I’ve been trying to be more open-minded.
I fucked up with Yung Lean. I dismissed him too early. I was like, “Alright, even if this dude makes good music, the only reason people are paying attention is because he’s a Swedish kid rapping about Arizona Iced Tea and being sad in awkwardly ridiculous music videos. No matter how good he is, there is irony at the heart of it, and I don’t want to be a part of that.”
Slowly but surely, Yung Lean won me over, and “Ghosttown” was the breaking point when I finally realized that I actually like Yung Lean. There are still some things I don’t like about him, but I genuinely enjoy listening to a handful of his songs, and I can see now that the interest in Lean is deeper than gimmicks.
Lately, I’ve been listening Jaden Smith’s new songs and feeling weird about it. Part of why I’m feeling weird is because he’s Will Smith’s son. That’s unfair, but so is the advantage that Jaden has. It has me thinking, “If he was just some nobody, with no access to studios and producers and major platforms and all that, would anyone be listening?”
Another part of it is that I can still remember when he looked like this:
That shouldn’t matter either, but it’s just hard to wrap my head around it. I still think of him as a child.
And then there’s his Twitter account. It reminds me of the poems I used to write in middle school, And It’s All Presented Like This. It just feels like he’s trying too hard to be deep.
But you know what happens when you try really hard? Sometimes, you figure it out. Jaden Smith isn’t trying to make pop hits. He’s not trying to be the hardest, or the most accessible, or the most technically skilled. Jaden Smith is trying to express himself. And he’s figuring out how to do it effectively.
He’s embraced his quirks, he’s finding his style, and he’s growing up. In the process, he’s encountered some awkwardness (haven’t we all?) but he’s starting to create some genuinely interesting things.
For all the benefits he has, Jaden Smith is also dealing with some serious disadvantages. We’ve seen Jaden as an awkward pre-teen. We still think of him as “Will Smith’s son.” And no matter what he does, there are going to be people (like me) who unfairly dismiss him.
Over his past few releases, I’ve started to see Jaden Smith in a new light. He’s suddenly interesting to me, and I keep going back to his recent songs, especially “Fast.” In a post-Childish Gambino world, a kid like Jaden Smith makes sense, and if he keeps progressing at this rate, dismissing him is going to be impossible. Sometimes, artists reach a turning point. Sometimes, something clicks and everything starts working in new ways. Sometimes, they figure it out.
Other times, it’s the listener who reaches that turning point.