Whip My Hair

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"Whip My Hair"
Single by Willow
from the album Knees and Elbows
Released October 26, 2010
(see release history)
Format CD single, digital download
Recorded January 2010
Genre Dance-pop, hip hop, crunk
Length 3:14
Label Columbia, Roc Nation
Writer(s) Ronald Jackson, Janae Rockwell
Producer(s) Jukebox & Obanga; vocals produced by Tim Carter
Willow singles chronology
"Whip My Hair"
"21st Century Girl"

"Whip My Hair" is the debut single by American recording artist Willow Smith, the daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. The song will be included on her upcoming debut album, Knees and Elbows. The song was written by Janae Rockwell and Ronald "Jukebox" Jackson, with the latter producing the track.[2]

While attending events[vague], Smith received media attention for her extravagant outfits compared to Rihanna, whom she later credited as a musical influence.[relevant? ] Coincidentally, it leaked on the Internet the same day as Rihanna's "Only Girl (In the World)"[relevant? ] and the song was covered by numerous media outlets, including Time, Billboard, and CNN the day of its release. Initial reception praised the song's kid-friendly, yet universal appeal, while dubbing Smith "baby Rihanna". However, other critics called the song's hook "grating" and "a nightmare of a brain drill."[3][4]

Soon after the song's debut, it was officially announced that Smith signed a record deal with Jay-Z and Roc Nation.[relevant? ] The song impacted urban airplay on September 21, 2010.[dubious ] It was released digitally on October 26, 2010. Prior to radio add dates and release, the song collected greatest gainer recognitions on the Rap Songs chart, and on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. It would later go on to reach number eleven on the US Billboard Hot 100, and reach the top five on the US R&B chart. It reached the top twenty in several international markets, including the United Kingdom, where it debuted at number two, meanwhile topping the UK R&B Chart. The song's accompanying music video features a colorful concept in which Smith dons several hairstyles which act as paintbrushes to enliven a school. Since going viral, the song became an Internet meme.[citation needed] The official remix featuring British rapper Tinie Tempah was released on January 3, 2011.[5] An unofficial remix featuring a verse from rapper Nicki Minaj surfaced on the Internet in 2010.[importance?] The guest vocals were taken from Pearl Future's 2009 song "Lookin' at Me."[6]


Prior to the song's release, Smith garnered media attention as a "young fashionista",[7] sharing a team of stylists with one of her fashion influences, singer Rihanna.[8] In the summer of 2010, Smith's mother, Jada Pinkett Smith, revealed on Lopez Tonight that her daughter was recording an album.[9] On September 27, 2010, Smith's single was leaked onto the Internet, dominating blogs[dubious ][not specific enough to verify] and media outlets.[not specific enough to verify][better source needed][10] The song sparked comparisons to Rihanna, earning Smith the nickname "baby Rihanna" on Twitter.[importance?][11] Coincidentally, the song was leaked the same day Rihanna premiered her single "Only Girl (In the World)".[12] Time magazine, CNN, and Billboard all covered the song the evening of its surface.[7][13][14] The effort was applauded by several celebrities on Twitter, including Ciara, Brandy, Solange Knowles, Britney Spears, and Alfredo Flores.[15]

"She has an energy and enthusiasm about her music that is truly infectious. It's rare to find an artist with such innate talent and creativity at such a young age. She's just a wealth of information and ideas. She has child innocence but she has a clear vision of what she wants and who she wants to be."[relevant? ]

—Jay-Z on Willow Smith.[16]

Rumor spread online that rapper Jay-Z, who also introduced Rihanna, was prepping to sign to Roc Nation.[17] Two days after the song's surfacing, Smith, her mother, and Jay-Z appeared on On Air with Ryan Seacrest confirming that Smith had signed with Roc Nation. Jay-Z also released a statement, calling the young singer a "superstar", welcoming her to the Roc Nation family.[18][relevant? ] The rapper called the song a hit[relevant? ], revealing that the record was presented to him without knowing of her age or parentage.[16] He was enthused after learning the whole story, saying "everything went from there".[16] The rapper and singer first met in Japan when she was traveling with her family promoting her brother Jaden Smith's film, The Karate Kid.[relevant? ][16] At that moment, Jay-Z said, he knew she was a star, commenting, "I believe in superstars. I believe in big records and superstars, and I think she has both."[unbalanced opinion][16] He went on to compare Smith to Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, who both started their music careers at the age of eight and had broad appeal.[importance?][16] Jay-Z called her "a wealth of ideas", who "has child innocence but she has a clear vision of what she wants and who she wants to be".[importance?][16] Additionally, Jada Pinkett Smith said, "After meeting with several record companies, it was clear that Jay-Z, Ty Ty, Jay Brown and the Roc Nation staff was the unquestionable choice.[importance?] Their passion for Willow combined with their boundless vision and artistic integrity made Roc Nation the perfect home for our little girl."[importance?][18] The singer herself responded, calling everything "overwhelming", but credited values instilled by her parents.[16][importance?]



"...it means just be an individual. Like, you can't be afraid to be yourself. You have to be yourself, and you can't let anyone tell you that that's wrong."

—Willow Smith on the lyrics of "Whip My Hair"[16]

Lyrically the song is about letting loose, having fun and being full of swagger, while she asks ladies to "whip their hair" and "shake haters off".[17][19] The lyrics have motivational undertones, speaking of self-love and assurance, and referring to letting your hair down as a representation of this in parts like the line, "Keep fighting until I get there, when I'm down and I feel like giving up/I whip my hair back and forth, I whip it, I whip it real good."[20]


A sample of the song, featuring the line, "Don't let haters keep me off my grind."

Problems playing this file? See media help.

"Whip My Hair" is a high-tempo R&B[19]-hip-hop[9][17] piece incorporating dance-pop[13] and crunk,[21] with funk and disco influences.[21][22] The song is said to be composed in an "eclectic" style, and makes use of heavy synthesizers and drums.[20] Smith's vocals are auto-tuned in some parts,[19] while containing keyboard washes over a drum-heavy[7] beat described as "propulsive" and "futuristic".[23] The song features a knocking beat, including the vocal refrain of "I whip my hair back and forth". Some critics have compared the song heavily to Smith's musical influence Rihanna.[7][24] Additionally, others said the song was similar to the style of Rihanna contemporaries Ciara and Keri Hilson,[15] with a hip hop feel similar to Lil Mama.[25] Gina Serpe of E! Online called the track a fourth-grade version of Rihanna and Hilson.[9]

Critical reception[edit]

According to critics, the song took influence from a number of other artists, namely Rihanna (pictured). Comparisons to the Barbadian singer earned Smith the nickname "baby Rihanna" after the song's leak.

A main point critics attributed to the song was its ability to be kid-friendly, yet appeal to all music listeners, with Gerrick Kennedy of The Los Angeles Times calling the song radio, club, and recess-friendly,[15] and Daniela Capistrano of MTV News calling it a "kid-friendly club banger".[16] Kennedy commented, "don't let her age fool you; the song packs serious punch."[15] Capistrano said that the song's "crazy" beat works on the schoolyard and dancefloor.[10] Commenting that the song was age-appropriate, Gina Serpe of E! Online said, that accomplishment was commendable, stating, "it's got to be a bit of a battle finding material suitable for someone still in the single-digits."[9] Tim Stack of Entertainment Weekly commended the song, complimenting the production value, stating the song was "Lil Mama meets Rihanna".[26] CBC said while the song may not be deep, it was the best to be expected from a "fourth grade fashionista", commenting the track was more "schoolyard friendly" than any music released by Miley Cyrus.[17] The Guardian described the track as "a pretty good R&B belter in the same vein as Rihanna, all heavily treated vocals and huge juddering beats".[19] BET Sound Off blog commented that Smith had more personality on the track than fellow artists three times her age.[22] Bill Lamb of About.com said that the song was "not only quality music for a nine year old, but it is also solid, catchy R&B / pop that will appeal to a wide range of music fans".[27] Melinda Newman of HitFix complimented Smith's "competent" singing voice.[28]

Chart performance[edit]

Prior to radio add dates and release, the song collected greatest gainer recognitions on the US Rap Songs chart.[29] On the week ending September 25, 2010 the song debuted at number 60 on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.[30][31] It jumped to number 38 on that same chart in the following week. It has so far peaked at number five.[32] "Whip My Hair" debuted at number 78 on the Billboard Hot 100 the week of October 28, 2010 and moved up to number 11 the next week.[33][34] It has sold over 1,216,000 digital copies in the US alone.[35] On December 8, 2010, "Whip My Hair" debuted on the UK Midweeks at number 1,[36] but on December 12, 2010, it was beaten to the top by The Black Eyed Peas with "The Time (Dirty Bit)".[37]

Music video[edit]

Background and release[edit]

Smith filmed the song's accompanying music video in Los Angeles the week of September 20, 2010.[38] Ray Kay, known for Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" and Justin Bieber's "Baby", among others, was to direct the clip.[38] In an interview with Rap-Up, Kay said "I'm certain people that are watching the video will feel inspired to develop their own individuality and freedom and express their own art after seeing Willow in this video."[38] Kay also confirmed that the shooting would take two days, and require a lot from Smith, but said, the director was confident that Smith would "kill it" in front of the camera.[38][39] Later, Kay commented to Rap-Up in a separate piece, "I think this video will be considered iconic in the future. Willow is definitely here to stay, she's a superstar. I think we managed to create a fresh expression using Willow's amazing energy, a positive and inspiring concept, and mixing the colors of the sets with Willow's fashion, which consisted of custom-made clothing and exclusive One Z jumpsuits. She's a trendsetter already and I'm sure others will be copying her style soon!"[40]

A teaser video released on September 16, 2010 received 1.2 million views prior to the release of the official music video.[41] The video premiered on October 18, 2010, with Vevo hosting its online premiere, and its first televised airing during Smith's appearance on 106 & Park.[42] Before the video received its official premieres, it was leaked online, and RocNation removed all unauthorized clips.[41] Just a day after release, the video had reportedly garnered over 100,000 views on YouTube.[43]


The video begins in a futuristic cafeteria with kids, dubbed the "Warriorettes",[44] sitting down at tables wearing all white while the tables and walls are gray.[45] Smith then enters the room in colorful attire, including a blue vest, orange pants and a belt with her name on it, while donning rhinestones on her lips and extravagant nail tips.[46] With her braids shaped to form a heart, she carries a boombox filled with paint and plays it while undoing her braids and dipping them into paint inside the stereo, using her hair as a paintbrush and enlivening the atmosphere with colors.[45] Smith then performs dance moves and gets the classroom involved, which is intercut with the singer now donning a colorful mohawk, performing choreography with dancers with blue shirts in front of a light blue backdrop. She alternates different hairstyles, and then walks down a hallway with her backup dancers, donning a cotton candy-esque hairstyle. She further whips her hair to give color to the lockers and students' attire, before performing extensive choreography with the hallway students. Midway, Smith and her dancers perform a dance routine with music not in the original song.[41] The last scenes involves Smith with puff braids and in a yellow jumpsuit with her backup dancers in a different classroom trying to get them to dance, which is intercut with previous paint-splashing scenes, as the students, including her brother Jaden,[47] teachers, janitor, elderly lady, and toddler dance.[45] A writer for Rap-Up said that Smith "is in a class of her own in the breakout video for her empowering anthem", calling the video "the birth of a star".[40]


Natalie Finn of E! Online commended the video for being "sassy, yet kid friendly".[48] Carina Adly MacKenzie of Zap2it said while the song took everyone by surprise, that the video was "even more awesome", commenting, "we probably shouldn't be shocked that Willow has more charisma in her pinky finger than half the artists twice her age."[49] Ryan Brockington of The New York Post reviewed the video positively, stating, "great thing about the video is that director Ray Kay kept it very young and colorful, the complete opposite of the very grown up sounding track."[50] A Popeater writer said that the video "has transcended from Jada and Will Smith's 9-year-old kiddo to a legitimate star", stating, "the video stacks up to the incredibly catchy, Rihanna-sounding song with killer outfits, fun classroom dance pieces and, yes, tons of hair whipping -- with paint!"[51] Also, a Celebuzz writer said that Smith "kills it with some seriously fierce bling, dance moves and, of course, intense hair whipping".[52] Bill Lamb of About.com said in the video Smith had "seasoned energy" that was "stunning".[27] Commenting that Smith had the attitude of a "full-blown teen", Melinda Newman of HitFix commented, "As Miley Cyrus gets ready to become an adult, we can fill that spot with Willow", complimenting her charisma.[28]

Matt Cherrete of Chris Ryan of MTV Buzzworthy said the video lived up to the "energy" and "power" of the track, commenting that it contained the "most inspiring and awesome youth power dancing, hair whipping and floor stomping that you're going to see all day".[53] Matt Donnelly of The Los Angeles Times said with the release, the singer "introduces to us a pre-preteen firecracker who lives up to her impeccable breeding and perhaps takes the legacy one step further".[54] Admitting she originally dismissed the song and a video concept, due to her quick rise to fame and the oversexualized image of pop music already, Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly commented, "his clip is about to put a boom in the chiropracting industry (with possible ancillary benefits for housepaint), because girl can snap it."[55] Billy Johnson, Jr. of Yahoo! Music said among the many dancers in the clip, Smith "shines as the clear breakout star", calling the video a "smash", and commenting "she pulls it off without need for cameo appearances from her famous parents."[56] Veronica Miller of NPR that it wasn't the hairstyles that made the clip, but "the sheer fearlessness with which young Willow is singing, dancing and whipping", stating she has "just enough sass and pluck and confidence to hold our attention and leave us wanting more".[57] The video was nominated for "Video of the Year" and "Outstanding Music Video" at the 2011 BET Awards and NAACP Image Awards respectively.[58][59]

Live performances[edit]

Smith performed the song for the first time live on November 2, 2010 on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.[60] Smith again performed the song on December 6, 2010 at the LA Live Tree Lighting, and on December 31, 2010 at Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest.[61] Later she performed the song on March 1, 2011 on The Oprah Winfrey Show,[62] on April 3, 2011 at the 2011 Kids Choice Awards[63] and on April 25, 2011 at the 2011 White House Easter Egg Roll.[64] She also performed the song as an opening act on the United Kingdom leg of Justin Bieber's My World Tour.[65]

Cultural impact[edit]

In September 2010, a fan-made mash-up of the video and a Sesame Street segment appeared online.[41] The original Sesame Street clip featured a puppet portrayed as a young black girl proud of her hair. She flails her braids, cornrows, afro, and other ethnic hairstyles.[57] According to the show's writer, Joey Mazzarino, the song was a tribute to his Ethiopian daughter's hair, writing it, stating that he wanted to say, "Your hair is great. You can put it in ponytails. You can put it in cornrows. I wish I had hair like you."[41] The mash-up uses different shots in the show's segment paired with "Whip My Hair" to act as a music video.[41] During the week of release of the "Whip My Hair" video, the Sesame Street clip also went viral. Veronica Miller of NPR commented that with both clips, "little black girls are having the best week ever", noting the rarity that "little African-American girls are publicly celebrated for their uniqueness and beauty", due to non-positive comments about their physical appearance, making them question individual and collective beauty.[57] On the single's video, Miller said, "Little Willow is operating with a sort of empowerment that grown women can sense, admire, and in some cases, envy", stating, "not many girls are taught that it's OK to openly love and affirm yourself."[57] Noting that the norm is not to be "sassy" or "cute", she said that "Whip My Hair" is "a celebration of little girls celebrating themselves".[57]

On the November 16, 2010 episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon the song was covered in an acoustic folk/country style by Jimmy Fallon in character as Neil Young. Fallon/Young was accompanied by that evening's musical guest Bruce Springsteen, who was dressed in parody of himself from the mid-1970s.[66] The song has become an Internet meme, spawning many spoofs and parodies.[citation needed]

Cover versions[edit]

The Chipettes covered this song for the Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked: Music from the Motion Picture album and for the Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked movie. The only lyric changed was from the word "Hair" to "Tail".

Comedian Jimmy Fallon, doing an impression of Neil Young, sang a duet of the song with Bruce Springsteen on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Katy Perry performed the song during her 2011/12 California Dreams Tour in a medley she made up with "Only Girl (In the World)" / Big Pimpin'" / "Whip My Hair".

Track listing[edit]

  • Digital download[67]
  1. "Whip My Hair" – 3:13
  • UK digital download[68]
  1. "Whip My Hair" – 3:13
  2. "Whip My Hair" (music video) – 3:54
  • EP – digital download[69]
  1. "Whip My Hair" – 3:13
  2. "Whip My Hair" (Warriorettes Mix) – 3:17
  3. "Whip My Hair" (music video) – 3:54
  • German CD single[70]
  1. "Whip My Hair" (album version) – 3:13
  2. "Whip My Hair" (Warriorettes Mix) – 3:17
  • Cover Indonesian
  1. "Sekar - Whip My Hair" - 3:27