As the daughter of Hollywood heavyweights, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, growing up was never going to be a normal experience for Willow Smith, and in that sense, it was perhaps inevitable that she would go in a similar career direction to her parents.
However, Smith was still remarkably young when she entered the entertainment industry (she marked her acting debut alongside her father in the sci-fi movie, I Am Legend, at just 7-years of age) and had only just turned 10 when the global hit “Whip My Hair” was released, something which, as the star candidly revealed, led to a childhood she didn't much enjoy at times.
Willow Smith is a born and bred L.A. girl, with Jada giving birth to her in 2000. Coming from Hollywood royalty, her father Will Smith is one of the most recognizable movie stars on the planet, with two Oscar nominations to his name and four Grammy wins for his rap career before he transitioned into acting.
Mother Jada has also had considerable success in Hollywood, having appeared in a string of Hollywood movies as well as fronting the metal band, Wicked Wisdom.
Her older brother, Jayden, is also a prominent name, having appeared alongside father Will in The Pursuit of Happyness and After Earth, while his musical endeavors have seen him work with the likes of Justin Bieber.
And then there's her lesser-known but equally as talented, half-brother Trey, who plys his trade as an actor and DJ.
Willow first came to the public's attention in 2007’s I Am Legend. A year later she acted in Kit Kittredge: An American Girl and then alongside her mother in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.
But after a TV role in True Jackson, VP, Smith abandoned acting and decided to take her career in a musical direction, and that's when things started blowing up for her.
Indeed, by 2010 she became the youngest artist to sign to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label, and her initial efforts in the charts proved promising, with her debut single "Whip My Hair" entering the Billboard Hot 100 at No.11 while reaching No.2 in the U.K.
A year later she achieved a second US Hot 100 hit with “21st Century Girl” and worked with Nicki Minaj on the track, “Fireball.”
She also won Best New Artist at both the VirtualMagazine Awards and NAACP Image Awards. As a testament to the Smith Talent Factory, she also shared the YoungStar Award with her older brother Jaden at the 2012 BET Awards.
However, instead of diving headfirst into the album release, Smith’s debut LP, Knees and Elbows, was scrapped and she returned to the studio intent on bringing her fans a more mature sound, and following on from the release of 2014's EP 3, a full-length album titled ARDIPITHECUS was released in 2015.
Impressively, ARDIPITHECUS was written entirely by Willow, who also produced all but one of its 11 tracks. But while it wasn't panned, critics were split on its unusual sound, with Consequence of Sound labeling it an album as “one that shows plenty of promise but also a personality abstruse to the point of mystification.”
In 2016, Smith continued her ascent in the music world, releasing the Mellifluous EP and appearing on Kid Cudi’s Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’.
Influenced by the R&B stars and distinctive singer-songwriters of the 1990s, her second album, The 1st, was released on her 17th birthday.
The notoriously hard-to-please music site Pitchfork described it as “a huge leap in the right direction.”
However, life as a child star wasn't always easy for Smith- as she revealed in an interview with the Los Angeles zine Girlgaze. “Trying to figure out your life… while people feel like they have some sort of entitlement to know what’s going on, is absolutely, excruciatingly terrible," she said.
Smith also acknowledged that modern technology has made having a private life a thing of the past for celebrities- even child stars.
“I feel like most kids like me end up going down a spiral of depression, and the world is sitting there looking at them through their phones; laughing and making jokes and memes at the crippling effect that this lifestyle has on the psyche.”
She then revealed that she had two ways of coping with the constant press intrusion. “I’m either going to try to go into it completely and help from the inside, or… no one is going to know where I am… and I’m going to take myself completely out of the eye of society. There’s really no in-between.”
Smith's candid take on childhood depression had previously been touched upon in a 2014 interview with T Magazine during the time she was attending school. “It was the best experience… because I was, like, ‘Oh, now I know why kids are so depressed.’ But it was the worst experience because I was depressed.”
Her famous father, in a promotional interview for good friend Jay-Z’s 4:44, also revealed that the hectic touring for his daughter's debut single caused her to shave her head completely. “I was like, ‘Oh, s-t.’ … I’m looking at that girl, and I’m like, ‘Got it. I understand. You will not have this trouble out of me ever again. Let’s go, baby. We can go.’“
Interestingly, Willow told Vulture she felt she had no choice but to have a similar career to her parents'.
“I constantly felt as though there was something I had to do because of the resources that I was given. That personally shifted my perspective in all situations because I always felt like I had to take the high road and be the helper.”
But rather than cave to industry pressure and accept everything thrown her way, she carved out her own path and even passed on starring in 2013’s Annie despite severe pressure from industry executives.
“That was scary, standing up to executives who were like, ‘What? We spent this amount of money. Mmm, you’re doing it.’ And I was like, ‘No, I’m not going to. Sorry.’”
But rather than lament her choices, Smith sees her other-worldly life in a positive light and believes the opportunities handed to her have allowed her to play an important role in society.
“We need those people on Earth to do that. If the people with the resources don’t put all of their energy into uplifting, then what is gonna happen? That’s what we need to do. There’s really no choice. It’s an everyday communication with your destiny," she told Vulture magazine.
However, before taking on the world's problems, Smith added that she is intent on furthering her education, with the 17-year-old planning to study physics and music at college once her next album is finalized.
Willow and brother Jaden have become famous for their inquisitive take on life's big questions, and it appears the Smith household hasn't been a place solely reserved for show businesses.
Yet for now, Smith's musical career still comes first, and in the leadup to her highly-anticipated second album, the star made an appearance alongside Pia Mia on brother Jaden’s debut album, Syre, as well as supporting Jhene Aiko’s North American Trip tour.
What are your thoughts on growing up in the spotlight? Was Willow taking on too much pressure when her parents allowed her into an industry they knew was far from easy? Or were the Smith family entirely within their rights to bring their children into a world that has given them so much?
Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.