Eleven years in the past, aged simply 10 and a half, Willow Smith was completed with being well-known. Off the again of her breakout hit, Whip My Hair, a Rihanna-esque banger that performed on repeat throughout playgrounds and dancefloors for weeks, she had landed a prestigious slot supporting Justin Bieber on tour. The entire household flew out for her opening night time in Birmingham, on 4 March 2011. She slayed that night time, and the subsequent, and the subsequent. However when the lights went up on the finish of the final European gig, she got here off stage and declared, “I’m completed, Daddy. I’m able to go house.”
Daddy – also referred to as Will Smith – informed her that, no, she wasn’t completed, as a result of she had signed on for a slew of dates in Australia. Finish of dialogue – or so he thought, he wrote in his 2021 memoir, till a number of mornings later, when “Willow got here skipping into the kitchen for breakfast. ‘Good morning, Daddy,’ she mentioned joyfully, as she bounced to the fridge. My jaw almost dislocated, dislodged, and shattered on the kitchen flooring: my world-dominating, hair-whipping, future international famous person was completely bald. Throughout the night time, Willow had shaved her complete head. My thoughts raced – how was she going to whip her hair if she didn’t have any? Who the hell needs to pay to look at some child whip their head forwards and backwards?”
“I felt like I had no management,” is how Willow remembers the incident as we speak. “That was the half that wasn’t cool for me. I felt so powerless. However as a result of I used to be so younger, I didn’t have sufficient expertise for folks to belief my opinions. So I simply mentioned, ‘I can’t do that.’” After that got here “possibly two or three years once I wasn’t within the studio. I used to be simply going to highschool and doing my factor, and that was very nice.” However she missed music, which “is a big pleasure in my life. And I got here to understand I really like performing and recording. I simply wished to be steering my very own ship.”
So, taking the preternatural poise and electrical aura that powered Whip My Hair’s greater than 230m YouTube views so far, she discovered her personal path, navigating from pop by way of pop-punk to full-blown rock. As we speak she bounces right into a London studio contemporary from a stay set at Studying competition, which got here straight after a summer season tour opening for Machine Gun Kelly within the US, and days away from the launch of her fifth studio album.
In entrance of the digicam, Willow Smith appears older than her 21 years. She has a face like a reduce diamond, with cheekbones that catch the sunshine from each angle as if she is lit by her personal private highlight. She arrived on set in outsized loungewear and Vans, however is unfazed to be handed a fuchsia pink leather-based Prada trenchcoat and appears instantly at house in outsized burnt orange Gucci tailoring. She poses with affected person focus, peeling off to roll her personal cigarettes in a nook between pictures. However when the crew are packing up and it’s simply me and her, she appears all of the sudden youthful. She ignores the on-set catering (avocado toast, yoghurt with chopped fruit and natural almonds) in favour of a ham and cheese toastie from Pret a Manger, which she eats standing up, leaving the crusts within the packet. Then she alters again into her personal tracksuit bottoms and T-shirt, sitting reverse me together with her hoodie balled up on her lap like a consolation blanket, baring an intricately inked arm. I ask her when she obtained her first tattoo – the seed of life image – and he or she thinks for a minute and says it was about two years in the past, when she was 21. This confuses each of us, as a result of she’s nonetheless 21 now. “Yeah, it was on my twenty first birthday that I obtained the primary one. Huh. That looks like some time in the past.” I suppose life comes at you quick if you’re on the worldwide stage.
Because it occurs, Willow is similar age her dad was when the primary sequence of The Contemporary Prince of Bel-Air taped in 1990 and the resemblance is, for these of us who’ve robust recollections of that present, frankly uncanny. The almond-shaped eyes, affable but imperious beneath lengthy lashes, have the identical heady mixture of appeal and glamour. However it’s the gestures which are most strikingly related. She has a behavior of jutting her chin on the finish of every sentence that’s exactly that of Will sparring with Geoffrey; there’s a bounce to her stroll that has precisely the bumptious appeal of the Contemporary Prince himself.
It took some time for Willow to make peace together with her mother and father for having dismissed her anxiousness as tantrums, however she has forgiven them, and each Will and Jada Pinkett Smith have acknowledged their errors. Will writes in his memoir that his parenting philosophy on the time was based mostly on “pushing and prodding and cajoling folks into the imaginative and prescient I had” however the incident modified his perspective. Earlier this yr, on an episode of Pink Desk Speak, the Fb Watch chatshow Jada hosts with Willow and her personal mom, Adrienne Banfield-Norris, she admitted she “had a extremely tough time relating” to Willow’s anxiousness, as a result of she struggled to see past the privileges of her daughter’s life-style and “didn’t know what it’s prefer to be a toddler below sizzling lights”.
Emotional openness could be very era Z, and Willow Smith is gen Z to her core, from her tattoos and intricately curated ear piercings to the mononym – Willow – by which she goes as an artist and the angsty all-caps shout of her new album title <COPINGMECHANISM>. She believes it is very important specific unfavourable feelings in addition to constructive. “I can’t keep up in that ethereal, celestial, high-vibration good-vibes place on a regular basis. That’s the place all of us wish to be, and generally you’ve simply obtained to white-knuckle by way of. However at different instances it’s good to take heed to your feelings, to be taught from going into your shadow. Detrimental feelings might be cathartic. We don’t all the time have the solutions, and that’s OK.” Her psychological well being is in “a significantly better place” than it was a number of years in the past, she says. As somebody who “doesn’t do properly with being overwhelmed”, she swears by meditation, “in any other case I might go loopy”.
However there’s a curious sleight of hand to her era’s predilection for earnest conversations round psychological well being. Willow prefers to speak about feelings within the summary moderately than reveal how they could relate to her personal lived expertise. For all her bravado about dwelling life as an open e-book, Willow stays coy in regards to the particulars of her private life and relationships. In a single episode of Pink Desk Speak, Willow talked about being polyamorous. (Polyamory refers to individuals who have a number of romantic relationships on the identical time.) However once I ask if she nonetheless defines as polyamorous, she deflects the query. “There are such a lot of labels as of late. The labels go on and on … I feel I identical to to be an individual. I solely like one label: human. That sums it up for me.” The extra private my questions, the extra opaque her solutions. “I don’t assume it’s anybody else’s accountability to grasp you besides your self,” she tells me at one level.
In March this yr, Will Smith derailed the Oscars and his personal profession in a single surprising second, by slapping Chris Rock in full view of a worldwide tv viewers. However earlier than that curveball, Will, Jada and their three kids had been steadily repositioning themselves from the normal Hollywood MO of intently guarded privateness to a actuality show-adjacent openness with the media. In one other early episode of Pink Desk Speak, Jada talked to her mom and daughter about dropping her virginity, and her “addiction” to sex toys; Willow responded by revealing that her “introduction to intercourse was clearly strolling in on you and Daddy”. Will wrote in his memoir about watching his personal father hit his mom. He confirmed to GQ journal in an interview the longstanding rumours that the couple haven’t all the time had a monogamous marriage. There was additionally a YouTube sequence, Finest Form of My Life, which ostensibly informed the story of Will dropping 20lbs in 20 weeks, however featured confessional moments together with a tear-stained acknowledgment of his failure as a mum or dad to recognise and respect his daughter’s psychological well being.
By placing three generations of girls entrance and centre in Pink Desk Speak, the Smith household have established their very own USP as distinct from the Kardashians or the Beckhams: emotionally literate; just a little left of centre; open to methods of relating that don’t match inside patriarchal traditions. Her lesson from Pink Desk Speak, Willow tells me, has been “that everybody may have a distinct notion on life, and that that’s OK and also you shouldn’t attempt to change it. To comply with disagree generally is a stunning factor.” It’s fairly the journey from Willow’s California childhood, when the household lived a non-public, remoted life excessive within the mountains exterior LA.
There may be wealthy drama in how the cross-currents of the Smith household dynamic intertwine in methods each private and non-private. Willow and her older brother Jaden’s names are spin-offs of Will and Jada, crosshatching the genders and generations. It’s an affectation in the identical ilk because the Kardashians’ penchant for names starting with Okay, however – as befits the Smith model – just a little quirkier. “I all the time knew I used to be very totally different from my mother and father,” Willow says, however nonetheless it’s placing how the identical motifs reverberate by way of the Smith household historical past. Hair, for example, is a recurrent theme. Willow has shaved her head at different “monumental moments”, together with as soon as on stage throughout a livestreamed efficiency of final yr’s album, Currently I Really feel The whole lot. In 2017, Jaden – a rapper, musician and mannequin – chopped off his dreadlocks for a movie position and took them to that yr’s Met Gala, carrying them on the crimson carpet like a clutch bag and prompting the late Vogue vogue editor André Leon Talley to pronounce, approvingly, “Now that is avant garde!” And naturally, it was Jada’s alopecia that Chris Rock referenced within the joke that prompted her husband to hit him.
Willow has made it clear that she doesn’t want to touch upon the Oscars incident. “I really like my dad,” is her response once I carry it up, from which level she retreats right into a non-specific sincerity. “I just about love each individual I’ve ever met,” she says. “Persons are simply people, and people are complicated and delightful creatures who need to be inventive and to be revered and beloved and … yeah, that’s just about it.”
However then she seems me within the eye and polishes the silver pendant stamped with their birthdays between her fingers absent-mindedly as she tells me that “my mother and father are my greatest buddies. They’re each great folks. I really like them not simply because they’re my mother and father however as a result of they’re Will and Jada, who’ve their very own stunning, complicated and superb minds and hearts.” She is shut with Jaden, too, and together with her 29-year-old half-brother Trey, Will Smith’s son from his first marriage. On the Smith household dinner desk, “my dad is certainly the one cracking the jokes,” she says. “The youngsters are just a little extra subdued, just a little extra chill. My dad is essentially the most hyper of all of us. That’s why he’s superb, as a result of he has limitless vitality. My mother and me and my brothers are much more emo and considerate about issues.”
Willow’s mum is her rock star muse. Jada Pinkett Smith fashioned the nu-metal band Depraved Knowledge when Willow and Jaden have been two and 4 years outdated, taking each youngsters alongside whereas the band supported Britney Spears on her 2004 tour and performed Ozzfest the next yr. Pinkett Smith as soon as informed MTV that she began the band as a result of she “would all the time take a look at Axl Rose and say, ‘Why aren’t there any chicks out doing this now?’” Willow, watching Depraved Knowledge from the facet of the stage at six or seven years outdated, heard “folks screaming slurs” on the sight of a black lady rocking out with a guitar. Did she perceive what was occurring? Willow seems world-weary past her years. “It’s not difficult, even for a child. You hear it and also you assume, OK, so that they hate my mother as a result of she’s a lady, or they hate her as a result of she’s Black.” Her mum “dealt with it like a champ”, she remembers. “It was loopy, it was intense, however she was so robust and centered. She was an exquisite trailblazer and I’ll all the time be in awe of her.”
Willow has lengthy expertise of rubbing up in opposition to society’s prejudices. There may be an notorious 2014 interview within the New York Instances with Willow and Jaden during which she talks about preferring quantum physics and sacred texts to younger grownup fiction, and the way she is aware of time doesn’t exist, and Jaden tells the journalist that “you by no means be taught something in class”. It’s an uncomfortable learn – is it truthful to place a pre-teen on file in answering questions comparable to “I’m interested by your expertise of time”? To Willow, it’s one other instance of the racism she witnessed as a toddler. “I studied physics intimately for 3 or 4 years,” she says solemnly. “What threw folks for a loop was that we have been Black youngsters being expressive. Society doesn’t see Black kids in that approach and it was surprising for folks.”
Claiming area within the rock world is a political act, Willow says, which is “about entering into locations the place marginalised communities haven’t been accepted and saying: I’m human, and I’m allowed right here, too. One in all my favorite musicians, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, was taking part in rock with an electrical guitar within the Forties. Blues was the birthplace of rock, however that historical past was put out of sight for social and political causes. There are nonetheless many individuals who don’t need folks of color, girls, folks of the LGBTQ+ group to rise and know their historical past. All of us ought to be allowed freedom to precise ourselves in all types of various methods, and a kind of methods is rock music. Music isn’t just music, it’s also activism. All through historical past, music has pushed among the most intense shifts in humanity’s thought processes.” She namechecks Nina Simone’s 1964 track Mississippi Goddam, which turned an anthem of the civil rights motion. “That track illuminated the tradition in such a robust approach.”
Is she having fun with the rock star life-style? She weighs the query for a second and provides a extra equivocal response than you would possibly count on from a sizzling younger artist with the world at her toes. “Um, sure … however, you already know, it’s a course of, it’s a journey. Generally it’s tough. However that’s what makes life stunning.” I ask about her house life when she’s not recording or performing, and he or she softens. “I stay alone, with a number of cats and some canine. I’m like an outdated woman, I really like climbing with my canine, being quiet.” She doesn’t cook dinner – “pasta for the win each time, as a result of that’s just about it” – however reads quite a bit. (On her bedside desk proper now: Nineteen Eighty-4.) Someday, she says, she would possibly take a look at of movie star altogether. “Sometime, I wish to go to school,” she says. “I heard a few man who had a PhD in jazz guitar – I assumed that was actually cool. A PhD could be the best factor ever, undoubtedly. I really like physics and astronomy.” She is starting to look stressed, to fidget like a youngster desirous to get down from the dinner desk. We are saying our goodbyes and he or she slopes off to seek out her tobacco. “In some unspecified time in the future in my life I suppose I’d simply disappear,” she says. However not but.”