Monday, November 8, 2010

Whip My Hair, and Get Me My Ointment

The other day I googled "Whip My Hair." I wasn’t looking for a home workout, but rather the new music video by Willow Smith, the nine year-old daughter of actor/rapper Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith. I'd heard a couple of radio DJs refer to it in glowing tones – “the hottest new dance song of the YEAR!” I pride myself on being in the know about new music, but have very little tolerance for gimmicky music acts. Still: I had to see the music video to believe it.

Willow appears like a tiny rainbow avenger in the midst of a soulless army of white-clad children sitting in a barren lunch room. She dips her three-foot long braids into cans of paint and executes the title move, to splatter the room, the children, and a teacher--who appears to have come straight from the hood of a car in a Whitesnake video--with jagged streaks of primary color. Soon the whole joint is popping and locking and shaking their heads like maracas. 

The dance itself involves, well, whipping your hair about as if you are convulsing with a condition for which there is no cure, while simultaneously doing splits and jiggling your knees back and forth. No one over 16 should do this dance without a doctor's consultation, and even with the okay of the medical establishment, it would serve you well to have a chiropractor's number handy.

Whether Willow can sing is largely irrelevant in this age of electronically-manipulated tuning; the lyrics are similarly unimportant, because they are primarily "I whip my hair back and forth" repeated infinity times. The only thing that matters is that Willow is saving these poor vanilla children from their bleak lives through her dance moves.

I'm a generation removed from Willow Smith, so I could regard this whole hair whipping phenomenon as a mere curiosity. "You call that a dance? Why, you've never seen me lindy hop!" The problem is that, underneath the machinations of a stylist and the hair and makeup team paid to make it look otherwise, Willow is the same age as my fourth grade daughter.  I have to guess that at some point in the not too distant future, she and her friends will look to Willow Smith videos for inspiration, then whip their hair at a middle school dance - and they'll be in back braces by the time they're fourteen.

This is nothing new, of course. Back in the '70s, our older siblings were going off to see Saturday Night Fever and coming home to practice The Hustle in front of the bedroom mirror. Did you know that there wasn't one definitive version of the Hustle? Thanks again to the all powerful Goog, I've learned that "The New York Hustle is slower than the Los Angeles version and has more footwork." I can tell you without a search engine's help that the version taught in middle school gym classes in Rochester, New York was no competition for either, having been watered down beyond all recognition by our permatanned skort-wearing gym teacher, Mrs. Wallace. 

No wonder our Baby Boomer older siblings laughed at us; we were modeling our Hustle moves on a middle aged recreational scratch golfer, while they'd actually seen John Travolta and his hips-on-a-turntable grace on the big screen. The only thing for my generation to do was to come up with our own dance moves, ones that even our older siblings wouldn't dare attempt. Upping the ante on the dance floor is a generational imperative.

And thus were born dances of the '80s like the Running Man, the Hammer Dance, the Sprinkler, and the Cabbage Patch. For the alcohol-fueled and creatively challenged, there was the all-purpose Slamdance - which was, essentially, about hurting yourself to the beat, using other people's bodies as the instrument of torture.  I'm sure my mother was horrified. 

Which brings me back full circle. Part of the criteria for whether a dance is going to catch fire is whether it totally freaks out the parents who gave birth to the people dancing it, so “Whip My Hair” has success written all over it. It just makes me a little worried for the grandchildren I hope to spoil one day, when they have to escalate the dance floor stakes a notch higher. “I Rip My Head Off My Neck” may sound like fun, but how do you dance it a second time?

In case you are one of the six people who hasn't seen it: Whip My Hair


  1. Kinda wanted to "Rip My Head Off My Neck" after watching the video. :-) I have to admit that it was hard to enjoy the music when all I could think about was how my 9 year old would cope with being a pop star. Yikes!

  2. I wouldn't wish it on poor Willow, but at this rate I fear she'll be spending her sophomore year of high school "boarding" at Betty Ford...

  3. In case the Willow Smith version freaks you out as much as it did me, this one may be more your speed:


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