"Daddy, I just want to be 12."
That's what Will Smith's daughter, Willow, told him earlier this year when she decided to bow out of the title role in a new production of the musical Annie. She had been excited about the role, especially since Jay Z and Beyoncé were going to be involved with the music. But the elder Smith said in a February speech in Philadelphia, "Willow had such a difficult time on tour with 'Whip My Hair,' and she said, 'You know, Daddy, I don't think so.'"
Five months later, Willow's still 12. But she's singing and acting like someone considerably older in her latest song, "Summer Fling." In collaboration with DJ MVSIC Fabrega, the other half of her new duo/band dubbed Melodic Chaotic, Willow excitedly indulges a romance that she seems to know from the get-go isn't going to survive past the summer.
The first verse sets the stage: "The bright sun in the blue water/We fight less and love harder/You tell me that I'm the one/I tell you it's just for fun/ … We both say 'I love you'/But it's alright."
Willow then appropriates a British accent as she re-creates her side of the couple's first conversation: "It's nice to see you here. I was wondering if, um, I can give you my number. Oh, you're here for the summer? Oh, that's nice, maybe we can hang out sometime. I will give my number, alright. We can hang out. This will be, this will be fun. Alright, goodbye."
Said "fun" includes late nights ("We walk the beach at midnight/And watch the stars in the clear skies"), making music ("I write you a song, you play your guitar"), lots of handholding ("We hold hands for too long") and, it would seem, even a carefree make-out session on the sand ("Don't really care what we do tonight/Goodnight kiss, till the mood is right/Laying by the beach with you, wishing this would never end").
And then another reminder that this relationship isn't going to make it past August: "It's just a couple months, but we do it anyway/It's only for the summer, but we do it anyway."
In the end, it's back to that British accent as Willow tells her temporary beach beau, "You know, it was nice, the summer fling. Yeah, well, thank you. Thank you so much. Goodnight, goodnight." (The phrase "Do it anyway" repeats over and over again.)
You remember that Willow's 12, right?
And with the video tossed into the mix, things get a tad more sensual. Willow cozies up to a young man who seems several years older. They (along with another couple) trade googly eyes and caresses. Images of her and her friends reveal a bunch of girls (many of whom are wearing bikinis and seem older as well) goofing off at the beach, at a pool party and on a trampoline.
Innocent twitterpation? Cute puppy love? That's the way some music critics are reading it. But more than a handful of others are noting that the tween singer is navigating a very adult-seeming relationship with few if any boundaries being set on their romance—a relationship that could easily and quickly progress past handholding and kisses.
Human behavior expert Patrick Wanis told Fox News, "Willow is singing about having sex, and this is totally inappropriate and not in line with the developmental physical, mental or emotional stages of a 12-year-old girl who is barely an adolescent; the video reveals that she is still a little girl—not a teenager. She is not mature enough mentally or emotionally to be boasting that she and her 'fling' are walking 'the beach at midnight.'" He added, "Her parents are being irresponsible and verging on negligent by failing to fulfill their role as parents—to guide their daughter and set boundaries and limits for her. While children might rebel, they actually need boundaries, discipline, guidance and wisdom. And the Smiths are obviously not doing that."
Willow may sincerely "just want to be 12." But her ideas about what being 12 looks like in this song and video are more representative of 19. (And not a very cautious or chaste 19 either.)
A postscript: In the process of researching this song, I checked out Willow Smith's official online homepage, a Spartan affair that includes what it identifies as links to her Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr pages. Not all of those destinations appear to be record-label-approved "official," to say the least. But all seem to be associated with Willow in one way or another. And they are hard-linked from a page that is indisputably hers.
Clicking through to them was among the more jarring experiences I've had recently.
Among the hundreds of pictures on the Tumblr page were some you'd expect—pictures of Willow and a shot of a cake with the words "Sorry 4 Being Fabulous, for example—and scores that I didn't expect. These included multiple images of topless women; an explicit drawing of a couple having sex; a short video of two people kissing passionately; a lit marijuana joint wrapped in strawberry rolling paper; bikini clad models flashing their middle fingers; and people smoking (including Rihanna).
On the Twitter landing page, images of obscene gestures coated the background behind posts along the lines of "I don't know what rude is I speak my mind." So thinking I might have hit on a bad Web link or even an ugly hack job, I doubled back to Willow's official Roc Nation-overseen FB page. It had a link to her "personal twitter" page … the exact one I was just on. Willow included this clarifying note with the link: "i'm not getting hacked right now.. i promise."
In a recent interview with People magazine, Willow's mom, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, said of her parental philosophy, "I think that old-school style of, 'I'm your parent, and I'm greater than you,' doesn't work. What I establish with my children is a partnership. I'm not necessarily dictating what is happening in their lives."
A quick glance at Willow's Web presence would seem to illustrate that point.