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The podcast “Who? Weekly” occasionally includes a nepotism alert siren whenever a famous person turns out to have famous parents. There’s also the inverse, when a famous person tries really hard to make their kid famous. Audiences often see right through the latter (are we all prepared for when Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe’s kids launch their bids for stardom?) and are, sometimes, willing to forgive the former — if the famous person has been able to prove their talent (who, at this point, cares about the leg up Liza Minnelli got from her mom being Judy Garland?).
And then there are those times when people make their kids famous through sheer force of will (that’s a pun and you’ll understand it in a second). Jaden Smith, the offspring of Jada Pinkett-Smith and Will Smith (there it is!), burst into the collective consciousness as his father’s co-star in “The Pursuit of Happyness,” and thanks to a dizzying number of projects both cinematic and musical, has managed to carve out a niche for himself in pop culture without relying solely on his famous family. He acts, he raps, he sings, he has a clothing line, he has a water brand… is there anything Jaden Smith can’t or won’t do?
Here’s a look back at all of the various incarnations of the icon who brought the gold RIAA certification plaque for his song “Icon” as his date to the Met Gala, from his very first mention in People Magazine to 23 years old.
Jaden Smith was Will and Jada’s first kid
A lot of celebrities don’t hit the public consciousness until they get older and do something of note, but when you’re the first son of two super-famous celebrities, people know about you even before you’re born. Jaden Smith’s birth on July 8, 1998 was marked in People, which noted that another nepotism baby arrived that same exact day: “Stranger Things” star Maya Hawke, daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman.
The magazine also noted that Jaden’s famous parents, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, had just married on New Years, months before Jaden was born. Years later, on an episode of her Facebook Watch talk show, “Red Table Talk,” Jada recalled being able to sense Jaden’s impending arrival much earlier than most parents. “I knew the moment after the act that I was pregnant. The moment,” she insisted, noting that Will didn’t believe her. Will, a guest on that episode of the show, agreed. “It was literally four seconds after we had sex,” Will confirmed. “I was like, ‘Babe, I think scientifically, you’re not pregnant.'”
It wasn’t long before Jaden joined his parents on the red carpet, sitting comfortably on Jada’s hip in a fringed leather outfit at the premiere of Will’s 1999 film “Wild Wild West;” Jaden sucked his thumb while his mom sported a leather cowboy hat. The film hit theaters several weeks before Jaden’s first birthday.
Though the appearance isn’t even marked on his IMDb profile, Jaden Smith appeared on an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” alongside his parents, aged just three years old. The future actor, rapper, fashion icon, and all-around internet personality tagged along with Jada and Will to a taping of the talk show, and according to Jada, the pint-sized tot was backstage having a little temper tantrum while his father taped the show.
Grinning at his son, who immediately reached for his father to pick him up, Will told Oprah that his son had been begging, “I want to come do the movie with you, Daddy!” Listening to his dad do an impression of his voice, little Jaden ran his fingers through his curly hair repeatedly, smiling at the crowd bashfully.
The elder Smiths were there to promote their appearance in the Oscar-nominated Michael Mann film “Ali,” in which Will Smith played the legendary boxer Muhammed Ali and Jada portrayed Sonji Roi, the boxer’s ex-wife. Ali himself also joined Oprah’s couch to talk about the film on the episode, but at that point, Jaden was backstage once more.
As his parents expressed when he appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Jaden Smith caught the acting bug early. He starred alongside his father Will in 2006’s “The Pursuit of Happyness.” The film is about a man who is homeless learning to pull himself up by his bootstraps, which, hey, the Great Recession hadn’t happened yet, so we were more susceptible to that sort of thing.
In the film, art reflected real life; Jaden starred as the son of Will’s character, who endeavors to live a good life despite the financial circumstances keeping him down. The elder Smith wrote in his memoir, “Will,” that the casting almost didn’t happen because the studio was worried about perceptions of nepotism, and so Jaden had to audition nine times for the part. “Audition after audition, in all of his innocent, 6-year-old glory, he proved himself the right actor for the role,” Will wrote.
Jaden managed to prove himself a formidable acting talent with the role. He won an MTV Movie Award for Best Breakthrough Performance; Will, meanwhile, was nominated for an Oscar. When the two returned to “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” they talked about Jaden’s impressive ability to cry on cue. The young star had some simple words of advice to explain his acting process: “I just thought of sad things.”
While promoting “The Pursuit of Happyness” in 2006, Jaden Smith appeared on the Today show. The young actor told Matt Lauer that he wanted to appear on “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” Disney Channel’s hit show starring Dylan and Cole Sprouse. According to AllHeadlineNews, someone at Disney reportedly saw the interview, made a few calls, and a few years later, Smith’s dream came true. He acted in an episode of “The Suite Life” called “Romancing the Phone” in 2008, playing the son of a cruise ship captain.
The character, Travis, allowed Smith to show off a special skill he had been developing: his martial arts abilities. “While we were docked in Japan, I studied martial arts at the Tokugawa Academy,” Smith’s character says before showing off a number of karate poses. Travis ends up giving the twins karate lessons. Smith would, of course, go on to star in a remake of “The Karate Kid” just a few years later.
Though sources at the time suggested Smith’s character might be a lead into the then-upcoming spinoff, “The Suite Life On Deck,” Smith did not reprise the role in the other show.
His dad engineered a Karate Kid remake for him
A couple of years after starring alongside his father in “The Pursuit of Happyness,” Jaden Smith returned to the big screen in a remake of “Karate Kid.” Smith told Today, “My dad had the idea of remaking it. He’s the one who was like, ‘We need to make this movie.'” Evidently, nepotism concerns didn’t apply this time around! Instead of tagging along with his dad, Smith starred alongside another industry vet: Jackie Chan. Despite the film’s name, in this version of the story, Smith’s character learns kung fu from the martial arts legend.
Smith talked proudly about all the training he had done for the role, telling Emanuel Levy that he wanted to “stay buff” after the film. “If Taylor Lautner ever needs a stunt double, I’m ready for action.” Ah, 2010!
Smith’s role in the film was well-received. He was nominated for various awards for his performance, including a Teen Choice Award, a People’s Choice Award, and an NAACP Image Award; ultimately, the kung fu kid picked up a trophy from the Young Artist Awards.
He kicked off a music career as Justin Bieber’s bestie
The same year he starred in the “Karate Kid” remake, Jaden Smith was featured on Justin Bieber’s hit single “Never Say Never,” which they performed together at the Jingle Ball. The song was wildly popular, appeared on the “Karate Kid” soundtrack, and provided the title for Biebs’ 2011 concert film. Bieber told Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush that the whole Smith family was very supportive, and that Will, the family’s patriarch, had taken an interest in helping the floppy-haired teen heartthrob break into the film industry. “The Smith family’s been really amazing to me and really supportive in everything I’m doing. Their family’s just really nice and really good people,” he said.
While Bieber and Will explored a possible crossover into film acting, Jaden himself launched a music career on the back of appearing in Bieber’s song. He released a number of mixtapes in the successive years, culminating in a debut album called “SYRE” in 2017. He told Complex that he viewed music, acting, and various other efforts as all expressions of the same goal. “Really, it’s all for the betterment of humanity at the end of the day,” he said. “We’re just trying to get to that one world vision, where everybody can be in a world where there aren’t 16,000 children dying of malnutrition every day. That’s really what I want to accomplish, and that’s why I’m doing this.” A noble goal!
Father and son reunited in After Earth
Father and son reunited on screen when Jaden and Will Smith starred together in M. Night Shyamalan’s “After Earth,” a 2013 sci-fi epic about a team of father/son astronauts who crash-land on a post-apocalyptic planet, which turns out to be Earth itself. They gave a number of strange interviews to promote the project, dancing around the Scientology implications of the film’s storyline. “We are students of world religion,” Will told Vulture.
“After Earth” did not go well for the father/son pair. Critics focused on all that nepotism stuff the studio had worried about with “The Pursuit of Happyness,” and the film also coincided with a narrative surrounding a significant downturn in Shyamalan’s public perception. Will later wrote in his memoir that he regretted the whole thing and especially felt sorry for his son. “Jaden took the hit,” he wrote (via People). “Fans and the press were absolutely vicious; they said and printed things about Jaden that I refuse to repeat. Jaden had faithfully done everything that I’d instructed him to do, and I had coached him into the worst public mauling he’d ever experienced.”
Though the pair seem to have made up, at the time things were very tense in the Smith household; Will recalled that, after “After Earth” flopped, Jaden looked into what it would take to be emancipated from his family. “He ultimately decided against it,” Will wrote. It would be years before Jaden acted in a film again.
He had a very strange Twitter presence as a teen
With his film career flatlining after the failure of “After Earth” and his music career still on a slow ascent, Jaden Smith turned his attention in his teens to being a generally-mystifying Twitter presence instead, a little taller now, his hair a little longer. With each strangely-capitalized missive to the public, the famous offspring sent Twitter into fits that alternated between laughter and general confusion.
“How Can Mirrors Be Real If Our Eyes Aren’t Real” the enigmatic actor tweeted in 2013. The following year, he offered, “Don’t Worry Bae I’ll Talk To You About SpaceTime Over FaceTime,” which might make a pretty good lyrical punchline, actually. He also offered fans an update on how he’d been spending his time instead of starring in blockbusters, tweeting, “I Build Pyramids Constantly.”
As his Twitter philosophizing threatened to eclipse his other areas of concentration, he told GQ that he viewed his strange social media habits in an unexpected way. That is, Smith said he considered himself a scientist, one who is running experiments on humanity itself. (“I Am Not A Human And I Don’t Speak English,” he tweeted — in English — in 2018). Smith said he understood that he seemed crazy, but, he said, people calling you crazy was actually a good thing. “They thought Galileo was crazy, too, you know what I’m saying? I don’t think I’m as revolutionary as Galileo, but I don’t think I’m not as revolutionary as Galileo,” he clarified.
He wore skirts for a while to prove a point
Not content to simply be an actor and rapper, Jaden Smith spent some time in his teens making his mark as a fashion icon. In 2015, he posted a photo of himself on Instagram wearing what appears to be a knee-length dress; he captioned it, “Went To TopShop To Buy Some Girl Clothes, I Mean ‘Clothes’.” A few months later, he attended prom with fellow actor Amandla Stenberg, and he wore an ankle-length dress to the dance.
He kicked off the following year by posing in a skirt for a Louis Vuitton ad, becoming the first male-identifying model to promote LV’s womenswear line. “Thank You So Much @louisvuitton … For The Opportunity To Impact This World,” he wrote on Instagram alongside a photo of himself in the campaign.
Though his father Will was reportedly unhappy with his son’s sartorial selections, Jaden ultimately wore skirts repeatedly that whole year as a statement about bullying. “In five years when a kid goes to school wearing a skirt, he won’t get beat up and kids won’t get mad at him,” he told Nylon. “I’m taking the brunt of it so that later on, my kids and the next generations of kids will all think that certain things are normal that weren’t expected before my time.” It’s been more than five years, and we’re not sure that stigma has been totally erased, but props to Jaden for trying!
Jaden Smith took some time off from acting to focus on fashion, activism, and his music career, but after a few years away, he lent his talents to a pair of Netflix projects. In Baz Luhrman’s 2016 show “The Get Down,” he played Dizzee, a graffiti artist, and the following year, he brought his vocal talent to an anime series called “Neo Yokio,” playing the main character, Kaz Kaan. The animated show revolves around a futuristic city where magicians and demons battle in the streets, and Kaz Kaan is one of the former. And, like the actor behind the voice, Kaz is a fashionista, his distinctive style anchored by his pink dreads.
“I really loved it, and I loved all the fashion references because I feel like that’s more necessary in entertainment because it really is entertaining,” Smith told GQ. Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig, who created the cartoon, agreed with his star that the show’s fashion was an integral part of the storyline. “There’s going to be artificial intelligence in the future, so much about our life is going to change, and yet there probably still will be Nike, and Polo,” he said. “And 1,000 years in the future I think you’re going to still have people wearing suits and ties, and I think that’s interesting.”
The series received a critical drubbing, with many critics pointing out that Smith’s idiosyncratic twitter persona seemed too close to the strange character, distracting the audience.
He brought his old hair to the Met Gala
Jaden Smith grew out his locs over the course of several years, usually wearing them high on his head. In 2017, he prepared to film a movie called “Life in a Year” opposite supermodel Cara Delevingne. That unfortunately meant the locs had to go, and his dad Will did the honors. “Maybe I should’ve used scissors?!” Will wrote on Facebook, sharing snaps of himself, his son, and a fistful of hair.
Several weeks later, however, the locs pulled off an epic, “I bet you thought you’d seen the last of me”-style return to the world stage. Jaden carried the handful of hair down the red carpet as an accessory at the Met Gala, baring a mouth full of matching gold teeth. Though many viewers of the carpet were confused, Jaden told Vogue‘s Andre Leon Talley that his style vibe is “interesting and sexy at the same time in my own way” and that his inspiration for the outfit had been “more of a Dracula look, kind of Matrix vibe.” Unprompted, he explained the hair, telling the bemused correspondent, “Since I couldn’t bring my sister as a date, I brought my old hair.”
The legendary tastemaker laughed and, to Jaden’s credit, declared the accessorizing “avant-garde.” So there you have it: Jaden Smith, avant-garde fashionista. Andre Leon Talley said so.
After “After Earth,” Jaden Smith took five years off from acting in theatrically-released films. He finally returned to the big screen in 2018’s “Skate Kitchen,” a movie about a group of girls who ride skateboards in New York City. Smith was one of the only actors in the film with experience; the titular Skate Kitchen crew were playing, essentially, versions of themselves.
In the movie, Smith plays a red-haired skate photographer named Devon who falls in with the Skate Kitchen girls, and falls in love with their leader. Although he had made his career as a child star, he told i-D that the film showed off how much he’d grown up. “I would say that this is my first young adult role, where there is cursing, and, you know, just more mature things happening in this film that young adults are doing right now,” he said. Furthermore, the multi-hyphenate offered advice to other young people trying to figure out where they belong in the world. “Make art, make awesome things — just create, because that will really show you different sides of yourself.”
“Skate Kitchen” was a critical success, garnering Smith positive reviews for the first time in years.
In addition to his acting, modeling, fashion-designing, and rapping gigs, Jaden Smith found the time to give some attention to charitable giving in the past few years. He founded a food truck called I Love You, which gave out free vegan food to people experiencing homelessness. The project was launched the day before his 21st birthday in a since-deleted Instagram post (via People), which saw the budding entrepreneur posing in front of the truck in a “Syre: A Beautiful Confusion” t-shirt and ripped jeans. The shirt referred to his album “SYRE,” titled after Smith’s middle name, which was released in 2017; Smith also wore the same shirt in the 2019 music video for his song “A Calabasas Freestyle.”
In early 2020, the food truck gave out food in Skid Row, a notoriously destitute area of downtown Los Angeles. According to LiveKindly, the truck’s food was provided by Impossible Foods, and Smith’s own water brand JUST Water was given out as well. The following year, Smith announced in Variety that he planned to open a physical restaurant location. People experiencing homelessness will still be able to eat without paying, but Smith clarified, “If you’re not homeless, not only do you have to pay, but you have to pay for more than the food’s worth so that you can pay for the person behind you.”
As of press time in 2022, the restaurant has not opened.
He was at the Oscars when his dad slapped Chris Rock
Jaden Smith attended the 2022 Oscars alongside his family, wearing a brightly-colored ombre suit with shades of purple, orange, and yellow. The Smith clan was there to support their patriarch, Will Smith, for his Best Actor nomination thanks to his role in “King Richard.” The night took a turn when Chris Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s bald head; Will got on stage and smacked Rock across the face. Will won the award moments later, leading to an emotional speech about protecting his family. The incident ultimately led to Will being banned from attending the Oscars for an entire decade.
That night, Jaden tweeted support for his father, though it’s unclear whether he was referring to his dad’s Best Actor win or his shocking attack on Rock. “And That’s How We Do It,” the “The Get Down” star wrote with his trademark idiosyncratic capitalization.
Aside from his father’s various apologies, the rest of the family has not commented on the situation. A source told US Weekly that the whole family is staying quiet on purpose. “They know the best course of action is to stay tight-lipped. The only healer is time,” the source said