An­other ad­den­dum to the tragi-comic his­tory of child stars?

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

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?

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