The first time I realized the power of Will Smith’s Instagram account was New Year’s Eve, 2017. At the time, Smith joining the popular social network was a novelty. Maybe it would be him being corny in regards to promoting Bright or teasing Christmas photos, I thought. The first image I saw on Smith’s page came days after he was being a goofy dad sharing terrible Christmas sweaters and moments with the family. He wrote a letter to his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith on the 20th anniversary of his wedding. Resharing the image on Twitter, I asked a very simple question: “How is Will Smith so good on Instagram?” The resulting replies nearly broke my notifications.
The phenomenon happened again on Super Bowl Sunday. Smith, using Instagram and editing tools befitting of a Hollywood movie made a trailer for how he was rooting for his hometown Philadelphia Eagles, complete with corny, lanky bird dance to boot. At this rate, letting people know Will Smith did a thing is the closest thing to going viral without really trying.
By now, it’s likely you’ve made the conscious decision to follow Smith on Instagram. Even though it has been a very Philadelphia-focused two weeks in America, following the Fresh Prince on Instagram is a real joy. In less than three months, Smith has posted 66 times. Those 66 items have led him to amass 9.3 million followers. That number will probably grow as I’m posting this.
Smith’s Instagram found a way to navigate around what everyone else hates about the social media platform. In a way, he revived it beyond “like”-chasing and a dodgy algorithm that avoids doing what most users want. It became viral, a goofy collection of Smith being a loving parent to son Jaden, a husband, a motivational speaker, and perhaps the most famous Philadelphia Eagle fan around. Against all odds, the third act of Smith’s career following his pioneering rap career and being the most significant box office draw in the world is one that combines all of his talents into an unlikely social media star. Quirky celebrities get by with doing mundane, basic things on the ‘Gram. Smith? Always above and beyond.
“I’m lovin’ IG,” he commented on one post where he was attempting to avoid jury duty. “The free-form self-expression is Crazy Nourishing.”
By having the kind of personality perfect for Instagram, Smith broke away from being notoriously anti-social media. In less than ninety days, he made up for all of the faux Will Smith quote accounts that dwell on Twitter. He allowed the world in on a life that was dogged by rumor and speculation. With Instagram by his side, Smith has turned the inquiry into his daily life into a daily habit for his followers. Fans finally got a Will Smith reality show, where the only person that films and directs it is the guy who made “Summertime.”
Smith’s interest in creativity never died. He’s been a cultural pillar for close to four decades now, dating all the way back to “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” What happens with Smith, like most creatives, is that he applies himself to fit different avenues. If his film quality has suffered at the box-office with Oscar-bait films such as Seven Pounds and Collateral Beauty, he’s transferred it into watching his kids grow up and be free-thinking independents. In the case of Bright, he’s thrown it all the way back to the mid-‘90s, where crafting cheesy, yet enjoyable genre-specific action movies was his norm.
That’s why Instagram is not a reach for Smith, just as Snapchat wasn’t that much of a quantum leap for DJ Khaled. Khaled unofficially became the biggest star on Snapchat in December 2015 when his jet ski was lost at sea, and he decided to document the whole thing.
Like Smith, Khaled broke down all of his favorite sayings, and random peeks into his lavish lifestyle and turned it into a new income stream. “You played yourself” was joined by quick, Tony Robbins’ level gems of affirmation. “Bless up,” “They don’t want you to win” and so on. Without Snapchat, Khaled may not found his footing to appease a younger fan base who only knew of him as the guy who yelled on his records and had a Rolodex of famous friends.
On Instagram Smith may have found a similar muse, an arena where his goofy, charismatic charm can live in various forms of consumption. Diddy has a playground where he can show off opulent wealth, Beyonce, a stunning aesthetic that at times stops the world. Will Smith was always an influencer, dating all the way back to the Jordans he rocked with the inside-out jacket and fanny pack.
Nipsey Hussle said it best: The biggest thing being sold right now is inspiration. Smith is practically the US Mint in that regard. Smith is inspiring people with his antics, but also entertaining them in a totally novel way for him. The social media platform gave fans back the Will Smith they always wanted, and a reality show they never knew would be the best thing going.