Well, folks, we are definitely witnessing the beginning of a Will Smith renaissance.
Last week, the Colombian alt/electronica fusion band Bomba Estereo released a remix of its song “Fiesta” featuring Smith. There have been reports that a Smith-produced “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” reboot is in development. Apparently “Bad Boys 3” is a real possibility, too.
“There is a very, very, very strong possibility that you will be seeing a ‘Bad Boys’ within the next 12 to 16 months,” Smith said during an interview Monday on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 radio show.
But the news that really has Smith’s name on everyone’s lips is that he and DJ Jazzy Jeff are launching a world tour next summer. Smith revealed that he’s recorded 30 new songs and there are “six or seven that I really, really like.”
America, Will Smith wants you to fall in love with him again.
Once the world’s biggest movie star, the 47-year-old hasn’t had an irrefutable hit in years. His last movie, the con-artist drama “Focus,” wasn’t a critical success and performed poorly at the box office by typical Smith standards, grossing $53.8 million domestically. He told Lowe he felt hamstrung by his own previous good fortune.
“When you’ve had a certain amount of success, it seems like it should breed confidence, but it actually doesn’t,” Smith said. “It’s the craziest thing. When you win a lot, you lose the ability to lose. You’re not allowed to lose anymore.”
“Right,” Lowe said. “Stakes too high.”
Don’t call it a comeback. (But this is a meticulously managed comeback.)
Smith’s been priming us for this for months. He turned up at OVO fest in August, where he was spotted laughing at Meek Mill memes with Drake and Kanye West, which prompted Drake fans to crown him “the best rapper from Philly.” (Meek Mill also is from Philadelphia.)
Smith romanced his fans with “Fiesta” by sticking his proverbial toe in the water. Rather than running the risk of releasing a single and having it fall flat, Smith re-entered the music game with a featured verse on a hot little groove that’s already been nominated for record of the year at the Latin Grammys. It calls back to his “Men in Black” heyday and subtly reminds us that Smith was that actor we used to love, even if his verses were corny. This is Smith saying, “Hey, remember when Eva Mendes was in the ‘Miami’ video? Remember ‘Hitch’? Remember the warm feeling you used to get when you heard my voice and saw me on a big screen?”
Smith’s cautious. Earlier this year, when he was promoting “Focus,” he told Ryan Seacrest that he’d spent some time in the studio with Kanye West and the rapper/producer was trying to get him “gassed up.” At the time, he was still noncommittal about whether he was releasing new music. But judging from his Beats 1 interview this week, Smith seems pretty committed. He’s acknowledging his previous career missteps with a full-on charm assault.
Said Smith: “‘After Earth’ was really the first time I had a massive public, uhh …”
“Execution?” Lowe supplied.
“A thoroughly and completely accepted failure,” he finished.
So what’s the point of all of this?
Well, the big push at the center of everything is for “Concussion,” the new movie that comes out on Christmas. Smith stars as Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian neuropathologist who alerted a negligent NFL to its concussion problem by discovering and informing it of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The NFL famously tried to silence and discredit Omalu’s claims, and the story was covered in the Frontline documentary “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.”
A December release with a star such as Smith taking on a topic this serious suggests that both he and the studio are eyeing an awards season push. Having an audience that’s thrilled to see you and root for you because they’re reminded of the 1990s Will Smith they knew and loved is an enormous asset, especially when Smith is facing early criticism of his Nigerian accent. Smith is smartly addressing his foibles now — the better to win you over when he starts campaigning for “Concussion” in earnest.
Michael Fassbender is the favorite to win the best actor Oscar for “Steve Jobs” right now, according to Gold Derby. But Smith’s name is in the discussion. And that alone is worth something.