Five years ago, when Willow Smith was 10, her pop song “Whip My Hair” became an instant hit. She even stole the spotlight from her famous parents, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, who have long encouraged Willow and her older brother, Jaden, to express themselves as creatively as possible. Although she is homeschooled, Smith, 15, is strikingly worldly, with an uncanny understanding of pop culture—and counterculture. She arrived at the W shoot in a cropped T-shirt and baggy jeans. Her hair, dyed navy blue, was twisted into fusilli-like spirals, accented by large safety pins. “That was my idea,” Smith said. “I was in my bathroom yesterday and saw some safety pins on the counter and was just like, ‘Let me stab a dread real quick.’ When I did it, I was, like, ‘Oh, this is dope.’ ”
She also wears a nose ring, and I asked her if her parents ever tried to tame her sartorial wildness. “Only when I was 6 or 7. I wanted to wear things then that might have been too crazy. But now they know I set my own boundaries.”
Lynn Hirschberg: When was the first time you performed in public?
Willow Smith: I think I was 9 or 10. I went on the Ellen Show, and it was the craziest experience of my entire life. I was so nervous. My mom told me, “You’ll do great. You can do this.” I got on the stage to sing “Whip My Hair,” and when I was done, they said, “Okay. Cut.” I said, “Do I have to do it again?” And they said, “No—you killed it the first time.” I was, like, “Dang, I had no idea you were even taping.”
LH: How did “Whip My Hair” come about? Did you always want to be a singer?
WS: I kept telling my parents that I wanted to sing, and they said, “Okay—we can get some writers and producers here if you want this to be real.” So they got all those people in a room, and I was talking, talking, talking about the things that I loved, and the writers came up with that song. It was a beautiful experience.
LH: Did you see Bruce Springsteen’s version of “Whip My Hair” on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon?
WS: It was so freaking amazing! My parents were ecstatic! They woke me up and said, “Willow—this is the craziest thing.” I can’t believe such an iconic person liked my song. But I don’t sing it anymore. It’s not in my heart anymore.
LH: Have you always cared a lot about fashion? Who do you look up to fashion-wise?
WS: My mom. When she was on tour with Ozzfest, she was very raunchy. I loved watching her onstage.
LH: I remember your mom as Peaches in the film A Low Down Dirty Shame. She was tiny and fierce.
WS: She was so cute in that movie. I think the first song that ever made an impression on me was my mom performing “Bleed All Over Me.” I would sing it over and over.
LH: Do you have any posters up in your room?
WS: I have John Lennon. I have a bunch of Hindu posters that are more like tapestries. And I have Tupac. He’s a tapestry, too.
LH: Did you ever have one of Justin Bieber?
WS: No, but I love Justin. I love every single one of his songs.
LH: Who do you have a crush on in the movies?
WS: Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. They’re so beautiful in Blue Is the Warmest Color. I don’t really like the crude sexualness of the movie, but I like all the scenes that aren’t porn. My favorite love scene in a movie is in Avatar—when they’re at the tree of souls and they’re communing with Eywa.
LH: Did you see it in 3-D?
WS: 3-D movies make my head hurt. I can’t watch them.
LH: That makes you unusual for your generation.
WS: I know, I know. I prefer regular film. And I prefer to be unusual.