The family Smith: Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jaden Smith, Trey Smith and Willow Smith celebrate Trey 21st birthday in Las Vegas. Picture: Denise Truscello/WireImage
The family Smith: Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jaden Smith, Trey Smith and Willow Smith celebrate Trey 21st birthday in Las Vegas. Picture: Denise Truscello/WireImage

Life of Hollywood’s weirdest kids

JADA Pinkett Smith's confessional talk show Red Table Talk has recently shone a spotlight on her unconventional marriage to Will Smith, with the pair talking candidly about enduring various bouts of infidelity, sex addiction, alcoholism, and a stretch where Pinkett Smith cried for 45 days straight. The couple admitted they split up at one point during the course of their 21-year union, before rebuilding their relationship "with new rules".

While viewers of Pinkett Smith's new show can't get enough of such revelations, the program has also featured the couple's two children: 20-year-old Jaden and 18-year-old Willow, who have both developed reputations as either switched-on philosophical truth-seekers or precocious kids, heavy on pretension and light on substance. It depends on how you view the world.

In 2014, the pair gave an infamous joint interview with The New York Times, which was gleefully dissected by other media outlets with a level of scrutiny worthy of the Zapruder film, and a level of snark last seen in Mean Girls. The two siblings waxed lyrical about quantum physics, Prana energy, the duality of the mind, "the melancholiness of the ocean", how the act of shocking society (and muscles) caused change, the inherent lack of authenticity in schooling, the reading of ancient texts and an overriding feeling that life was a "fragment of a holographic reality that a higher consciousness made".

 

Growing up famous … Jaden and Willow Smith. Picture: Christopher Polk/Getty Images
Growing up famous … Jaden and Willow Smith. Picture: Christopher Polk/Getty Images

 

It's heady stuff and far more interesting than most Q&As supporting the release of new music. The interview was conducted on a ridge overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where then 14-year-old Willow wistfully talked of being "so lucky to have a body and to breathe and to be able to look at this". Sixteen-year-old Jaden was more bold in his intent.

"I have a goal to be just the most craziest person of all time," he said at one point. "And when I say craziest, I mean, like, I want to do like Olympic-level things. I want to be the most durable person on the planet."

Jaden showcased such durability from an early age, gaining critical praise in 2006 for his performance alongside his father in The Pursuit Of Happyness. He was only eight at the same of the film's release. As if to even the playing field, seven-year-old Willow played Will's daughter in the following year's I Am Legend, albeit in a smaller role than Jaden's. Both were box-office smashes for Will Smith, the former earning him Oscar and Gloden Globe nominations, the latter earning more than half a billion worldwide. Both kids rocketed into acting careers, starring in a string of successes.

 

 

EARLY FAILURES AND STRUGGLES

After a golden run in Hollywood, Jaden teamed up with his father again in 2013 to co-star in the M Night Shyamalan sci-fi flick After Earth. Lightning failed to strike twice for the duo. The reviews were not kind. The Wall Street Journal asked, "Is After Earth the worst movie ever made?", while The Atlantic savaged Jaden's performance, calling him "entirely lacking in the big-screen charisma that made his father one of Hollywood's major stars". Will later called the film "the most painful failure in my career", telling Esquire he felt that way mainly because of his son's involvement. "I led him into it. That was excruciating," he admitted.

Jaden didn't act in another feature film until this year's low-budget Skate Kitchen, instead turning his focus towards music, modelling and bursts of Twitter philosophy. Sample tweets from Jaden's font of wisdom include: "The Moment That Truth Is Organised It Becomes A Lie", "The More Time You Spend Awake The More Time You Spend Asleep" and "How Can Mirrors Be Real If Our Eyes Aren't Real".

 

 

Both Smith kids have taken unusual shots at musical careers over the years. What at first appeared haphazard now seems deliberate, the slow building of interesting canons of work. Of course, it could just be a symptom of opportunity, fast-changing interests and unfulfilling early successes.

Will Smith's name alone could ensure them both splashy major label releases with big budget video clips, songs that flood radio and promotional budgets in the millions. That they have both gone comparatively low key with their musical endeavours suggests they value the art form more than the attention it brings. Both enjoyed their biggest commercial success in music at worryingly early ages: Jaden was 12 when he teamed up with Justin Bieber for Never Say Never, which was a top 10 hit, selling five million copies along the way.

Willow was even younger, just five days shy of her 10th birthday, when she released Whip My Hair. Far from being the embarrassing novelty song it had every right to be, it instead managed to be a whip-smart, dead cute, avant-garde pop banger. It received critical acclaim, sold platinum and was the subject of a loving Neil Young-style cover from Jimmy Fallon.

 

 

Despite this, Willow recently called the song and its subsequent success her only "really terrible experience". On Jada Smith's talk show Red Table Talk, Willow pointed the finger at her mother.

"You and daddy should have been, 'OK, we value her musical growth and knowledge more than her popularity'," she said.

A Willow Smith album was repeatedly added to then bumped from record label release schedules; after four years of delays, the album was scrapped, a decision driven by her refusal to finish the album.

She shaved her head in response to the pressure, and began self-harming in secret, confiding this only to a friend.

"I was just listening to a lot of dark music. It was just so crazy and I was plunged into this black hole, and I was cutting myself," she told her shocked mother during a particularly intense television moment.

TAKING CONTROL OF THEIR LIVES

Sour from her early pop experience, Willow took a more low-key yet prolific approach to future musical efforts. Between 2014 and 2017, she released two EPs and two albums, none of which charted, nor spawned anything resembling a hit single. She also rush-released a stand-alone song written and recorded on the day of Donald Trump's election as US president. Far from being a predictably angry protest, November 9 is remarkably poised

"Baby girl, I know you're tired, don't let the world put out your fire," the sixteen-year-old sings.

In a sea of rage and anguish, Willow's words act as a salve. "Don't think your humanity equals weakness," she implores.

Likewise, Jaden's debut album Syre was a sprawling concept album, recorded over four years. With a running time of over an hour, a variety of sonic styles and references to Icarus and the Old Testament, it wasn't an easy listen. He told Vanity Fair he was aiming for greatness, citing Kanye West and Frank Ocean as twin inspirations for the project.

Interestingly, Jaden cries in the first three music videos released in support of the album.

The siblings' reluctance to use their parental gains for musical fame may stem from the fact their power spills over in every aspect of their life.

 

The full Smith clan in 2013 … Jaden Smith, Willow Smith, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith and Trey Smith attend the After Earth premiere. Picture: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images
The full Smith clan in 2013 … Jaden Smith, Willow Smith, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith and Trey Smith attend the After Earth premiere. Picture: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

 

Jaden explains growing up with untold wealth heightens expectations on a social level. "It's like, what do I do when it's just me and my homies and we're chilling for dinner … do I ask for the check? Do I just pay for everything?"

Willow had a similar experience at an early age, one that forever darkened the Happiest Place on Earth for her. "I literally hate Disneyland," she told her mother on Red Table Talk, "because I had one terrible experience and everyone expected me to pay for them. I was super young, it was with older girls and they were behind my back like, 'Oh, she's going to pay for everything.' I honestly wasn't thinking that way. It was painful."

It seems obvious that for Willow and Jaden, as with many children born into the family business, they are determined to stamp out their own identities, even if that means sacrificing some of the opportunities they encounter along the way.

In fact Jaden left home at 15, a decision his mother Jada calls heartbreaking, despite understanding her son's wishes.

"I remember thinking to myself, as devastated as I was, I was like, 'He's right. The time is now, he's 15, it's time for him to leave the house'," she explained, adding that she'd warned Will years earlier they'd "be lucky to keep him in the house until he's 16" due to his prodigious nature.

"Being in this lifestyle, in this world, is a bubble and he wanted out and I understood that," Jada said.

Despite his early play for independence, Jaden used his father's muscle in 2015 to launch JUST, an eco-friendly bottled water company. He told hip hop site Complex he began obsessing about recycling from the age of 10, when he found out about the horrors of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, 80,000 tonnes of plastic floating in the ocean. "I kept telling people about it. It was like someone had died," he said. "Then I found out that those plastics break down, fish eat them, and then we eat the fish. It gets inside of us." The company is launching in the UK and Australia this year.

GROWING UP IN PUBLIC SUCKS

Donald Glover, who performs under the stage name Childish Gambino, is an outspoken champion of Jaden's talents, working with him on a number of projects over the years.

Speaking to New York radio show The Breakfast Club, Glover explained that Jaden used his privilege to push social conventions and to assert himself. "He's so smart. I know people don't get it, but he's light years ahead, he gets it," he said.

Glover recounted a recording session at his house where Jaden turned up in "weird" leggings.

"We were talking about doing what you want to do. He's like, 'Look, I know I walked out of the house today with no pants on. I did that on purpose.'"

Glover explained how Jaden's wealth and status gave him chances other young black kids didn't get in America.

"Jaden has a chance to fail, and learn. That's really what it is. White kids get to fail all the time," Glover said.

 

The fam back in 2010. Picture: AP Photo/Berthold Stadler
The fam back in 2010. Picture: AP Photo/Berthold Stadler

 

While this is true, both Willow and Jaden have had to fail in public. Given the attention that's been foist upon them throughout their lives, it's surprising they are so well adjusted.

Last November, during a searingly honest interview with blog Girlgaze, Willow summed up the pressures the pair had faced, as well as displaying the type of fortitude and understanding of her unique position that will bode well as she continues to navigate fame.

"When you're born into it, there are two choices that you have: 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 really going to take myself completely out of the eye of society. There's really no in-between," she said.

"I'm going to be completely and utterly honest, it's absolutely terrible.

"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 making memes at the crippling effect that this lifestyle has on the psyche."

If you need help with depression, see Beyond Blue



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