Friday, September 24th, 2010

Willow Smith – Whip My Hair

And not one of our blurbs mentions that her middle name is REIGN. Tssk…


Katherine St Asaph: Willow Smith just might be our first rising pop star born in the 2000s, and it’s a bit shocking to see an artist emerge this young with this fully-formed a personality. Probably not a coincidence, though; as you read this, armies of marketing people are being summoned up from the mists to polish and fuss and make sure we all know it. They’re not quite done; this is kind of a mess, all over-repetition and sonic clutter. It’s also kind of great.

Martin Skidmore: I had to check my facts several times here. It sounds like a strong post-Rihanna R&B number, sung and sometimes rapped with confidence and poise, with some real punch. What I found hard to believe was that Willow (daughter of Will) is nine. Yes, nine years old. It seems barely possible. Note that the mark is how much I like the single, not any sort of ‘amazing for her age’ scoring.

Pete Baran: The age of the singer makes little difference to how terrific this track is. But it does make it seem a bit creepy when you find out. But no more creepy than having narcissistic parents who have already named their kids after themselves (Willard and Jaden before getting round to Willow). The incessant sample tries ever so hard to get annoying, but fails, and as a paean to headbanging it can’t be beat.

Anthony Easton: Romeo Beckham has a sunglasses line. He is 8. Lourdes Ciccone has a clothing line. She is 15. Both of these are slightly less off putting then an 9-year-old scion of a movie star couple singing “I whip my hair”, which is heavily coded and equally cryptic.

Alfred Soto: Years before the Tamil Tigers and truffles troubled her sleep, M.I.A. could have sounded like this. I can’t imagine Willow’s mom allowing her to slam her ponytail on stage though.

Chuck Eddy: Was all prepared to love this, then she started emoting like just another boring 30-year-old. Did she really say “go hard?” And “swagger”? And “get more shine”? She’s in what, fourth grade maybe? Give me a break. Kid singers not acting their age can be awesome, but it helps to pick exciting role models. Title chant’s supremely silly, no denying that. But what else is there?

Mark Sinker: The nine million Rs: repetition repetition repetition repetition repetition repetition repetition repetition repetition repetition repetition repetition… Fuck Devo forever.

Doug Robertson: I can’t help but think this is actually a viral campaign for Pantene, L’Oreal or any other product that openly promises sleek, glossy hair while doing it’s best to keep the fact that the effect shown can only be achieved via judicious use of a top stylist, hair extensions, and photoshop hidden away in the small print. Still, assuming their intentions are honourable, even if the slightly awkward attempt at a creating a dance craze might indicate otherwise, this is rumbly, shrieky aceness, vibing up and down the the beat like a worn out bouncy ball. Because after all, you are worth it.

Alex Macpherson: LOL @ this leaking on the same day as Rihanna’s boring new single. Ms Fenty, you just got outdone by a nine-year-old. It’s remarkable how Willow Smith gets the details and decoration so right, though, those little injections of personality in the Soulja Boy reference that kicks things off to the pronunciation of “hurr” to the sugar-smacked baby-holler of “your hair! YOUR HAIR!” My appreciation of her is really rather dependent on my faith in Will and Jada’s parenting skills, but for now I’m with Jazmine Sullivan: “why is “whip my hair” by willow smith my soonnnng. how dare she make me like a 9 year olds music? lolol. love it!!!”

John Seroff: “Whip My Hair” is finely calibrated, maximalist, explosive pop and I’ve been compulsively listening to it for days. But it’s not like you need me to tell you if this is good or not, right? Thirty seconds of exposure should put you squarely in a pro or con camp and I’m fairly certain anyone near a radio is going to be forced to take a side before November. No, if you’re reading this mini-essay, it’s because you want to hear about Willow: about her inherited celebrity, her audience with Jay-Z, her talent (or lack thereof), her age, her age, her age. Or as a friend told me when I admitted my love for the Fresh Princess, “It’s just crazy that she’s so young and the song is so dirty”. Of course the lyrics to “Whip” couldn’t be more squeaky clean, but I get what she meant: this is not a thing for the playground, it’s for the club. The song has hips and ass; it’s (at least) a teenager’s fancy. That cognitive dissonance carries through to Willow’s too-contemporary slang; pre-tweens shouldn’t be talking about staying on their grind or rolling up in luxury cars, right? But in listening over and over to Willow celebrating the joy of swag as if it were new school clothes, decrying haters as with us or against us, mindlessly shaking off all her problems without a thought or care to consequences, it’s crystal that “Whip” is not a nine year old trying to sound grown up. Rather, the emotional and intellectual dialogue of contemporary pop is at the nine year old level and Willow just naturally meets the bar. You see, we want to be like her. Except even THAT isn’t so; no child naturally gravitates to this level of artifice. They are steered to it by stylists and businessmen and those who have a monetary interest in creating new product to be stolen and criticized. It’s this weird time that we’re in where children sounding like adults sounding like children are guided by adults who market to children, this ever quickening chase of tigers turning to ghee which leads to the defining, beautiful and troublesome zenith of “Whip My Hair”. It’s a rare moment where we hear Willow string together more than a few unedited syllables; her vocals have been cut piecework from dozens of different takes then frankensteined into a skeleton and you can clearly hear the sudden clips like sharp inhales after every verse. The production is manic throughout; anything frail or human is quickly covered with gleaming armor. There’s generally four to six competing layers every second and an ever-present bumping bass accented by a sound-effect like an autobot transforming. But just here, at the peak of the song, right around 2:10, the whipped cream and firework recede ever so slightly and Willow is briefly allowed center stage. She steps up to the challenge and she sings nonsense words but she’s singing them as hard as she can, the best take they could get from her: “Don’t matter if it’s long/short/do it do it/with your hair/your hair/your haaaaaaaair” and here she holds the note as the various elements of the song rise up around her and this is her diva moment now, the moment where any professional singer, any grown woman would hop up an octave or at least belt out a harmony but all that Willow can do (and remember, this is her best take; this is the most they can ask from her), all Willow can do is let out a sad little keen, a whispering lost thing that wavers and crumples. And then she is gone, swallowed up by the tide of beats and her own mechanical voice quoting Devo and evoking Salt and Pepa and she does not know these bands but she has said the words into a machine that spat her out again and now her voice, her REAL voice in the climax of her first song is drowning under the weight of her infinitely echoing false voice and this song that is hers is absolutely not hers at all. It’s that half-scream, the best that she could do, that is the reveal; the look behind the curtain. It’s among the most memorable moments I’ll likely hear all year and whether it’s unintentional or perhaps not even there at all doesn’t really matter to me because I hear it every time I listen to the track and I’ve been compulsively listening to it for days. This is not the sort of thing you should assign a number grade to. And yet I do and if I’m moved by all this nonsense then I suppose that defines me more than it does the song. Alright, then: we’re both trying to be heard. Both of us sound a little ridiculous. We’re young and we’re trying. Be kind.

10 Responses to “Willow Smith – Whip My Hair”

  1. Rather, the emotional and intellectual dialogue of contemporary pop is at the nine year old level and Willow just naturally meets the bar

    Yes! I posted this on ILX after I’d submitted my blurb:

    it did strike me as curious/interesting how kids in rap-r&b-pop have so wholly picked up on the word and concept of swag – soulja boy seems to be the root here, then you’ve got willow smith, omg girlz, cher lloyd…

    and it actually feels oddly right for swag to be co-opted by children, because that nebulous way of carrying oneself is of course THE schoolkid/adolescent means of judging oneself and others.

  2. this song = bangerrr

    blurbs = great

    too bad it just missed the top 10

  3. This is a fun song to theorize about, but like Chuck said, aside from the hook, it’s really bland and processed. Sort of like a Soulja Boy/Katy Perry/Lil Romeo hybrid. Particularly Lil’ Romeo. And even the hook I can’t enjoy, because the kid doesn’t seem to be enjoying it; well, she does, but the stagehands who fed her this – given her age – disturbingly sexually coded crap are just way too present for me to share in her enthusiasm. But really, even if you can separate out who’s singing this thing and pretend it’s someone nearly twice her age, this is nowhere near as good as, to pick an obvious comparison, ‘Lip Gloss.’

  4. Not that anyone’s gong to believe me, but I’d given the mark and written the review before I knew who Willow Smith was: when I found out I briefly wavered dropping it a mark for sleb-brat cooties but then decided that wasn’t fair. I’m kinda excited that there’s even BETTER songs around than this.

    Tray you know way more about present-day stuff than me. I “maintained my objectivity” — more or less — for about ten years!

  5. You know what this song needs? More discussion of the ACTUAL WHIPPING OF HAIR BACK AND FORTH. Seriously, who told her that “whip my hair” was metaphorical? Opportunities for poetry through literal thinking *all missed*. Which makes this at least 30% of a failure, = a 7, and since you know Willow’s gotta be an overachiever she’d be pissed with a C (though we have a tough curve here, and I’m sure a 7 is pretty much an A-, which is how I think of this song; accomplished but missing that extra something special).

  6. I kind of want to see what Lil’ Wayne (who can whip his hair back and forth!) would do free-associating to the track with Willow coming back with the hook.

  7. The best time/place to whip your hair back and forth is just after a school swimming lesson when your soaking-wet 18″ long plait becomes a DEADLY WEAPON, easily able to take out annoying boys stood behind you in the queue for the coach.

  8. @Dave: it was MADE, G rating aside, for Nicki Minaj.

  9. The rapper I automatically associated with whipping hair back and forth was Waka Flocka Flame.

  10. Maybe kids are just growing up faster these days; I read this interview with the little girl who plays Sally Draper and she sounds like she could easily be 30. Up until when they ask her if Jon Hamm is gorgeous and she says that she’s 10 so she’s not sure.