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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Jaden and Willow Smith on their famous parents, new clothing line, and being inspired by Dubai

In a surreal encounter in the world's tallest building, Will Smith's celebrity offspring talk inspiration, fame, yoga, social media - and changing the world.
Jaden Smith, left, and Willow Smith during the DSS press conference at Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
Jaden Smith, left, and Willow Smith during the DSS press conference at Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

The 112th floor of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa was a fitting place to encounter Jaden and Willow Smith – two teenagers whose ambitions are sky high.

The party planner seemed to share this thinking. To mark the celebrity siblings’s arrival, the bright new event space was fitted out with hanging plastic clouds and helium balloons. A DJ dropped loud hip-hop beats. It felt more like waiting for a concert than an interview.

The offspring of Hollywood superstars Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, Jaden, 17, and Willow, 14, emerge, fewer than 10 minutes late – that’s early in celeb-speak – wide-eyed and welcoming, ready to meet the media.

“Wow, this is crazy,” exclaims Jaden, looking down at the view. “I’m blessed to be here – everything is amazing, amazing.”

Dubai’s road network “looks like the arteries of a human body”, declares Willow.

Before they’re allowed to plump down on the cloud-shaped sofa – a special purchase? – the PR team demand the siblings host an organised selfie session with the assembled journalists. Because, “in Dubai we like to do selfies,” declares the MC. She’s right – only a few cynics hold back.

Five minutes later they sit, and suddenly without a word Jaden begins spontaneously beat-boxing. Willow begins to wail over the top. Media types clap confusedly, as best they can while holding microphones and notepads.

Before our exclusive one-on-one, the Smiths take questions – banal, irreverent, edgy, probing – all answered alike, with the same guileless exuberance.

“Anything we want to do, we do it,” says Jaden. So far “anything” includes Hollywood movies, such as Jaden’s starring role in 2010 The Karate Kid remake, and hit records; Willow’s debut single Whip My Hair was streamed 100 million times – she was 9 at the time. On the wishlist is a movie shot in the UAE.

“All the movies I’ve seen shot in Dubai always look so cool,” exclaims Jaden, “so I definitely want to accomplish that.”

The siblings don’t rub off each other as much as compete for attention, excitedly interrupting to be heard, unselfconsciously self-indulgent in their frequently oblique flow.

“Even if we weren’t famous, we’d still be as weird and crazy as we are now,” says Willow.

It’s hard to believe. Both got their first break acting alongside their father – Jaden in 2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness, at the age of 8, and Willow a year later in I Am Legend, at the age of 6. Jaden also starred alongside Daddy in 2013’s After Earth.

“I forget my parents are famous every single day,” claims Jaden.

Willow finishes his thought: “It’s really just like our own light shines through.”

Something which does shine through is the 27-month age gap – Jaden is the more capable media operator. Asked about resuming his relationship with Kylie Jenner he offers a polite but firm “absolutely no comment”.

Willow is the more spiritual of the two. She’s confident they will avoid all the burnt-out, Bieber-esque clichés associated with child stars, because “there’s a certain level of awareness that comes with certain people”.

Meditation is a key influence. “Yoga really grounds me to the Earth, which helps me have more spiritual experiences to sing in my songs,” she says.

“If I don’t make music my emotions will literally explode, in all sorts of ways, and this is my way of channelling them.”

As well as acting and music, the pair design clothes. Jaden appears wearing a torn white T-shirt with “Dubai” written in Arabic – one of three ­limited-edition designs the siblings created specially for their visit, which were on sale while they were here, with the proceeds going to charity.

“We’re totally inspired by Dubai,” he says. “I just had to make this shirt to show how much I love being here and everything that goes on here.”

The pair’s clothing line MSFTsrep is also confusingly the name of the music/fashion/technology umbrella they founded.

The brand’s mission statement? To “raise the consciousness,” says Willow. “And change the world as soon as possible,” adds Jaden.

“We’re going to drop a whole MSFTsrep album and when we do, we’ll definitely come back to Dubai to perform it,” declares Jaden. Met with appreciative applause, he riffs on the theme, adding: “Every album we release we’re going to come back and perform and chill, and release clothes and stuff.”

As well as “releasing products to change the world”, both siblings hold a tremendous weight over their peers thanks to social media. Every tweet Willow addresses to her 3.7 million followers is “the most true thing that I’ve ever experienced”,

Nothing so personal from Jaden. His 5.7 million followers are left deliberately confounded by incomprehensible headline-grabbing platitudes he admits to stealing uncredited from “ancient books”, that “people think are the craziest thing they’ve heard, because they don’t read books”.

Following a few more similar bombshells, after 25 minutes the MC interrupts to announce time is up. Suddenly everybody in the room starts to clap – that doesn’t normally happen at press conferences.

rgarratt@thenational.ae

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