Another addendum to the tragi-comic history of child stars?
SIGNED TO Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label, already receiving envious glances from Rihanna and having her debut single just kept off the No 1 slot by The Black Eyed Peas, the future looks good for the newest singing sensation Willow Smith. Her song, a slice of r’n’b called Whip My Hair, has her already anticipating the critics (“the haters” as she calls them) and calling for the sisterhood (“all my ladies“) to stand behind her. All of which is well and good – except Willow Smith has just turned 10.
You would have thought this would have been outlawed by now. We all know about the full tragicomedy history of pre-pubescent child stars in the pop world and that early fame, riches and attention never lead to a happy ending. And Willow, bless her, hasn’t just got the singing – she’s got the acting career, and there’s a clothing line not too far behind.
Wasn’t the entertainment industry supposed to self-legislate about this sort of “too much, too young” child stardom? The portents here aren’t good. The 10 year-old is already very rich, very high-profile and now one of the most recognisable child faces around.
If we feel we can already write the ending to this story, it’s because we’ve been here many times before, with Jimmy Osmond, with Michael Jackson, with Macaulay Culkin and with Tatum O’Neal. In other words: heroin and crack addiction, rehab, shattered personal lives and the misery of never been able to live like a normal adult (let alone teenager).
Not even Britney Spears made such a big splash so young. Britney was still in the process of stardom back then, but Willow hasn’t even the luxury of enjoying her last pre-teenage years, what with so many chatshow appearances, concerts, and personal appearances taking up her time.
And you would think her family would know better. Her father is A-list actor Will Smith and her mother is the almost equally wellknown Jada Pinckett Smith. They, more than anyone else, know all about the unrelenting pressure of fame, how ruthless and capricious it can be and how much of a battering it can inflict even on the adult psyche.
But there’s the paradox. Willow Smith should be just fine, because of who her parents are. She’s that rare child star to emerge who is not her family’s main breadwinner. It’s a crucial consideration. Michael Jackson had employees on his payroll when he was just eight years old. A lot of his destructive behaviour was allowed fester simply because the adults around him relied on him for their livelihoods and were never going to ask awkward questions.
Even as an adult, when Jackson’s choice of “sleepover companions” should have had his team reaching for the social services helpline, nobody said anything because the bonuses and the gifts kept coming.
Willow’s mother knows that the child can be hauled in at any time. “Most child stars get out of control because they are the breadwinners,” she says. “But there’s just too much bread in the Smith household.” And the world Willow is enjoying now – bodyguards, chauffeurs, VIP treatment and so on, is familiar to her anyway from the household she grew up in.
Such a pity that Whip My Hair is the most irritating and mentally scarring song you’ll hear all year. And don’t get me started on the video; I can only take it in 10-second segments, such is the nausea it provokes. But the cover version of Whip My Hair by Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young (seriously, it’s out there) isn’t that bad.
Willow Smith: a terrible beauty is born?