The Book of Right-On

Willow Smith + Joanna Newsom


My favorite thing about Willow Smith’s music career is how extracurricular it is. She had that one meme-y single about whipping her hair, but now that we’re a few years out from its prevalence its success seems like more like a happy side effect than a business decision. In my imagination, Willow said, “Mom, dad, I want to record a song,” and her parents obliged the same way you let your kid order something adventurous off of the menu even though you suspect they’ll be disappointed it’s not chicken fingers—it’s good to grow. But what that single taught us (and what Willow maybe already knew) is that Willow is powerful. She knocked it out of the park, and America was ready to watch her win.

She’s a high schooler, though, and like her brother she’s not totally sold on celebrity. After a few years of relative hiatus, she quietly released an album of self-produced, self-recorded songs in late 2015—Ardipithecus—and they were way different than the first single had been. It was a collection of moody, confessional Tumblrcore songs about gender and growing up and her favorite “Adventure Time” character, and while it didn’t get the same attention as the music she’d released when she was younger, it banged in a promising new way. There’s something very riot grrrl and DIY about imagining the daughter of two major celebrities, who has previously landed a Nicki Minaj feature, eschewing ShOwBiZ to collaborate with her stepbrother on songs that feel produced in a bedroom. Even if they weren’t recorded there, spiritually, it’s like they were.

Anyway, I bring all of this up because Smith posted a video of her covering Joanna Newsom’s “The Book of Right-On” on Instagram this week, and like her LP before it, it’s magical in a way that’s tough to describe but easy to observe:

See what I’m talking about? Good stuff.