Willow Smith's Life After Whip My Hair (& The Harsh Reality Of Growing Up Famous)

Willow Smith, known these days as simply Willow, has lived a life most of us could only dream of. At just 10 years old, she made her explosive musical debut with "Whip My Hair," and from there, she has only continued to grow and evolve as an artist. With five experimental albums of different genres under her belt and a sixth in the works, (not including her collaborative project with Tyler Cole, multiple stand-alone singles and four EPs...), Willow is a talented chameleon. Her latest record, "COPINGMECHANISM," has revealed an even edgier side of the singer, who has fully submerged herself into the pop/rock sphere. 

One might argue that Willow's musical success was handed to her thanks to her famous parents, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, but the young artist has proven her undeniable talent time and time again with enchanting hits like "Wait A Minute!," "Meet Me At Our Spot," and "t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l." In addition to music, Willow is also known for her ultra-cool and refined style. From "Whip My Hair" to "curious/furious," let's take a look at Willow Smith's extraordinary life in the spotlight.

Willow's acting debut

Willow Camille Reign Smith arrived on Halloween night in the year 2000, to father Will Smith and mother Jada Pinkett Smith. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Willow is the youngest of three children and has always gravitated towards the spotlight. In a 2007 chat with Collider, Will Smith revealed that Willow was inspired to act at just 6 years old after seeing her brother Jaden's first performance on the big screen. "I think a big part of it is probably Jaden. After 'The Pursuit of Happyness' and she saw what Jaden did, she thought, 'I want that.'" However, her father admits that despite the talent that runs in the family, Willow's charisma and confidence is all Willow. "You kind of don't work with Willow, you work for Willow," the Oscar winner joked. "With Willow, she just loves it ... She just wants it, she has a drive, an energy, and she just connects to human emotion."

In 2008, Willow made her feature film debut as Countee in "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl Mystery" alongside Abigail Breslin. Shortly after, rumor spread that she would be in the modern remake of "Annie," but she declined the offer due to her "intuition," as she explained to Teen Vogue in 2014. "To be honest, something inside me was just, like, 'Don't'. I'm very connected with my intuition." The film was announced in early 2011 with Willow as the lead, but the role eventually went to Quvenzhané Wallis.

Whip My Hair and Fireball

In 2010, Willow Smith dropped her first unforgettable single: a catchy and inspirational ode to Black hair called "Whip My Hair." "Whipping your hair is the new, like, 'I am me...' and like just being yourself and not caring what other people say about you or think about you. Just do what you feel is right," Willow explained to Oprah. At this point, Willow was only 10 years old, but her talent, creativity, and confidence shone like someone well beyond her years. Everything from the infectious hook to the colorful music video and inspirational lyrics spoke to children and adults alike, helping the single sell more than a million copies worldwide. Nearly 15 years later, "Whip My Hair" is still regarded as one of Willow's most iconic and impactful tracks. Sadly, though, Willow admits that she used to hate it. "For so long, I wanted to condemn that time of my life and forget it, just kind of push it under the rug," she confessed to L'Officiel. "I really regretted it."

Following the success of her first single, Willow dropped "Fireball" with Nicki Minaj. "[Nicki Minaj] has so much energy, and working with her was like just [a] spark," she told Ryan Seacrest of the collab. Despite teasing an upcoming album, it never came to fruition. Instead, Willow experimented with several lone singles like "21st Century Girl." The young performer also busied herself with showcasing her unique style at the BET Awards and KCAs alike.

Taking a break from music and dodging controversy

In early 2012, Willow shocked the world when she chopped her hair off. "I had to recuperate it, and it got to the point that I didn't know what my natural hair looked like because I kept doing all this other stuff," she told Refinery29. "I'd look at baby pictures and see what my hair looked like, and I just got curious. Then I ended up bleaching it right after." Between 2011 and 2013, Willow released a few more standalone singles, including "I Am Me," as well as "Summer Fling" with her band Melodic Chaotic. The latter was harshly criticized for not being "age appropriate," as Willow, now 12, was seemingly singing about older boys and romantic relationships. She also had a tongue ring in the music video. However, she insisted critics were making something out of nothing. "Just for clarity," Willow said on an episode of "The Queen Latifah Show," "the word fling means something that's short-lived."

By 2014, Willow still hadn't dropped a full album but promised Teen Vogue it was on the way: "It's going to be something outlandish, something that nobody can imagine, something that comes from me and only me. Something we need right now." In the midst of this, Willow found herself at the centre of controversy: in a photo posted to Tumblr, the 13-year-old was photographed lying in bed with 20-year-old Moisés Arias. The photo led to a CPS investigation of her parents, the singer later revealed on "Red Table Talk."

Exploring existentialism with Ardipithecus

Willow Smith's creativity has no bounds. Even when she seems to be under the radar, it seems she always has something new, interesting and introspective under her belt. This was definitely the case with her surprise neo-soul album, "iii," a short EP released for free in 2014. It features only three tracks — hence its title — including a song with SZA called "9."

Later, Willow would release a full project with a similar sound called "Ardipithecus." Willow is the sole writer of 14 of the 15 tracks, and the sole producer of 10. Her brother Trey Smith, known professionally as AcE, also contributed to three of the songs. Of the album's title and concept, Willow said in The FADER, "Ardipithecus Ramidus is the scientific name of the first hominid bones found on earth. I wanted to name my musical compilation after it because, while I was making these songs I was in such a transitional state. Digging deep in the soil of my heart and finding bits and pieces of my ancient self that tell stories, which end up being the lyrics to the songs." Though Vulture described it as "precocious," and "self-indulgent," "Ardipithecus" feels like a whimsical and soulful step towards real maturity, where Willow shows her carefree and creative nature and metaphorically lets her hair down to bask in freedom. "I'm just a teeeeenagerrrrr," she croons, as she reflects on growing pains and adolescence.

Willow's Chanel ambassadorship and defining creativity

When the late André Leon Talley asked siblings Willow and Jaden Smith to define "creativity" at the 2016 Met Gala, the dynamic duo didn't disappoint. "Creativity is everything for us. It's a life. It's an expression," Jaden replied before Willow offered an equally passionate answer: "It's your soul, man!" Jaden and Willow were quite the pair as they embodied "Manus x Machina: Fashion In An Age Of Technology" in matching black tailored outfits with white accents. Now 15 years old, Willow was being recognized for her unique and polished style by several fashion powerhouses

In early 2016, Willow was unveiled as the latest "ambassadress" of Chanel at the French house's fall/winter 2016 ready-to-wear show in Paris. She served as a muse in the 2016 campaign, and was shot and styled in a metallic zippered jumpsuit by Karl Lagerfeld himself. The look wouldn't be complete without a few classic Channel accessories, including biker gloves, two-toned booties, and pearls. As Fashion Network describes, the campaign featured pearl and leather chokers, ribbons and feather boas for a streetwise aesthetic, all meant to highlight the three main styles of "Vintage," "Urban Chic," and "Chanel Coco Chain." By this point, the shift in Willow's personal style is obvious: gone were the days of colorful hair and playful silhouettes. She was now embracing a much more sophisticated and curated look.

This same year, Willow also found time to collaborate with "Superbad" star Michael Cera on a standalone track called "twentyfortyeight 2.0."

Finding her sound with The 1st

As Willow owned her style, she also found her sound. Seemingly making peace with the trials and tribulations that come with growing up in the spotlight, the 17-year-old Willow opened up to Girlgaze (via W Magazine) about how she felt like she had to become part of the machine. "You can't change your face. You can't change your parents," she said. "When you're born into it, there are two choices that you have; I'm either going to try to go into it completely and help from the inside, or... no one is going to know where I am... and I'm really going to take myself completely out of the eye of society. There's really no in-between."

With this insight, Willow dove headfirst into her second album, "The 1st." A longtime fan of the actor, Willow told Vulture that Michael Cera's lo-fi/folk sound on "True That" was what led her to give guitar a whirl. She also noted that her sophomore effort felt like a representation of the new era of her life and career. "It's both in my artistic development and also my emotional and mental development just as a human being," she said. "I've grown up and realized what womanhood means to me." Willow shared that she also drew inspiration from her mom and bell hooks for this eclectic reintroduction.

Getting vulnerable on Red Table Talk

In 2018 came "Red Table Talk," a Facebook Watch talk show starring Willow Smith, her mom, Jada Pinkett Smith, and her maternal grandmother, Adrienne Banfield Norris. In the series, the women cover a wide variety of topics ranging from the perils of fame to mental health and sexuality. "Red Table Talk" provides a platform for the women to speak openly and candidly, and more recently, has become a stage for celebs to address any personal drama. For example, one of the biggest episodes featured Jordyn Woods right after the Khloé Kardashian and Tristan Thompson scandal.

Willow, in particular, has shown incredible vulnerability on the show. Most notably, the singer revealed that with the success of her first single came struggles with depression and self harm. "I definitely had to forgive you and daddy for that whole 'Whip My Hair' thing," Willow said to her mom in a 2018 episode (via NME). "I spent a couple of years trying to regain trust for not feeling like I was being listened to or like no one cared how I felt. I had to forgive myself because I felt guilty because everyone is trying to make me better, trying to make my dream [come true]. But I didn't really understand what my dream entailed." Willow, Jada, and Adrienne were honored as 3 of Time's 100 Most Influential People of 2021 thanks to their intimate insights. 

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Turning a new leaf with Willow

By 2019, Willow was 18, more in tune with herself than ever, and ready to drop another album. The self-titled "Willow" drew inspiration from The Cocteau Twins and crop circles, and explores self-acceptance and growth for the newly-adult singer. "I wanted to bring in a psychedelic rock vibe to it while also bringing in those ambient harmonies — lots of harmonies — to really bring that divine, almost spiritual, energy to the music," Willow told Billboard. "Personally within me, the last two albums that I did were both made in very confusing times in my life. ... This album was actually made at one of the happiest points in my life." In tracks like "Female Energy, Pt. 2," Willow discovered hidden parts of her femininity, thus moving closer to her definition of joy. 

What's more, the singer explored spirituality with "Willow." Willow also turned to breatharians for inspo, telling Billboard, "I want to be at such a high level of consciousness that divine energy and literal light — I can hold that within my body. I feel like music that holds an intention, a spiritual intention, holds that divine light within it and people who can spot that and who can understand that are the light eaters." Breatharians, a group that believes humans can survive without food and water as long as they have sunlight, have been called out by outlets and celebrities alike for their controversial practices. 

Willow and Tyler Cole's collaborative project The Anxiety

2020 was a busy year for Willow. In the thick of quarantine and lockdowns, Willow threw herself into multiple creative ventures. One of her most intriguing and impactful contributions was her collaborative project "The Anxiety" with Tyler Cole. The project started as a 24-hour exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art's Geffen Contemporary inspired by their personal experiences with anxiety. As reported by Hyperallergic, viewers observed through glass as Cole and Willow went through the eight stages of anxiety, including PTSD, phobias, acceptance, and euphoria. Each cycle was represented by a color. Willow and Cole later released an EP under the band name THE ANXIETY and of the same title, which includes the viral track "Meet Me At Our Spot."

"There is a lot going on in the world and I think THE ANXIETY reflects how a lot of us feel right now. So hopefully this music and the art we are creating can help you in any way even if it's just a quick distraction from all of this chaos," Cole said on Instagram. "Meet Me At Our Spot," a song detailing different anxieties and longing for a safe place, failed to chart when it was first released but went viral on TikTok in 2021. As of this writing, the song is now certified Gold in Canada, New Zealand and the United States. In November, Willow Smith released the devotional meditation EP "RISE" with Jahnavi Harrison.

Working with punk legends on lately I feel EVERYTHING

In 2021, Willow's music shifted in a completely new direction. With "Lately I feel EVERYTHING," the singer tapped into her punk rock side. "When I was younger, my brother and I toured with my mom's band, Wicked Wisdom, so heavy metal was one of the first types of music I heard a lot and I'm still really inspired by it," Willow shared with Billboard. But she admits that for a long time, she wasn't sure she could hold a candle to her mom's rock success, so she was hesitant to try out the sound on her own. "I had so much respect for the rock genre, but I didn't know if I could give it exactly what it needed," she said in NME. "I was trained very specifically as an R&B singer and I had seen my mum screaming and doing it so perfectly."

Thankfully, on this electrifying 2021 record, Willow was able to tap into her inner pop-punk and rock roots. The singer sought the help of pop-punk legends and personal idols Avril Lavigne and Travis Barker to make this album possible, and the collaborations did not disappoint. Barker lent his guitar skills to "t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l," while Lavigne hopped on the catchy "G R O W." "Just infinite gratitude to both of them," Smith told Nylon, "because they're honestly pop-punk royalty."

COPINGMECHANISM and what's next for Willow

In 2022, Willow was unstoppable. She collaborated on multiple chart topping singles, including PinkPantheress' "Where you are," Machine Gun Kelly's "emo girl" and Yungblud's "Memories". She even collabed with Camila Cabello and co-wrote a controversial book– all while working on her own album. As previously noted, Willow has a strong heavy music influence in her life thanks to her mom, Jada Pinkett Smith. When she opened for Britney Spears' Onyx Hotel Tour, Pinkett Smith faced an amalgamation of racist and sexist abuse that her wide-eyed daughter bore witness to. "There are literally no words to describe having to get up in front of people who literally hated her, every night," Willow said in NME. "She did it with such grace and power... By the end of the show, the people who were calling her racial slurs and throwing things at her were like, 'Actually, they kinda went off'. That made it really worth it." Pinkett Smith's bravery inspired Willow to explore the very white and very male rock space as well.

With that, Willow set to work on "COPINGMECHANISM," a rock album about love and loss. What's next for Willow? "Just wanting to perform coping mechanism more and more and spread this wonderful, beautiful album that personally I feel like is some of my best work," she told SPIN when asked about her 2023 goals. "I just want everyone to hear it and I want to inspire people all around the world."