Willow Smith's Age-Appropriate Sass And Attitude

On 'The Record'

Melissa Block talks with Jay Smooth, host of the radio show "Underground Railroad," about a new pop single by 9-year-old Willow Smith. Willow is the daughter of superstar parents Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. The song, "Whip My Hair," is an ode to self-empowerment. Is Willow too young to have entered into the pop machine? Or is she a talented little girl who happens to have the financial backing to make her musical dreams come true?

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(Soundbite of song, "Whip My Hair")

Ms. WILLOW SMITH (Singer): (Singing) I whip my hair back and forth. I whip my hair back and forth. I whip my hair back and forth. I whip my hair back and forth.

BLOCK: That singer whipping her hair back and forth is an Internet sensation. Her video viewed millions of times in the last month. She is Hollywood royalty, the daughter of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith.

(Soundbite of song, "Whip My Hair")

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) And we ain't doing nothing wrong. So don't tell me nothing. I'm just trying to have fun. So keep the party jumping. So what's up? Yeah.

BLOCK: Willow Smith is just 9 years old, and none other than mega-producer and rapper Jay-Z has signed her to a recording contract. Nine years old, way too young, or a great tribute to kid power? It's become a hot topic online. And we have asked Jay Smooth to weigh in. He hosts the hip-hop radio show "Underground Railroad" on Pacific Station WBAI in New York, and he hosts the online video blog the "Ill Doctrine."

Welcome, Jay.

Mr. JAY SMOOTH (Host, "Underground Railroad" and "Ill Doctrine"): Hello. Good to be here.

BLOCK: Let's describe what's going on in this video a bit. Willow Smith has long hair. The ends have been dipped in paint. And she is doing what she says. She's whipping her hair around and splashing the room. There's a lot of dancing.

Mr. SMOOTH: Yeah. I mean, there's various ways you could take it. She seems to be spreading her sass and attitude throughout the classroom that she's in and making all the other kids in the classroom and the walls of the classroom change colors. And I think there are a few different things that have made it really strike a chord with people.

I mean, there's that genetic tendency towards irresistible cuteness that the Smith family just seems to have. And I think having someone of that age group doing something that's not sexualized and has that sass and attitude without being sexualized so that it's age-appropriate has reached a middle ground where parents, especially, are happy to have something that doesn't give them a migraine but is also appropriate for their kids.

And I think it struck a chord, especially, for the black community and people of color because it seems to celebrate having hair that doesn't fit the usual Eurocentric beauty standards. And it tells kids, especially young black girls, that whatever kind of hair you have, you can be proud to whip it around.

BLOCK: And Willow Smith here, she's not like, you know, the 7-year-olds in hot pants who are doing the "Single Ladies" dance that got so controversial, but she doesn't look like a 9-year-old to me. She's got, you know, sort of piercing, jewelry kind of stuff going on her mouth and on her eyelid, fake eyelashes.

Mr. SMOOTH: It is a very stylized presentation, and the style of music she's doing. You know, it has a lot of attitude and sort of a precociousness to it. Some people are put off by just how strongly stylized and processed everything is. You know, it feels like we're turning this young girl into another interchangeable pop music product that's not that different from Rihanna or Beyonce. There are some misgivings about putting such a young girl into the same media cycle that we put all of these seemingly interchangeable pop stars into.

BLOCK: And here's what the producer Jay-Z says - he says about her: When you have that sort of talent, there is no such thing as too young. What do you think?

Mr. SMOOTH: I mean, I don't feel inclined to second-guess Will and Jada's judgment. I mean, they certainly seem like very together people and, certainly, there's no need for Willow to be a breadwinner. So if it's not working out, you know, there's certainly a safety net...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SMOOTH: ...that she could get back out anytime.

(Soundbite of song, "Whip My Hair")

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) Don't let haters keep me off my grind. Keep my head up. I know I'll be fine. Keep fighting until I get there. When I'm down and I feel like giving up...

BLOCK: Does this sound to you like a 9-year-old singing, or do you figure that there's some autotuning slight of hand going on here?

Mr. SMOOTH: The actual song is so heavily processed and produced that it's hard to tell whether she can sing or not. And the video is so heavily edited. You can't tell for sure how well she can dance. I think she probably is very talented, but they've put her into such a processed pop vehicle that it makes talent irrelevant as much of today's pop commodities do.

BLOCK: Well, Jay Smooth, good to talk to you. Thanks very much.

Mr. SMOOTH: All right. Thank you.

BLOCK: Jay Smooth hosts the hip-hop radio show "Underground Railroad" on WBAI in New York and hosts the online video blog the "Ill Doctrine."

(Soundbite of song, "Whip My Hair")

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) I whip my hair back and forth. I whip my hair back and forth. I whip my hair back and forth. I whip my hair back and forth. I whip my hair back and forth. I whip my hair back and forth. I whip my hair back and forth. I whip my hair back and forth. I whip my hair back and forth.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

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