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Willow Smith on Empathogen Inspiration, Workout Routine


Courtesy of LG Global Life’s Good Campaign
Courtesy of LG Global Life’s Good Campaign

Willow Smith’s “b i g f e e l i n g s” is the final song on her new album, “empathogen.” And, according to Smith, it’s “the most complex piece of music I’ve created in my entire career.”

“Hopefully not the last — definitely not the last,” she qualifies. “But this one is pretty awesome.”

The entire record — the 24-year-old’s sixth solo studio album — represents a sonic departure. Ahead of its release on May 3, Smith was a little nervous about putting it out into the world. But mostly, she was energized.

“I’m a risk-taker, what can I say?”

“This whole album is different from anything I’ve done, and I’m just so excited for people to hear it,” she says. “You always take a little bit of a risk, but I’m a risk-taker, what can I say?”

Indeed, Smith has made a name for herself throughout her career for criss-crossing genres and stretching the bounds of her art. And she’s never shied away from being open and honest about how she chooses to live her life outside of music, too. That ethos is very much reflected in this latest album, she says.

“I think I’m in a place right now in my life where I’m realizing that there’s no destination, there’s only choices every day that we make that bring us through our lives. I want to make the decision every day to be more compassionate, to be more honest, to practice my instrument with deep presence and treat it as a spiritual experience,” Smith adds. “This album is an expression of me coming to that understanding.”

Even the album art embodies that approach — on the cover, Smith is shown smiling emphatically, her Afro and grillz standing out against an earth-colored backdrop. In another shot, she’s literally stripped down. It all connotes that honesty, that coming into herself. Smith says it was important to be present in her own body throughout making the album. Even if it wasn’t traditional, eyes-closed meditation, she’d just “tune in every once in a while.”

“Like, can I feel my feet, can I feel my fingers, am I tapped in how my heart is feeling right now, am I tapped into my emotional state right now, instead of just being on autopilot,” she explains.

It’d be difficult for Smith to be on autopilot right now, given everything that’s going on in her life. Just days after her album comes out, she’s releasing her debut novel, “Black Shield Maiden,” which she co-wrote with Jess Hendel. She’s also a global ambassador for LG and their Life’s Good campaign, a partnership she says was “super on the nose” given her and the brand’s commitment to high-quality audio.

Amid all the moving parts, physical presence and mindfulness don’t just fuel her creative process; they also help her relax.

“Pilates also kicks my ass.”

“Weirdly enough, if I work out, it kind of counterbalances the mental and emotional fatigue. It gives me energy. I know people say that, I know that there are studies on that. But the last thing you want to do after you’ve been working all day is work out,” she says.

Her favorite workouts right now are hot yoga and “pilates also kicks my ass,” she laughs. She loves running, too, and often listens to podcasts while doing it. Right now, she’s into “The Ancients” (she recently listened to an episode about ancient Polynesian sailing techniques) and the science podcast “Ologies with Alie Ward.”

It’s very clear that Smith loves to learn. She’s almost done reading “The Dawn of Everything” by David Graeber and David Wengrow, a nonfiction book that looks at how society came to be. “I honestly can’t even really explain it that well because it’s deeply complex and I’m still trying to figure it out, but that’s been really cooking my noodle,” she quips.

Getting inspired by these other forms of media brings us back to her process. It’s all about getting inspired by the possibilities within other realms. Smith says she loves walking around museums alone, for example, just taking in “all the cool shit.” And in releasing this album back out into the world, she’s keeping that inspiration loop going round and round.

“I’m just interested to see what people get from this art I’ve been creating, and I hope that it’s a cathartic experience,” she says. That comes back to “b i g f e e l i n g s,” too: “I just want to keep helping people be inspired and feeling like they’re less alone.”

Lena Felton is the senior director of features and special content at POPSUGAR, where she oversees feature stories, special projects, and our identity content. Previously, she was an editor at The Washington Post, where she led a team covering issues of gender and identity.


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