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'Whip My Hair' and 'Sesame Street': A power ballad* for black hair


One of the perks of being a celebrity's child is that easy entrance into stardom. Willow Smith officially made the leap yesterday with her video release of her first single, titled "Whip My Hair."

The video was so heavily anticipated, Roc Nation had to scramble Monday afternoon to get unauthorized copies off the Internet before its official debut on BET that evening. The video's release comes after over a month of building radio play, millions of YouTube listens, and even a "teaser" video with still shots of Willow. That teaser video got more than 1.2 million YouTube hits.
Yes, still images of a 9-year-old.

The moving-image video is eye-catching, if not seizure-inducing. It's got kids of all ages and colors "whipping" their hair (or spinning their necks to and fro dangerously fast) in a dreary gray classroom turned colorful dancehall. There's a step-routine breakdown just about halfway through. A hair heart. And a dancing baby.
You need to see it for yourself:

It's already led to countless parodies and remixes online, especially this impeccable "Sesame Street" "remix":

The mash-up with "Sesame Street" highlights one aspect of Willow Smith's song: It's a black girl proudly declaring her love for her hair.

(Read one mother's poetic farewell to the ritual of styling her daughter's hair.)

The original "Sesame Street" song "I Love My Hair" was a father's tribute to his Ethiopian daughter's hair.

Joey Mazzarino, the head writer of "Sesame Street," told NPR he wrote the song to say what he tells his daughter: "Your hair is great. You can put it in ponytails. You can put it in cornrows. I wish I had hair like you."

Smith's song can be seen as a maturation of that song. When watching the two videos side by side, they really are similar even in their presentation: The two girls bounce around with different hairstyles. Just give the muppet some paint and you'd have the same video.

Well, maybe not the same video. There are some significant differences. Namely, Smith is also sporting a pouty diamond lip design that looks similar to a lip ring. Her nails are elaborate, long designs. At one point, it looks like Jada Smith, her mother, walks on to the video in high heels and dances with the crowd of children, but at first glance the high-heeled woman could be Willow Smith. Smith's throaty singing voice also comes off well beyond her years, much likely due to that ever helpful auto-tune.

Age-appropriateness aside, the message is a solid one: go on and whip your hair back and forth. We know you want to.

*Sam Sanders wants it to be known the song is not technically a power ballad. "Ballads are Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, chest-thumping, my heart-will-go-on ballads. This song is too fast to be a ballad." Whatever, Sam. The title's already been written.

By Melissa Bell and Sam Sanders  | October 19, 2010; 7:59 AM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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