Envision this scene: a monochromatic lunchroom filled with robotic children is cross cut with a singular character imbued with colour. That character is our protagonist, here to bring vibrancy to a blank world and palette that only she can alter. She steps into this dystopian environment with the knowledge that she singularly has the opportunity to set the minds of the world (and the audience) free. But instead of a hammer flying into the digital visage of Big Brother, you have Willow Smith, recent Jay-Z signee and 10-year-old girl wonder, whipping paint around the room with her hair.
The video's a good fit for the song. Willow Smith is a new breed of young popster, a relatively talented young vocalist whose success is seemingly free of nepotism and stereotypically exploitative "beauty pageant" childrearing. Her parents are Will Smith and Jada Pinkett, famous entertainers who wouldn't need their child to be successful in the family business. Something gives me the feeling that "Whip Your Hair" is less manufactured than most pop radio singles, even if it was written by people other than her (Ronald "Jukebox" Jackson and Janae Rockwell).
It's a genuine hit (she reached number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, making her the youngest artist to land at that point) and for good reason. The song builds on Rihanna's formula for pervasive pop, a spunky, confident vocal with crunk rap drum programming, great melodic cues and a schoolyard clap-a-long bridge. It has more hooks than many similar songs on the radio combined with a performance that belies her age in a way that's reminiscent of Michael Jackson.
As an adult music journalist, the video is slightly hard to watch. You can't shake the connotations that modern music video direction is inherently connected to, even when watching a 10-year-old girl shake her hair around. The editing and costuming are subtly sexualized. I recently had an argument about this song's merit where my contrarian friend considered the video to be a new Shirley Temple concept, subconsciously implying something far less wholesome.
But consider the other side of today's youth revolt, the Californian rappers of the Odd Future Wolf Gang. Indebted to Eminem's early horrorcore, the Neptunes and electronic underground rap, they have fashioned an appealing lifestyle brand through free album downloads and viral videos. One particular video ("Earl" by lead rapper Earl Sweatshirt) features them allegedly drinking a blended mixture of drugs and malt liquor, skateboarding around LA, bleeding from their nipples and having seizures. The group's youngest members are 16.
Despite their youth, they seem well aware of the major label shell game and the people around every corner looking for fresh young meat to keep their company afloat. A post about an upcoming December 1 homecoming show tells their young fans to get tickets before the press because they are "Pedophiles And They Just Want To Fuck Us." During the group's highly anticipated show at NYC's Webster Hall, leader Tyler, The Creator exclaimed, "Fuck every label and magazine in here."
The music isn't bad either. Conceptually, it's typical shock rap (ultraviolence and rape jokes) but with a higher technical acumen than most rappers 20 years their senior. Their production choices, mostly handled by Tyler, usually eschew pop-rap standards, such as the cycling creepy thump of "Tina" (which is about hanging out at the mall and eating chips) and Earl's massive verse over Rich Boy's "A Milli"-baiting "Drop."
Tyler recently had a fit on Twitter about his mom finding out about his rap career. Even if the content isn't exactly something you want to share during Christmas dinner, the achievement is valuable nonetheless. Tyler and his crew have labels outbidding each other to be the corporate face of Odd Future, which is certainly something his mother should be proud of. V
Roland Pemberton is a musician and writer, as well as Edmonton's Poet Laureate. His music column appears in Vue Weekly on the last Thursday of each month.