vain, just like you”) and frauds (“All your little fake friends will sell your secrets for some cash/Smile in my face, then put your cig out on my back”). Punk values authenticity, and to Smith’s vexation, her environment is devoid of it.
As Smith bellows over her tormenter’s “transparent soul” in song’s chorus, Barker’s backing drums reach a fever pitch, making for an infectious track that is as delightfully bitchy as it is candid.
“Transparent Soul” is certainly a sonic shift for Smith: She’s moved far beyond “Whip My Hair,” her dance-pop 2010 debut single that quickly became a viral sensation. Since 2015, Smith has released three albums, which have leaned experimental pop and neo-soul. While they weren’t critical darlings, they’ve produced a few songs that have become niche sensations in their own right, like “Wait A Minute!” which became wildly popular on TikTok and now boasts nearly 350 million Spotify streams and over 150 million YouTube views.
But Smith’s new era is poised to be her most exciting yet if she continues to go down this punky path.
“I am so GRATEFUL and EXCITED to start this new journey!” Smith wrote in an Instagram post. “LET THE VIBES COMMENCE.”
She can rest assured that generations of Black women in punk are vibing right along with her.