In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published “On Death and Dying,” a psychological exploration of distress, loss and coping. In it, she introduced the now-famous Five Stages of Grief, a process by which, she theorized, people deal with grief and tragedy. Originally, the stages applied only to those suffering from terminal illness, though later, Kübler-Ross widened the scope to include anyone dealing with a form of hardship (loss of job, drug addiction, the 2010 Florida Gators’ football season).
Neither the Five Stages nor “On Death and Dying” probably come to mind when considering Willow Smith, especially since they are both four times older than she is. But they definitely should. Because Smith — the 9-year-old (!) progeny of actors Will and Jada Pinkett Smith — is also the girl responsible for “Whip My Hair,” arguably the most infectious strain of ringtone rap/pop released this year. Chances are, if you’ve heard it, you’re singing the hook right now, which is the whole point. “Hair” is either the most brilliant business ploy in recent memory (after all, 9-year-olds buy ringtones too) or a slightly troubling first step down a rather slippery slope (because how do you top a singing 9-year-old? With a tap-dancing 4-year-old?). Probably both. And therein lies my agony.
Because writing about Smith — or “Whip My Hair” — in any meaningful way presents, to put it mildly, a rather grievous dilemma. It is impossible to dissect either without coming across as a total creep or a mean-spirited, get-off-my-lawn curmudgeon. And as such, it has created within me a great personal crisis, one that only deepened earlier this week when Smith unveiled her high-fructose video for the song . Each time I watch it, I find myself cycling through the Five Stages of Grief — Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and, finally, Acceptance — mostly because I am powerless to do anything else. Here is how that process usually goes:
Denial: Willow Smith blows into a soulless school lunchroom, wearing bright-orange parachute pants, a purple leather vest, black lace-ups and striped boots. There are diamonds on her lips and zippers on her nails, and someone has managed to weave a heart into her hair. She is clutching a massive neon boombox, which contains tiny jars of paint. She sets the boombox on the floor, dips her braids into the paint and begins head-banging. “This cannot be happening,” I think to myself. “Not to me.”
Anger: Paint is flying everywhere. Someone is going to have to clean it up. Someone whose father did not star in “Men in Black.” Smith starts singing about overcoming the aspersions of haters and battling to overcome adversity. All the kids in the lunchroom are now covered in paint and bouncing around in unison. I feel a rage swelling inside me. Are kids really into this? Am I really too old or too jaded to understand this song, or am I just not willing to put a 9-year-old on blast? “Who is to blame?” I wonder.
Bargaining: Smith is now head-banging in a hallway, dressed in an outfit that could casually be described as “My Little Pony spun in cotton candy.” She is singing about black stars and black cars and about how, when she pulls up (presumably in one of those black cars), she whips it real hard. This seems particularly strange, considering she is 9 years old and can’t drive. Now a janitor is whipping it too, probably because he just finished mopping up all the paint in the lunchroom. “I will give anything for this to be over,” I mutter under my breath. My officemate looks at me solemnly.
Depression: Smith, now wearing a white jumpsuit, is whipping it back and forth in a small room (maybe it’s the A/V closet?), spattering paint everywhere. Now a teacher has removed her glasses and is whipping it too, with a sprightliness that belies her years. The song enters its handclapping, foot-stomping breakdown. I find myself nodding along to the beat. I am powerless to resist, and this saddens me. A thought enters my head: “I am going to die … what’s the point?”
Acceptance: There is now a baby dancing in the middle of a classroom. Dammit. Smith informs me that it doesn’t matter if my hair is long or short, because I can still whip my hair. She seems like a nice girl. I begin to accept the fact that it is pointless to criticize anything about this song, since it is going to be a gigantic, humongous smash. I will be hearing it buzzing out of cell phones for the remainder of 2010, if not even longer. Now someone’s grandma is doing splits in the middle of the same classroom. Double dammit. Smith smiles back at me, knowing it’s all over. I begin whipping my hair back and forth. “I can’t fight it any more,” I realize. “It is going to be OK.”
And then, I watch the video again. Have the same cycle of emotions. End up back in the same place. This either means that “Whip My Hair” is a very effective instrument of psychological torture or a smashingly great pop song. Probably both. You can moan and gnash all you’d like, but eventually, you’re going to have to accept that Willow Smith has won, and, really, you are powerless to do anything about it. So perhaps the best thing to do is just move on … or maybe add a sixth stage to the grieving process: Hair Whipping. Whatever it takes to make it through the day.
What did you think of the “Whip My Hair” video? Let us know in the comments!