Singer and musician Willow Smith is a child of Hollywood royalty who has made a name for herself in pop, R&B and rock, as well as joining her mother and grandmother on the talk show ‘Red Table Talk.’
Who Is Willow Smith?
Willow Smith grew up in the public eye as the daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. After acting in a few projects, in 2010 Smith released a song, “Whip My Hair,” that became a hit single. However, the demands of fame eventually stressed the young Smith to the point that she took a step away from performing. Smith later started making music as WILLOW. She overcame personal doubts and embraced her lifelong love of rock to release the album Lately I Feel Everything (2021). In doing so, she staked her own claim to a genre of music with strong ties to the Black community. In addition to music, Smith co-hosts the popular talk show Red Table Talk with her mother and grandmother.
Early Life and Family
Willow Camille Reign Smith was born on October 31, 2000, in Los Angeles, California. Smith is the daughter of Hollywood stars Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. She has an older brother, Jaden Smith, and an older half-brother, Trey Smith. Her family’s status meant Smith was raised in the spotlight.
Early Acting and Music
In 2007, Smith had a role alongside her father in the movie I Am Legend. She next appeared in Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (2008) and joined her mother to voice a character in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008). She was also seen on the television show True Jackson, VP. As a teen, Smith performed vocally in Neo Yokio and Adventure Time.
Smith’s first pop single, “Whip My Hair,” came out when she was 9 years old. The song was a hit, ultimately going platinum and reaching No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2010, Smith signed a recording contract with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.
Smith had some follow-up success with songs like 2011’s “21st Century Girl,” but nothing was as popular as “Whip My Hair.” She also came to dislike the pressure-filled lifestyle of performing. In 2012, Smith shaved her head during her “Whip My Hair” tour, an act of protest against continuing. She also decided she didn’t want to take on the title role in a filmed version of the musical Annie that her father was producing. Smith has admitted she later started cutting herself in an attempt to deal with her emotional pain.
Smith told Pinkett Smith in 2018, “I definitely had to forgive you and Daddy for that whole ‘Whip My Hair’ thing. It was mostly Daddy because he was so harsh at certain times.” Reflecting on her childhood career, in 2019 she told People magazine, “I was super young, and I had a dream, but all I really wanted to do was sing and I didn’t equate that with all the business and the stress that ended up coming with it.”
Though she’d rebelled against the demands on her, Smith didn’t stop making music. Her debut album, Ardipithecus, was released in 2015. Her next two albums, The 1st and Willow, came out in 2017 and 2019 respectively.
‘Red Table Talk’
Smith, her mother and her maternal grandmother, Adrienne Banfield-Norris, had a tradition of sharing personal stories and insights among themselves. Pinkett Smith recorded and released one of these no-barriers, intergenerational conversations in 2013. Five years later, the women launched their own talk show, Red Table Talk, on Facebook Watch.
Red Table Talk has an informal set-up that harkens back to the family’s earlier discussions. On the show, the three generations of women have tackled topics such as mental health, politics and sexuality. In 2021, Smith shared that she was polyamorous. Salma Hayek, Kevin Hart, Olivia Jade Giannulli and Jordyn Woods are among some of the high-profile guests who have stopped by the program.
In 2021, Red Table Talk won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Informative Talk Show.
Albums: ‘The Anxiety’ and ‘Lately I Feel Everything’
The Anxiety, an indie rock album from Smith and partner Tyler Cole, came out in 2020. Along with the album, Smith and Cole took part in a performance art piece. Inside a glass box at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, they spent 24 hours embodying eight different emotional states linked to anxiety.
As a teenager, Smith had developed a love of rock while listening to groups like My Chemical Romance and Blink-182. Those influences were evident in her next album, Lately I Feel Everything, which came out in July 2021. The album, produced with Cole, is seen as pop-punk, though Smith has clarified, “I knew I didn’t want to do a completely pop-punk record, I knew that it needed to have a mixture of some moody alternative, more melodic vibes because that’s just who I am.”
Smith has stated that Lately I Feel Everything is the kind of record she’d wanted to make “since I was literally 12,” but she’d been hesitant about diving into this genre of music. For one thing, her training had been in the world of pop and R&B. In addition, Smith had watched her mother perform with her nü-metal band, Wicked Wisdom, in the early 2000s. She’d delighted in her mother’s shows — but she also remembers the death threats Pinkett Smith received while on tour.
Lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic served as a catalyst for Smith to experiment and overcome her doubts about making rock music. She said in 2021, “Even though Black women still aren’t super accepted in the rock world, times have changed. It was really my own personal insecurities that had stopped me doing this in the past. Now I hope I can be an instrument in helping more young women of color know they can do this.”
The album’s first single, “Transparent Soul,” featured Blink-182’s Travis Barker. It made it onto Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Other collaborators on the album include punk star Avril Lavigne, who accepted an invitation to join Smith on the song “Grow.”
As a teenager, Smith became known for wearing gender-neutral fashion. Her style also incorporates more daring choices in attire, hairstyles and makeup. However, Smith said in a 2021 interview, “I’m the kind of person who never really gets dressed up unless it’s a part of my work.”
Smith has been the face of campaigns for brands like Chanel, Cartier and Mugler.