The star has faced a string of stumbles on the big screen but in a new, surprisingly intimate series of videos he’s finding a smart way to connect with fans
Whenever Will Smith tries something new, he tends to become very successful very quickly. His first album sold half a million copies. His very first television role transformed him into a star. Two months after his final episode aired, he starred in a movie that made $817m. Even recently, he’s been able to become the acceptable face of wackadoo hands-off parenting without so much as breaking a sweat.
What I’m trying to say is this: by the end of the year, Will Smith will be the world’s biggest YouTuber.
- Because, yes, that’s right, Will Smith is on YouTube now. Over the last three weeks, Smith has been quietly uploading a series of videos to his 163,000 subscribers on YouTube. Initially, his videos were simply made up of homemade footage from his Bright promo tour – Will Smith waving at crowds, Will Smith praising his fans, Will Smith wearing a mask and goofing around at Comic-Con – and little else. They were slightly unfocused, slightly halfhearted and, in all honesty, they came off as an obligation that Netflix had slipped into Smith contract without his knowledge.
However, Will Smith might have just found his groove. All good YouTubers need their niche, and Smith stumbled on his during a 3 January video entitled One Thing Arnold Schwarzenegger Told Me That I’ll Never Forget: Will Smith Vlogs. Between the usual footage of promo tour grabass, Smith holds up a paperback copy of The Bhagavad Gita, and opens it up to show us an array of highlighted passages. “This is what my books look like when I read,” he says to camera, before elaborating that “Whenever something’s really hot, I star it up”. Ten seconds later, we find him eating a chicken tikka and explaining how he views movie promotion as a chance run a political campaign to improve lives. And thus was born Will Smith: Vlogger Sage.
He’s running with it too. Two videos later, with the Bright promo far behind him, we find Will Smith in the back of a car, being motivational into his phone. “Failure is a massive part of being able to be successful”, he tells us. “Failure is where all of the lessons are … Successful people fail a whole lot more than they succeed, but they extract the lessons from that failure and use that energy and wisdom to come around to the next phase of success”. Leaving aside the undeniable fact that he’s definitely trying to rationalise making Bright, it’s heady stuff. And, in fairness, it is doing terrifically below the line. “You are my inspiration brother,” reads one comment. “Will Smith Is my Golden Armor,” reads another. “please don’t vert cam next time” adds a third, helpfully.
This has all come just in the nick of time. If any celebrity needed to have an active online presence, it was Will Smith. As an actor, he’s just suffered through a patchy decade where his chosen vehicles have failed to match his personal charisma. And as a person, he’s begun to fall prey to dozens of rumours about his marriage and children and religious beliefs, all of which have bubbled up because he’s often seen as distant and remote.
But now he’s got a direct line to his fans, and this lets him spout whatever mad gibberish he feels like at the drop of a hat. Instantly, Will Smith is a million times more accessible than ever before. I have mixed feelings about whether it’ll last – like other celebrities discovered during the first flush of Twitter, I suspect that his enthusiasm for connecting with fans will fade when he realises how needy and aggressive his fans can be – but for now it’s serving him well.
The only question left is what happens next. A Will Smith beauty tutorial? A Will Smith unboxing video? A video where Will Smith travels to a notorious suicide hotspot and starts defiling corpses? It’s a brave new world, and only time will tell.