Move over Justin Bieber. Sit down Miley Cyrus. The newest tween pop juggernaut has been crowned, and her name is Willow Smith.
The Internet is ablaze over the latest from Will and Jada Smith’s progeny, following the music video release of her hit single “Whip My Hair.” Willow released the unarguably catchy song a few months ago, and shortly thereafter was signed by Jay-Z to his Roc Nation record label. This week her single got an equally stylish and modern video (directed by Ray Kay, who also did Lady Gaga’s first vid), and there’s nary a blog or website that hasn’t highlighted the young Smith’s talent. She’s garnering comparisons to Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Beyonce…all before her 10th birthday.
No doubt Willow was famous before she was whipping her hair. As the youngest child of Will and Jada, Willow has been gracing the red carpet since the womb (literally). There was her supporting role in dad’s blockbuster film I Am Legend, and more recently her daring red carpet fashion choices. Who can forget that leopard outfit?
To be clear, there are no free meals in the Smith household — all the kids collect their own checks. Eldest Trey is actually the “quietest” of the bunch, career-wise, having set aside flirtations with modeling and music. Next up is Jaden, who just had his first starring role in The Karate Kid and also has hip-hop aspirations. Now it’s fashion-forward Willow’s turn.
WATCH WILLOW SMITH’S MUSIC VIDEO:
Despite the critical mass of warm reception, there’s also a strong contingent of naysayers to Willow’s musical debut. Some are saying the attention, acclaim, and celebrity comparisons are not only premature, but also undeserved.
A sampling from comments over at TMZ.com: “Over hyped, rehab at age 12;” “Too much pressure for such a young bud;” “Just cause your dads rich and famous does not make you a great talent;” and “I’m really worried those kids are going to be messed up as adults.”
All of this brings us to that nagging and pervasive question: Is Willow perhaps just a little too young for all this celebrity?
Certainly it may not be fair to deny Willow the benefits of her parents’ access and wealth, but to what cost? The dangers of child stardom are well documented, from Judy Garland right up to Bieber. Non-stop work, obsessive fans, and intense media scrutiny are just some of the milder pitfalls of childhood celebrity. Hopefully Will and Jada will be able to steer Willow from the temptation of drugs, sex, and alcohol that befalls the majority of young celebs, but let’s be honest — the numbers are against her.
Even if Willow does dodge that bullet, there’s still the stress of celebrity in the 21st century. The comments that you can find online about this girl can be downright cruel – and these are adults talking about a kid that hasn’t even reached the hallowed double-digits. It feels creepy and weird to discuss the fashion and stylistic choices of a child, but not only is that one of the side-effects of celebrity, Willow is very clearly being marketed with an appeal to adults.
That leopard print outfit? Turns out we can thank Rihanna’s stylists for that look, and most of Willow’s fashion choices. Styling team Mariel Haenn and Rob Zangardi are helping the young tween sculpt her punk-rocker image, most of which is custom tailored from adult women’s clothing. The styling team also work with Willow’s older brother Jaden, and recently told website Hollywood Life “the kids really like dressing as adults and hope that adults will want to dress like them.”
Regardless of the cute fantasy of a quirky and eccentric kid who just happened upon a career, Willow is a part of a well-oiled marketing machine and backed by three of the biggest names in pop culture. What we’re seeing isn’t a fluke, it’s the birth of an industry.
On the flip side, Willow was going to be famous one way or the other — with Will and Jada as parents, there was not going to be any hiding from it. It’s clear the Smith’s have spawned outgoing kids comfortable in the limelight, and they’ve got two industry veterans as chaperones. Will and Jada know more about the dangers of celebrity than most average parents, which likely makes them more apt to step up to the challenge of raising child stars.
And for all intents and purposes their entire brood seems well-grounded. Trey Smith famously dedicated money in lieu of birthday gifts for his 16th birthday, and the family runs the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation, a charity dedicated to urban inner city youth and family support. These aren’t spoiled brat kids, this is a family who realizes that as much as they have, they also have responsibility to give back.
So is it just plain old hate to deny a 9-year-old her stab at fame? Would people be more receptive to Willow if she was a hardworking kid from the ghetto, instead of the child of celebrities? Generally speaking it seems society begrudges the nepotism of fame and fortune that comes with celebrity, especially if brandished vagrantly via offspring success. But should Will and Jada hold their daughter back just because they’re worried it’ll piss a few people off?
Perhaps little Willow sang it best — “Don’t let haters keep me off my grind, keep my head up I know I’ll be fine…” If she can be that confident at nine, then maybe she does have what it takes to make it in this industry.