If Willow Smith Was Not a Brand, She Wouldn't Be Exposed to the Criticism She's Getting

willow smith, i am me, will smith, jada pinkett-smith, celebrity parents
A still from Willow's new video "I Am Me."

I just saw Willow Smith’s newest video, I Am Me, and all I can say is: it’d be great if she was the coolest 11-year-old you’ve never heard of, the star of the chorus in some small town somewhere. But I cannot stand that Willow Smith is a public persona, or worse yet – a brand. Because a child her age should not be open to the kind of criticism a horribly ridiculous song like “I Am Me” is going to expose her to. And the criticism is fair, because the song is hot garbage, in terms of a pop track. It’s worse than Rebecca Black’s Friday. But it’s exactly the kind of song an 11-year-old should be writing … just out of the limelight.

If there’s any truth to Willow’s lyrics, she won’t be hurt by the criticism her new track is receiving, because our validation is just not that important to her. (I guess that’s perk number one of being a child of Hollywood. Everyone else is totally irrelevant.) Reactions on Twitter to her video when it debuted at the 2012 BET Awards were mixed; some were supportive but others spared no cruelty. One user wrote, “That Willow Smith video was a cry for help,” while another said, “Willow Smith’s new song is about giving advice. She’s 11, she should stick to whipping her hair back and forth.”

I guess that’s what really irks me about this song: the fact that Willow Smith has been exposed to so much life at 11 years old that she’s riding around like the Dalai Lama with a skateboard and a bowler hat. It’s a bit much. I just don’t get why her parents are letting her do this, other than to make money off of her, and that kind of grosses me out. It’s not that I object to Willow singing or being creative, but putting your kid out there as part of your empire? It gives me the shivers. (I suppose it could be argued that mommybloggers do the same thing, but I’d like to think writing about parenting and handing your kid a music career are apples and oranges.) It feels like it might be more appropriate if Willow were exploring the arts privately or at school. Or even as a child actor, in a role that’s age-appropriate. Or something. And I’m not trying to dis or be nasty! Demetria Irwin at The Grio says, “No matter how grown you may think Willow Smith looks or acts, she is 11 years old and she should not be subjected to over-analyzing, mean-spirited critiques from grown-ups.” I agree. No one should go out of their way to be cruel to a child. However, I think it’s unfair for the insinuation to be, “We’re putting this 11-year-old out there as a legitimate music talent, but you can’t criticize her because she’s only a kid and that’s mean.” No, if you’re playing in the big leagues, you should expect and be prepared for the attention that comes with that privilege. And that’s my point  – Willow wouldn’t be subjected to critique if her parents hadn’t put her out there as a commodity. After all, this isn’t a homemade music video being commented on; Willow is signed to Def Jam! To that point, elsewhere on The Grio, Kia Miakka Natisse writes:

No one would be judging Will Smith if he was just a regular guy from Philadelphia trying to make his kid’s dreams come true. But there is a nagging question as to why so much and so soon — couldn’t Willow and Jaden at least made it quietly to their teens before releasing them into the often dangerous and harsh world of celebrity? If your child has talent it is important to nurture it and help it grow, but careful to remember they are a child — not a cash cow.

Here’s the video. Let me know what you think: