In 2010, I raised an eyebrow and groaned a little bit when I heard that Willow Smith, daughter of entertainment moguls Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, wanted to have singing career. I then gave major side-eye when I heard that she was being signed to Roc Nation and being mentored by Jay-Z. I muttered under my breath about all the talent being overlooked because a pampered princess — practically a baby, really — wanted to play dress up and have some fun. It was irritating, to be honest, because all I could think was that she wouldn’t have those opportunities if her parents weren’t who they were.
…And then I saw her perform.
Her first live performance, on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” happened when she was just 9 years old. Within the first notes of her a capella rendition of Rihanna’s “Only Girl,” my side-eye became wide eyes as I heard some of the power coming out of this itty-bitty child. The performance was adorable and dynamic and child appropriate and I loved it. It was then that I started to pay attention to the artist that is Willow Smith.
While others were wrinkling their noses as some of her style choices and mannerisms (the shaved heads, the strange outfits, the photos taken in bed with half-naked boys) I continued to follow her talent. How her parents choose to raise her is none of my business. (Although, if my 13-year-old was caught in bed with a boy that was not her family, she would receive an out-of-this-world butt-whooping. But I digress.) But as she continued to grow up — and I do mean up because it seems like she grew a few feet in just a couple of years — you saw her style continue to evolve. And this includes her musical style.
I sat the other day mesmerized as I watched her perform a live set in NYC last week as a part of a concert series. She’s coming into her own with her tone and her voice has a slightly haunting quality. I’m not quite sure if I can call her neo-soul quite yet. She seems to have a little Erykah, a little Goapele and a little of what I can only call Willow, because so far, she really does seem to have something special that is uniquely hers. What a beautiful thing.
She has me wanting to listen to more of her music, which, interestingly enough, will be available on an upcoming EP called 3, due out Nov. 10. So far it just seems soulfully organic and emotional — although, I’m not gonna lie: some of her lyrics have me raising an eyebrow. Very unlike the girl-power track “Whip My Hair,” her newer tracks are much more mature. Speaking about relationships that, as a child just entering her teens, should have very little knowledge. And the way she sings about said relationships mean that she is either way too grown or has a intensely creative imagination. Because these aren’t things you can learn about on a TV screen. So I’m not sure how I feel about that.
I’m not a fan of children acting like grown-ups before they’re grown-ups, which means they shouldn’t be singing about grown-up ideas and emotions before it’s time, or before they’ve had the experiences and memories associated with being a grown-up. Be a kid. Sing about friends, crushes, surviving in a world where everyone knows your name. Sing about your dreams for the future and your love for your family and how you can’t wait to fall in love. Be appropriate. Because you’ll have more than enough time to cover the anguish and pain when you have the experiences to back up those lyrics And, if you are having those experiences… Well, that’s a whole different conversation.
But I’m rooting for her just the same. Her approach is so raw and she’s so comfortable in her skin. And she really seems to love what she does. And seeing her and her brother Jaden performing together? Seriously the cutest thing. There’s so major talent encased in Willow Smith and I can’t wait to see and hear where this musical journey takes her.