This eclectic and socially conscious L.A. R&B duo deliver aggressive, riff-based punk alongside inventive dream pop soundscapes and comprise Willow Smith — the daughter of Hollywood actor and rapper Will Smith — and her partner, Tyler Cole.
Willow Smith was an established artist in the contemporary R&B mold when she produced and sang on Cole's 2015 single "Afraid." Her acting career began at the age of seven with a role alongside her father in the 2007 post-apocalyptic action thriller I Am Legend. She continued to appear in major films and debuted musically several years later — under the name Willow — on Jay-Z's Roc Nation label with the pop-focused 2011 single "Whip My Hair." By December 2015, while still only in her mid-teens, she had already expanded her musical canvas, dealing with weightier themes on her debut solo LP, Ardipithecus.
Although Cole's first love was filmmaking, he formed the plaintive alt-rock quartet Mourning Knights while still in high school, and their L.A. shows began to attract the attention of music industry luminaries. Prior to his involvement in the Anxiety, he was most well known for his October 2017 solo album We're in Love and the World Is Ending, which leaned more on R&B and included "Next to Me," a collaboration with Smith and Dev Hynes. By the end of the same month, Smith had released her second LP, The 1st, a contemporary singer/songwriter album in the vein of Tori Amos. It was immediately following these releases that the press started to run stories about Smith and Cole being romantically involved.
Their next collaboration came with the debut Mourning Knights single, January 2020's "You Make Me Lie," on which Smith contributed vocals. The following month brought "Hey You!" the first song to be released by the Anxiety, and by far the heaviest material produced by either of the two to date. With its belligerent vocals, seemingly projected through a distorted megaphone, the track also kicked off their debut self-titled album, issued in March of that year. The release was divided down the middle by the dreamlike "Interlude": the first half largely comprising up-tempo rhythms and punchy riffs, with the second half being made up of pensive R&B and drone-like ballads. In a prescient and timely move — just as the realities of the global COVID-19 pandemic were coming to light in the U.S. — two days prior to the album's release, the pair locked themselves inside a glass box for 24 hours, as part of a performance art piece at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. ~ James Wilkinson