Willow Smith: The Trouble With Nine-Year-Old Pop Stars
After just one week the video for "Whip My Hair" has made its young star, the daughter of actors (and musicians) Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, a household name. Jay Smooth, radio host and journalist at illdoctrine.com, spoke to Melissa Block about Willow Smith's feat. He says the song's media saturation owes something to its singer's youthful innocence -- but both the song and the video are so processed it's impossible to tell much about the real girl in them.
In the video, Smith puts what Smooth calls "that genetic tendency to irresistible cuteness that the Smith family just seems to have" to work drenching a classroom full of children with multi-colored paint. He says he thinks "parents are happy to have something that doesn't give them a migraine but is also appropriate for their kids."
The video has been more meaningful in the black community. "It seems to celebrate having hair that doesn't fit the usual Euro-centric beauty standards," says Smooth.
On the other hand, Smith doesn't look -- or sound -- like your everyday nine-year-old. "The style of music she's doing has a certain attitude and a precociousness to it," says Smooth. "Some people are put off by how strongly stylized and processed everything is. It feels like we're turning this young girl into another interchangeable pop music product that's not that different from Rihanna or Beyonce."
Jay-Z, who's signed Smith to a record deal on his Roc Nation label, has said, "when you have that sort of talent, there's no such thing as too young." Smooth says he's not sure if he believes that. "I don't feel inclined to second-guess Will and Jada's judgment," he says. "There's no need for Willow to be a breadwinner, so if it's not working out there's a safety net. She can back out at any time."
But, he says, "The actual song is so heavily processed and produced that it's hard to tell whether she can sing or not. And the video is so heavily edited you can't tell for sure how well she can dance. I think she probably is very talented, but they've put her into such a processed pop vehicle that it makes talent irrelevant -- as much of today's pop commodities do."
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