Whip My Hair

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"Whip My Hair"
Whip My Hair Single Cover.jpg
Single by Willow
ReleasedOctober 26, 2010 (2010-10-26)
RecordedWillow Smith's home Calabasas, CA
LabelRoc Nation
  • Ronald Jackson
  • Janae Ratliff
  • Jukebox & Obanga
  • 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 song was written by Ronald "Jukebox" Jackson and Janae Luann Ratliff, with the former producing the track as well.[1] Initial reception of the song praised the song's kid-friendly, yet universal appeal, while dubbing Smith "baby Rihanna."[citation needed] However, other critics called the song's hook "grating" and "a nightmare of a brain drill."[2][3] The official remix featuring British rapper Tinie Tempah was released on January 3, 2011.


In the summer of 2010, Smith's mother, Jada Pinkett Smith, revealed on Lopez Tonight that her daughter was recording an album.[4] On September 27, 2010, Smith's single was leaked onto the Internet[5][6] Time magazine, CNN, and Billboard all covered the song the evening it surfaced.[7][8][9] The effort was applauded by several celebrities on Twitter, including Ciara, Brandy, Solange Knowles, Britney Spears, and Alfredo Flores.[10]


"...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"[11]

Lyrically the song is about letting loose, being as wild as can be, while she asks ladies to "whip their hair" and "shake haters off".[12][13] 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."[14]

"Whip My Hair" is a high-tempo R&B[13]-hip hop[4][12] piece incorporating dance-pop[8] and crunk,[15] with funk and disco influences.[15][16] The song is said to be composed in an "eclectic" style, and makes use of heavy synthesizers and drums.[14] Smith's vocals are auto-tuned in some parts,[13] while containing keyboard washes over a drum-heavy[7] beat described as "propulsive" and "futuristic".[17] The song features a knocking beat, including the vocal refrain of "I whip my hair back and forth". Some critics have deemed the song too similar to Smith's musical influence Rihanna.[7] Additionally, others said the song was similar to the style of Rihanna contemporaries Ciara and Keri Hilson,[10] with a hip hop feel similar to Lil Mama.[18] Gina Serpe of E! Online called the track a fourth-grade version of Rihanna and Hilson.[4]

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.

The track has received polarized reviews. 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,[10] and Daniela Capistrano of MTV News calling it a "kid-friendly club banger".[11] Kennedy commented, "don't let her age fool you; the song packs serious punch."[10] Capistrano said that the song's "crazy" beat works on the schoolyard and dancefloor.[5] 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."[4] Tim Stack of Entertainment Weekly commended the song, complimenting the production value, stating the song was "Lil Mama meets Rihanna".[19] 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.[12] 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".[13] BET Sound Off blog commented that Smith had more personality on the track than fellow artists three times her age.[16] Melinda Newman of HitFix complimented Smith's "competent" singing voice.[20]

Chart performance[edit]

Prior to radio add dates and release, the song collected greatest gainer recognitions on the US Rap Songs chart.[21] On the week ending September 25, 2010 the song debuted at number 60 on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.[22][23] It jumped to number 38 on that same chart in the following week. It has so far peaked at number five.[24] "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.[25][26] It has sold over 1,216,000 digital copies in the US alone.[27] On December 8, 2010, "Whip My Hair" debuted on the UK Midweeks at number 1,[28] but on December 12, 2010, it was beaten to the top by The Black Eyed Peas with "The Time (Dirty Bit)".[29]

Music video[edit]

Background and release[edit]

Smith filmed the song's accompanying music video in Los Angeles the week of September 20, 2010.[30] Ray Kay, known for Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" and Justin Bieber's "Baby", among others, was to direct the clip.[30] 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."[30] 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.[30][31] 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!"[32]

A teaser video released on September 16, 2010 received 1.2 million views prior to the release of the official music video. 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.[33] Before the video received its official premieres, it was leaked online, and RocNation removed all unauthorized clips. Just a day after release, the video had reportedly garnered over 100,000 views on YouTube.[34]


The video begins in a futuristic cafeteria with kids, dubbed the "Warriorettes",[35] sitting down at tables wearing all white while the tables and walls are gray.[36] 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.[37] 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.[36] 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. 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,[38] teachers, janitor, elderly lady, and toddler dance.[36] 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 more B.S.".[32]


Natalie Finn of E! Online commended the video for being "sassy, yet kid friendly".[39] 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."[40] 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."[41] 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!"[42] Also, a Celebuzz writer said that Smith "kills it with some seriously fierce bling, dance moves and, of course, intense hair whipping".[43] 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.[20]

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".[44] 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".[45] 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."[46] 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."[47] 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".[48] The video was nominated for "Video of the Year" and "Outstanding Music Video" at the 2011 BET Awards and NAACP Image Awards respectively.[49][50]

Live performances[edit]

Smith performed the song for the first time live on November 2, 2010 on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.[51] 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.[52] Later she performed the song on March 1, 2011 on The Oprah Winfrey Show,[53] on April 3, 2011 at the 2011 Kids Choice Awards[54] and on April 25, 2011 at the 2011 White House Easter Egg Roll.[55] She also performed the song as an opening act on the United Kingdom leg of Justin Bieber's My World Tour.[56]

Cultural impact[edit]

In September 2010, a fan-made mash-up of the video and a Sesame Street segment appeared online. 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.[48] 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." The mash-up uses different shots in the show's segment paired with "Whip My Hair" to act as a music video. 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.[48] 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."[48] 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".[48]

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.[57]

In 2011, fictional music group The Chipettes recorded a cover version titled "Whip My Tail" for the film Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked and its soundtrack.[citation needed]

In 2013, the song was used as a "lip-sync for your life" song on the fifth season of RuPaul's Drag Race, during the seventh episode "RuPaul Roast". Contestants Alyssa Edwards and Roxxxy Andrews were in the bottom two after failing the challenge. After a double wig trick from Andrews, an energetic performance from Edwards and an emotional breakdown from Andrews, both contestants were saved from elimination. RuPaul has gone on to say that this performance was his favorite lip-sync ever.[citation needed]

Track listing[edit]

  • Digital download[58]
  1. "Whip My Hair" – 3:16
  2. "Whip My Hair" (Remix) ft. Nicki Minaj - 3:27
  • UK digital download[59]
  1. "Whip My Hair" – 3:13
  2. "Whip My Hair" (music video) – 3:54
  • EP – digital download[60]
  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[61]
  1. "Whip My Hair" (album version) – 3:13
  2. "Whip My Hair" (Warriorettes Mix) – 3:17

Charts and certifications[edit]

Release history[edit]

Region Date Format
United States September 21, 2010 Urban airplay[90]
October 12, 2010 Mainstream airplay[91]
October 26, 2010 Digital download[58]
United Kingdom December 5, 2010 Digital download[92]
December 6, 2010 CD single[92]
Germany January 14, 2011 CD single[61]


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