Media Moments Willow Smith Can Never Erase

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The Smiths are no strangers to making headlines. From Will Smith's infamous slap (which had him banned from the Oscars) to Jada Pinkett Smith's bombshell affair and Jaden Smith's weirdest moments ever, the family can't seem to stay out of the tabloids. While its youngest member, Willow Smith, may be the least controversial of the bunch, she hasn't been immune to media coverage either. Just like her parents and brother, she's made plenty of news, often for the wrong reasons.

The singer-author-actor found fame before she even hit double digits when she recorded her debut song, "Whip My Hair," at just nine years old. Following the track's success, Willow Smith's life became challenging and she experienced the harsh reality of growing up famous first-hand. Willow struggled to come to terms with her newfound status and she's since opened up about how her famous parents refused to take her anxiety claims seriously, instead pushing her to continue building a career. Since then, she's become an admirably outspoken advocate for mental health and self-love, but she's also drawn attention upon herself over numerous controversies. Here are all the media moments Willow Smith can never erase – both good and bad.

Her fun debut single had a dark side

Willow Smith broke out onto the music scene in 2010 when her debut single, "Whip My Hair," went viral. She was just nine years old at the time, but her success was instant. The record was certified platinum and even got her a Guinness World Record as the youngest artist to have a Top 20 single in both the US and UK. As she told Oprah at the time, "It's, like, 50% work and 102% fun." Unfortunately, the truth was darker than that. The following year, Smith was the opener for Justin Bieber's "My World" tour in the UK, but she was suffering from panic attacks and wanted to drop out of the Australian leg. When her dad wouldn't let her, she shaved her head in protest and refused to create new songs. "I was extremely done with music after that," she told NME.

Smith did eventually return to the recording studio, but that negative experience has stuck with her. As she told L'Officiel USA in 2021, she disliked "Whip My Hair" for a long time and tried to forget all about it. She even refused to listen to it. "I really regretted it," she shared. She's since heard the track and embraced it as an important part of her career, but that doesn't take away from the hardships she says it put her through. Speaking with The Independent in 2022, she mused, "I didn't realize what success would really take; I didn't realize it was hard work."

Willow Smith said she felt 'shunned' by the Black community

When an 11-year-old Willow Smith gave everyone the proverbial finger by shaving her head in 2012 following the massive success of "Whip My Hair," it was her parents who received serious flack. As mom Jada Pinkett Smith recalled on a 2020 episode of her Facebook Watch talk show, "Red Table Talk," it was the first time she was the target of mom-shaming. "I got hardcore criticism when you first cut your hair," she told Willow. "I mean, there was a firestorm." Indeed, social media was inundated with folks criticizing Jada, as well as Will Smith, for allowing their daughter to cut off her locks, as well as with haters who disliked the look. As Willow shared on the show, it was just one instance in which she felt like she didn't fit in with her peers. "Specifically with the African American community, I kind of felt like me and Jaden were shunned a little bit," she said. "Like, 'No, we're not gonna take pride in them because they're too different, they're too weird.'"

Jump to 2022 and Willow again spoke about the power of hair, this time with Glamour UK. "Shaving my head is maybe the most radical thing I've done in the name of beauty," she mused. "As a Black woman, there were a lot of layers to my relationship with my hair and skin growing up – it was definitely a learning curve."

She sang about having a summer fling... at 12

Despite having a difficult introduction to music, Willow Smith eventually returned and, in 2013, she even started a side project. Teaming up with DJ Fabrega to form Melodic Chaotic, she released a catchy but eyebrow-raising single called "Summer Fling." Smith was 12 at the time, but was singing about going on dates and having a summertime romance, which many found to be inappropriate. Some of the lyrics include, "You tell me that I'm the one / I tell you it's just for fun" and "Goodnight kiss, 'til the mood is right," which left many questioning the age appropriateness of the track. Then the music video came out and the criticism grew louder. In the clip, Smith is joined by a cast that appears to be much older and while she and her love interest just hug and hold hands, many were still bothered by it. "Does she even know what a summer fling is?!" asked one critic, per Insider, while another wrote, "There are no age limits in Hollywood apparently."

And while some defended Smith, arguing there's nothing explicit about "Summer Fling," experts weren't sold. Therapist Dr. Nancy Irwin told Fox News, "12 is a young age to date, moreover have a meaningless 'fling,' if indeed she fully understands how most people will interpret this term." Human behavior expert Patrick Wanis, PhD, agreed, saying, "This is totally inappropriate and not in line with the developmental physical, mental or emotional stages of a 12-year-old girl."

An underage Willow posed with a shirtless man in bed

If folks thought Willow Smith would listen to the criticism surrounding "Summer Fling" and pull back, they had another thing coming. In 2014, at the age of 13, the singer decided to pose in a series of moody black and white photographs with her friend, actor Moisés Arias. The snap quickly stirred up major controversy because Smith and Arias (who was 20 at the time) were photographed hanging out in bed. Not to mention that the "Hannah Montana" alum was shirtless in the snaps.

As E! reported, the photo was part of a larger (since deleted) post made on Arias' 490.tx blog and also featured pics with Willow's brother, Jaden Smith, as well as Kendall and Kylie Jenner. Mom Jada Pinkett Smith defended the shoot, telling TMZ the problem was with critics, not with her daughter. "There was nothing sexual about that picture or that situation," she slammed. "You guys are projecting your trash onto it."

TMZ went one step further and reached out to multiple law enforcement sources to ask if the photo potentially raised any legal concerns and was told it wasn't "sexual enough" to be criminal. Even so, folks, including many parents, continued to take issue with the choice of location. As KTAR News journalist Stacey Brooks argued, it may be innocent but "teenage Willow Smith shouldn't be in bed with [a] grown man."

She swore she could control time

As Willow Smith herself admitted on "Red Table Talk," she hasn't always fit in, whether it be because of her radical beauty choices or her views on life. Never was that more apparent than in 2014 when she and brother Jaden Smith gave New York Times' T magazine what may be one of the most bizarre interviews ever. Among the headline-making professions which were swiftly ridiculed was a 14-year-old Willow's revelation that she could control time. "I can make it go slow or fast, however I please, and that's how I know it doesn't exist," she explained. The teen also told the outlet she was reading books by Indian philosopher Osho and volumes on quantum physics and mused, "Breathing is how you get in touch with the sacred space of your heart."

In another eyebrow-raising portion of the interview, Willow and a 16-year-old Jaden (who were being homeschooled) also slammed traditional learning. "Kids who go to normal school are so teenagery, so angsty," Jaden said, and Willow agreed. "They never want to do anything, they're so tired," she added. Revealing she went to school for only a year, she told the mag, "[It was] the best experience because I was like, 'Oh, now I know why kids are so depressed,' but it was the worst experience because I was depressed."

The time Willow Smith dressed up as a Hindu goddess

In 2015, Harper's Bazaar asked famed fashion photographer Jean-Paul Goude to "transform today's icons into history's legends." The star-studded photoshoot included Jessica Chastain posing as Joan of Arc, Dakota Johnson transforming into Aphrodite, and Willow Smith dressing up as Kali. Explaining her connection to the Hindu goddess, she told the mag, "When I was little, I would go into my mom's meditation room and read her books about goddesses – Kali stayed with me because she is terrifying yet beautiful." While the outlet has since removed the snaps from its website, the images remain on social media, as does the published criticism that followed. As Indian newspaper Deccan Chronicle reported at the time, folks took issue with the shoot for multiple reasons. Some slammed it for appropriating Indian culture while others pointed out all of the missing elements. "The photograph looks more like a dance troupe version of whatever they were trying to portray," said author Anju Poddar. "They clearly haven't done their homework." Others still considered it a sign of disrespect. Sculptor Jahangir Asgar Jani told the outlet, "One has to be sensitive towards sacredness."

The images made the rounds again in 2021 when TikToker @.lourds accused Smith of cultural appropriation and restarted the debate. One critic called her out on X, formerly Twitter, for "using Indian culture for aesthetics." And yet, it seems Willow didn't get the memo because that year she got a massive tattoo of the Hindu goddess Saraswati on her hand.

Willow has no qualms talking sex with her family

It seems no topic is off-limits on "Red Table Talk" and, as Willow Smith and mom Jada Pinkett Smith have shown on multiple occasions, there's not much they won't discuss with each other. Case in point: A 17-year-old Willow admitted on a 2018 episode that she once caught her parents getting intimate. "My introduction to sex was obviously walking in on you and Daddy," she revealed. Jada had no recollection of the incident and asked for details to which Willow explained it happened while on holiday in Aspen, Colorado. "I was going downstairs to get some juice and I saw for a little moment and I ran away," she said. "I was like, 'Oh my God, this is so crazy. What did I just see?!'"

Mother and daughter broached even more sex talk in 2019 when they explored polyamory on the show and Willow told her mom, "I love men and women equally and so, I would definitely want one man, one woman." Saying she prioritizes emotional connection, she mused, "I'm not the kind of person that is constantly looking for new sexual experiences." Willow said a thruple would be a perfect situation for her because "I feel like I could be polyfidelitous with those two people." Mama Jada was all for it, revealing she herself could see herself having a three-person relationship.

The time she recorded a 'cringe' David Bowie cover

Willow Smith should have taken a cue from Gal Gadot's viral cover of John Lennon's "Imagine" – and all the backlash that came with it – before she agreed to perform David Bowie's "Changes" for W Magazine. Back in March 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gadot spearheaded a video of celebs singing "Imagine" which was quickly torn apart for being totally out of touch and in poor taste. Two years later, Smith would have a similar experience.

The singer graced the mag's cover in January 2022 alongside Zendaya and Kiernan Shipka and the trio was asked to perform the classic track in celebration of what would have been Bowie's 75th birthday. They agreed and bizarrely half-sang, half-read the track's lyrics, which resulted in a barrage of negative feedback. Folks were quick to bash the clip, which W Magazine posted to Instagram, leaving some seriously brutal feedback in the comments section. "Been awhile since I wished I was deaf," wrote one follower while another slammed, "Wow this is an abomination." Yet another asked, "WHAT IS THIS CRINGE."

Accusations of Islamophobia plagued her debut book

Willow Smith can add 'author' to her resume, as her debut fantasy novel, "Black Shield Maiden," is set to release in May 2024. Co-written with Jess Hendel, it tells the story of a young female warrior named Yafeu who is kidnapped into slavery and sent from her native Africa to live with the Vikings. 

Penguin Books hyped the release by publishing an excerpt in February 2022, but it was not met with the response they likely expected (or hoped for). "The Amazigh are dangerous on their best day," the preview read, per Arab News. "They have little regard for anyone who doesn't worship the Muslim god — and even their own tribes are always at war with one another."

This depiction had critics calling foul and accusing Smith and Hendel of Islamophobia. As journalist Rania Kettani explained in a scathing op-ed in The Gazelle, the Amazigh people are not a fantasy creation, but a real indigenous peoples who call North Africa home. And they did not identify with the book's portrayal. "I would rather stay erased by Western narratives," she slammed. "The fish bait excerpt is one that drags its current civilizations in the mud and perpetuates harmful stereotypes against them." Indeed, online blowback was harsh. "Why do we get portrayed YET AGAIN as savages?" asked one critic, per Arab News, while another wrote, per Capital Xtra, "Amazigh people is one of the most peaceful people in the world, you portrayed them as savages – shame on you!"