Willow Smith on life in Hollywood’s most talked-about household: ‘I all the time knew I used to be totally different from my mother and father’ | Music

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Eleven years in the past, aged simply 10 and a half, Willow Smith was executed 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 evening in Birmingham, on 4 March 2011. She slayed that evening, 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 – often known as Will Smith – informed her that, no, she wasn’t executed, as a result of she had signed on for a slew of dates in Australia. Finish of debate – or so he thought, he wrote in his 2021 memoir, till a couple 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 practically dislocated, dislodged, and shattered on the kitchen ground: my world-dominating, hair-whipping, future world famous person was completely bald. Throughout the evening, Willow had shaved her whole 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 observe some child whip their head backwards and forwards?”

“I felt like I had no management,” is how Willow remembers the incident immediately. “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 individuals 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 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 thus far, she discovered her personal path, navigating from pop by means of pop-punk to full-blown rock. At this time she bounces right into a London studio recent 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.

‘I like performing’: at Studying competition in August. {Photograph}: Simone Joyner/Getty Photographs

In entrance of the digital camera, Willow Smith appears older than her 21 years. She has a face like a lower 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 photographs. However when the crew are packing up and it’s simply me and her, she appears out of the blue 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 modifies again into her personal tracksuit bottoms and T-shirt, sitting reverse me along with her hoodie balled up on her lap like a consolation blanket, baring an intricately inked arm. I ask her when she received 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 received the primary one. Huh. That looks like some time in the past.” I suppose life comes at you quick once you’re on the worldwide stage.

Because it occurs, Willow is similar age her dad was when the primary collection of The Recent Prince of Bel-Air taped in 1990 and the resemblance is, for these of us who’ve sturdy reminiscences of that present, frankly uncanny. The almond-shaped eyes, affable but imperious beneath lengthy lashes, have the identical heady mixture of attraction and glamour. However it’s the gestures which might be most strikingly comparable. 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 attraction of the Recent Prince himself.


It took some time for Willow to make peace along with her mother and father for having dismissed her nervousness 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 individuals into the imaginative and prescient I had” however the incident modified his perspective. Earlier this yr, on an episode of Crimson Desk Discuss, the Fb Watch chatshow Jada hosts with Willow and her personal mom, Adrienne Banfield-Norris, she admitted she “had a very tough time relating” to Willow’s nervousness, as a result of she struggled to see past the privileges of her daughter’s life-style and “didn’t know what it’s wish to be a toddler underneath scorching lights”.

Willow Smith in pink coat, August 2022
‘I simply wished to be steering my very own ship.’ {Photograph}: Hollie Fernando/The Guardian. Coat: Prada. Necklaces: Willow’s personal

Emotional openness could be very technology 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 . She believes you will need to specific damaging 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 typically you’ve simply received to white-knuckle by means of. However at different occasions that you must hearken to your feelings, to study from going into your shadow. Damaging feelings may 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 couple of years in the past, she says. As somebody who “doesn’t do nicely with being overwhelmed”, she swears by meditation, “in any other case I’d go loopy”.

However there’s a curious sleight of hand to her technology’s predilection for earnest conversations round psychological well being. Willow prefers to speak about feelings within the summary reasonably than disclose how they may relate to her personal lived expertise. For all her bravado about dwelling life as an open e-book, Willow stays coy concerning the particulars of her private life and relationships. In a single episode of Crimson Desk Discuss, 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 believe 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 duty 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 stunning second, by slapping Chris Rock in full view of a world tv viewers. However earlier than that curveball, Will, Jada and their three kids had been steadily repositioning themselves from the standard Hollywood MO of intently guarded privateness to a actuality show-adjacent openness with the media. In one other early episode of Crimson Desk Discuss, Jada talked to her mom and daughter about shedding her virginity, and her “habit” to intercourse 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 collection, Greatest Form of My Life, which ostensibly informed the story of Will shedding 20lbs in 20 weeks, however featured confessional moments together with a tear-stained acknowledgment of his failure as a mother or father to recognise and respect his daughter’s psychological well being.

From left: Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith, Will Smith, Jaden Smith and Trey Smith at the 2022 Vanity Fair Oscars party, March 27, 2022 in Beverly Hills
Along with her mother and father and brothers Jaden and Trey on the Self-importance Honest Oscars get together after Will Smith’s notorious slap. {Photograph}: John Shearer/Getty Photographs

By placing three generations of ladies entrance and centre in Crimson Desk Discuss, the Smith household have established their very own USP as distinct from the Kardashians or the Beckhams: emotionally literate; a bit left of centre; open to methods of relating that don’t match inside patriarchal traditions. Her lesson from Crimson Desk Discuss, Willow tells me, has been “that everybody may have a special notion on life, and that that’s OK and also you shouldn’t attempt to change it. To conform to disagree generally is a lovely 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 Ok, however – as befits the Smith model – a bit 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 means of the Smith household historical past. Hair, as an 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 Every part. 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 pink carpet like a clutch bag and prompting the late Vogue trend 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 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 particular person I’ve ever met,” she says. “Individuals are simply people, and people are complicated and delightful creatures who need to be artistic and to be revered and beloved and … yeah, that’s just about it.”

Will Smith in shirt and tie, leaning over in a pond
{Photograph}: Hollie Fernando/The Guardian. Set stylist: Penny Mills at The Wall Group. Styling: Gary Armstrong at Lalaland. Make-up: Isamaya Ffrench. Shirt: Bottega Veneta. Tie: Louis Vuitton. Trousers: Conner Ives

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 finest mates. They’re each great individuals. I 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 lovely, complicated and wonderful minds and hearts.” She is shut with Jaden, too, and along 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 a bit extra subdued, a bit extra chill. My dad is probably the most hyper of all of us. That’s why he’s wonderful, as a result of he has infinite power. 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 shaped the nu-metal band Depraved Knowledge when Willow and Jaden have been two and 4 years previous, taking each children 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 previous, heard “individuals screaming slurs” on the sight of a black girl rocking out with a guitar. Did she perceive what was occurring? Willow seems world-weary past her years. “It’s not sophisticated, 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 sturdy and targeted. She was a phenomenal trailblazer and I’ll all the time be in awe of her.”

Willow has lengthy expertise of rubbing up towards society’s prejudices. There may be an notorious 2014 interview within the New York Occasions with Willow and Jaden through 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 study something in class”. It’s an uncomfortable learn – is it honest to place a pre-teen on document in answering questions equivalent to “I’m inquisitive about 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 individuals for a loop was that we have been Black children being expressive. Society doesn’t see Black kids in that approach and it was stunning for individuals.”

Claiming house within the rock world is a political act, Willow says, which is “about moving into locations the place marginalised communities haven’t been accepted and saying: I’m human, and I’m allowed right here, too. One among my favorite musicians, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, was taking part in rock with an electrical guitar within the Nineteen 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 individuals of color, ladies, individuals of the LGBTQ+ group to rise and know their historical past. All of us must be allowed freedom to specific ourselves in all types of various methods, and a type of methods is rock music. Music is not only music, it’s also activism. All through historical past, music has pushed a number of the most intense shifts in humanity’s thought processes.” She namechecks Nina Simone’s 1964 music Mississippi Goddam, which grew to become an anthem of the civil rights motion. “That music 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 offers a extra equivocal response than you would possibly count on from a scorching younger artist with the world at her ft. “Um, sure … however, , it’s a course of, it’s a journey. Typically it’s tough. However that’s what makes life lovely.” I ask about her house life when she’s not recording or performing, and he or she softens. “I stay alone, with a couple of cats and some canines. I’m like an previous girl, I like climbing with my canines, being quiet.” She doesn’t prepare dinner – “pasta for the win each time, as a result of that’s just about it” – however reads loads. (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 believed that was actually cool. A PhD could be the best factor ever, undoubtedly. I like physics and astronomy.” She is starting to appear stressed, to fidget like a young person eager to get down from the dinner desk. We are saying our goodbyes and he or she slopes off to search out her tobacco. “In some unspecified time in the future in my life I suppose I’d simply disappear,” she says. However not but.”

Willow’s new album is out on 7 October through Roc Nation/Polydor.

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