Harriet Walker: The authenticity of Willow Smith


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Hot weather always brings out the prudes and this summer was no different – in August I defended, on this very page, Lady Gaga and her ilk against charges laid at their door by the pop industry puritans: that modern music was sexualising children and was, in effect, bad for their health.

It hardly needs saying again that the very point of pop music is to sexualise youngsters, but that's by the by. Still, hopefully those po-faced Enid Blyton execs have taken note of the latest pop sensation. Willow Smith (daughter of everybody's favourite big-eared goofball Will) is nine, and her single "Whip My Hair" is out next week. The song has already gone viral and that other tweenie-pop god Justin Bieber has tweeted its brilliance. For those of you who didn't understand any of that sentence: she's doing really well on that internet doo dah.

And it's exactly the song that a nine-year-old should be singing. It's nonsense, for a start – a crunkified, school disco-friendly standard about the joys of flicking your hair around to show the bullies (that's "haters", in cool parlance) that you aren't bothered by them. Sample lyric: "I whip my hair back and forth, I whip my hair back and forth". Joni Mitchell it ain't.

I'd like to think young Willow composed it in the sandpit or on a swing, then came up with a dance routine and taught it to her mates. In reality, it was probably penned by a 40-year-old white guy who teams his jeans with loafers and a blazer. But it's a pragmatic move from the music industry and a particularly interesting one in light of the complaints this summer. It's both impractical and impossible to shield children from the influences of modern devil music – it's on adverts, in shops and films, on telly and in their classrooms. But how do you engage kids without doing as Renaissance artists did and just painting them as mini adults? By not assuming they're desperate to grow up and be sexy.

Not everyone's dad is a Hollywood star (remember the curse of the "Cool Dad" before you get too jealous – and then thank your lucky stars that yours has elbow patches and a bald patch), but Willow Smith isn't proof of the depressing commercialisation of children. She's quite a positive version of it.

The sold-out, manufactured identity of modern music is a whole different argument, but the calculated marketeering of it all rankles much less when what is being purveyed is in a similar vein to what might arise naturally within groups of kids left to their own devices. Willow Smith is no creepy Jimmy Osmond or Shirley Temple – she's what kids are like and that's why they like her.

No doubt the prisses will be up in arms once more, but Smith's debut has all the hallmarks of good old-fashioned fun. She appears to be a natural and enthusiastic sort of kid, although there's no doubt plenty of primping and prepping behind the scenes, and is also unfeasibly cool without being dolled up like an All-American beauty queen.

Hairy legs: the battle's over

There's a reason why bank robbers pull black opaque tights over their heads – they obscure any number of sins. From anaemic skin and scratches to bruising and a light fuzz, no-one's any the wiser when you've got your 20 deniers on. But American shop J. Crew (famous for being Mobama's go-to retailer) have chosen a different direction this season and launched a pair of fawn-coloured lace tights that will get you noticed for all the wrong reasons.

Let's diplomatically bypass the fact that any benighted soul might actually be buying lace tights in the first place, and cut to the chase: from a distance, these tights make you look like you have hairy legs. Not just a smattering of "oh it's winter, why should I bother?" but a no-holds-barred Mr Tumnus effect. A whole new dimension to the description "fawn", in fact. Hairy legs may once have been a political gesture, significant of our rejecting restrictive physical ideals, but modern women pick their battles and the truth is, we've already won this one. Grooming goes out of the window in winter – unless you're American in sensibility and wax your entire body three times a week – but not shaving your legs is hardly a political act. It's pragmatic laziness. And before you point out that it's regressive, in this unrealistic age of plastic princesses and photoshopped starlets, to squeal at a pair of tights that makes the wearer look hirsute and unfeminine, remember that beneath our black opaques, most of us look just like Mr Tumnus anyway. The Beauty Myth only applies between April and September.

Cowell knows best, chaps

Thank goodness for X-Factor; I had run out of directions to spit bile in. There's the usual line-up of likeable and odious; the hyperbolically imbalanced distribution of talent and beauty; the delicious schadenfreude at seeing the jumped-up being pulled down. There ought to be no shame in being voted out of X-Factor. It's just about the only democratic institution left: if the public like you, you stay in, if not you don't – none of this Coalition nonsense.

So it contravenes all rules of politesse to publicly huff about your public dismissal. And camp double act Diva Fever – true to their name – have spoken out and blamed Simon Cowell's mis-management for their crashing out of the contest last Sunday. This seems to me to be symptomatic of the enormous sense of entitlement and lack of self-awareness that comes with reality TV. Anyone can become famous nowadays, so everyone assumes they will. And when the dream is wrenched from their grasp, they blame someone else, rather than acknowledging that they simply aren't good, bad or ugly enough to capture the public imagination.

This is fairly academic anyway because Diva Fever's names and gripes will be forgotten like boring guests at a dinner party within two months. But it seems the height of gracelessness – not to mention a rather embarrassing case of blaming your tools – to have a go at one of the most successful music moguls in the world for your own failure.

Those armchair psychiatrists who worry what reality shows do to contestants' health needn't bother; you'd think having a shot and failing could devastate a fragile ego – instead it serves only to boost it.

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