Thursday, 23 September 2010

Pop Goes The Willow

Willow Smith is the 9-year old daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. Her brother is the 12-year old incipient action-star Jaden Smith- who starred in this summer's mega-hit remake of The Karate Kid. You've probably seen Willow Smith in I Am Legend in which she played the challenging role of Will Smith's daughter. It seems both Smith offspring's are channelling different aspects of their father's career as Willow Smith has signed with Jay-Z's Roc Nation music management company (British acts signed to Roc Nation are Ting Tings and Mark Ronson) and is releasing her new song WHIP MY HAIR BACK. Before anyone dismisses Willow's track as trite paedo-pop, I ask you to listen to it because it puts some of her more established R&B peers to total shame. The track is produced by neophyte music producer Jukebox, and was written by the 9-year old Willow (yes, an infant wrote it!). The beat is dope and balances tuneful ingenuity with kid-friendly melody. No matter how cynical you want to be about WHIP MY HAIR BACK, you have to give props to the kid.

While Willow Smith is not the first actor to become a recording artist, there are very few movie stars who manage to do it with aplomb. Russell Crowe in 30 Odd Foot in Grunts, Juliette Lewis in Juliette and the Licks, Dennis Quaid in Dennis Quaid and the Sharks and Keanu Reeves in Dogstar are examples of embarrassing musical vanity projects where the actors should never have given up their day jobs (not that they ever did). These bands are case studies in the arrogance of actors who conceitedly assume the public's adoration for them will materialise fruitfully when they put their capped talents to other creative ventures such as music. Thankfully, the public are not as dunce as what your average movie star presumes as none of the acts mentioned have anything more than a sycophantic niche following. None of us are thick enough to buy into bands coasting by on the celebrity status of one of its members, in doing so denying more deserving groups the chance to score record deals.

As much as I can't hack egotistical movie stars forming inane bands, there are some actors who kind of deserve their success in the music world. Johnny Depp wasn't always a film star whose international box-office so far exceeds $6 billon. No sir; Depp had originally come to Hollywood in search of a record deal after having spent his formative years playing in sundry garage bands in Owensboro, Kentucky. It was only after a chance meeting with Nicholas Cage, and the failure of his band Six Gun Method, that Depp decided to become an actor on 21 Jump Street. The rest is history. More recently I've been pleased to see Jared Leto's band 30 SECONDS TO MARS win Best Rock Video at last week's MTV Video Music Awards. This is not to imply I have any love for 30 SECONDS TO MARS' music or videos. In fact, I think they're a shite American pop band that makes even shitter music. But I do like Jared Leto. Just like Johnny Depp, Leto came to Hollywood in search of a record deal but to make ends meet fell into acting, playing Jordan Catalano in Winnie Holzman's stupendous 90s teen drama, My So-called Life. His pretty-boy looks meant he was never taken too seriously as an actor, nevertheless he went on to co-star in classic movies like Fight Club; Girl, Interrupted; Panic Room; Alexander; Requiem for a Dream and Lord of War. Each one of these movies was directed by greatly esteemed filmmakers who no doubt saw something special in Leto; yet still he has never been taken seriously as an actor. To put an end to this, Leto took on the role of infamous psychopath Mark Chapman in Jarrett Schaefer's 2007 dramatisation of John Lennon's murder, Chapter 27. In an injudicious demonstration of method acting gone wild, Leto gained 70 pounds to play Chapman by drinking liquidated pints of ice cream mixed with soy sauce and olive oil: daily. This was such a medically dangerous endeavour that Leto suddenly had to use a wheelchair due to the stress the sudden increase in weight put on his body. None of these sacrifices would have mattered if Chapter 27 had worked for Letto. Alas, the film was derided by audiences and critics alike. Sean Lennon went on record calling the film, "tacky." It seemed Leto had truly failed to shake off his handsome aesthetics; never being acknowledged as the seriously minded actor he is. None of this matters now as Leto's band has the momentum of a speed train. Last year's album This is War in the week of its release sold over 67,000 units in America and did pretty well in other territories too, having sold in excess of 100,000 copies in the UK. What's more, Leto's past experiences with great movie directors seems to have served him very well as he directs all of 30 SECONDS TO MARS' award-winning videos under the moniker of Bartholomew Cubbins.

So Willow Smith has any number of examples she can follow on her musical voyage to ultra-stardom. What will be surprising is if she follows Joaquin Phoenix's (who did give up his day job) example in I'm Still Here, meaning her whole hip-hop act is simply a meaningless charade designed to fool us all for no apparent purpose other than trying to make monkeys out of us. Casey Affleck- director of I'm Still Here and Joaquin Phoenix's brother-in-law- stated this week that Joaquin's reinvention as an urban artist was pure make-believe that duped the entire world. No it didn't. We just didn't care. Here's wishing Willow Smith better luck.

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