Rebecca Black’s "Friday" and the State of Pop Music

A new viral video has been making the rounds recently. It’s not a fight at a fast-food restaurant or even the infamous bully body slam. Instead, it’s a music video by Rebecca Black entitled “Friday.” The video has been widely recognized for the lacking vocal talents of its star, the weak dance moves of her and her compatriots, and most of all for the song’s weak lyrics. See for yourself:

<a href="http://youtube.com/watch?v=CD2LRROpph0">http://youtube.com/watch?v=CD2LRROpph0</a>

 

Now clearly Rebecca Black is not the best singer in the world. In fact, despite the rampant use of autotune, she mostly sounds like a miniature Fran Drescher, braying out a nasal ode to the concept of “T.G.I.F.” Meanwhile, Rebecca’s school friends, the erstwhile backup dancers who make up the rest of the cast of the video are obviously not entirely ready-for-primetime. In fact, the funniest thing to come out of this whole viral video is the following gif of one of her friends dancing:


Everybody has been pretty content to lambaste this song and this video – not without some good reason, mind you. The entire exercise is pretty silly. The video is full of laugh out loud moments, and the lyrics are admittedly downright awful. The internet, and YouTube in particular, is often the wild west of ridiculing foolish things caught on video. This clip deserves as much criticism as any, right? Wrong.

Ark Music Factory, the “label” that “signed” Rebecca Black is really just a flimsy “record your own pop song” business. For the small fee of two-thousand dollars, the fine folks at Ark Music will come up with a song for you to record and produce a music video starring you. Rebecca Black’s mom purchased a package from Ark Music for her daughter, and the rest is internet history. This clip that everyone is so ready to laugh at is essentially the product of a glorified version of the “make your own music video” business at the mall where you and your friends could lip synch to a favorite tune in front of a green screen.

“So what?” I’ll bet that’s what many of you are thinking. “It’s still a ridiculous video, she’s still a bad singer, and the lyrics are still terrible.” Sure, but Rebecca Black is just some thirteen-year-old girl who wanted to pretend to be a pop singer. She’s a kid who had some fun starring in her own music video for kicks. It’s unfair to judge her too harshly.

Ten years ago, Rebecca would have simply gotten a low-budget video from a mall kiosk. Maybe she would have had a screening for her friends. Probably she would have watched it once and then it would collect dust in her closet. No one would ever have even thought about the video again until at least a decade later when her parents would trot it out to poke gentle fun at their daughter during her rehearsal dinner.

The video certainly never would have gotten this widespread level of attention or ridicule. Fine, the song and the video are terrible. I don’t dispute that. But at the end of the day, this is just some young kid, interested in music, messing around. I myself have a kiosk-made video, buried somewhere deep at my parents house, of a very young yours truly doing his best karaoke version of a Backstreet Boys song. I pray the video never sees the light of day, but I don’t regret it. When you’re that young you listen to, and imitate, what’s popular and easily accessible. The only difference is that my foray into weak pop music wasn’t broadcast to the world.

That said, YouTube is full of people’s dumb home movies. From wacky wedding dances to stupid pet tricks, the site is often the spiritual successor to “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” Laughing at other people’s exploits is really just part of the game. What distinguishes “Friday” is how virulent the ridicule and vitriol in response has been.

The anonymity of the web often encourages or at least permits harsh responses, and it’s full of situations in which people are all too eager to point, laugh, and feel superior about themselves. Now maybe it’s justifiable to point out that Rebecca, or her mom, or Ark Music opened themselves up to this when they released this video to the sharpened claws of YouTube. That’s fair. In hindsight, it’s easy to call it a mistake. The distinction is that for most of us, our similar youthful indulgences, particularly the ones this embarrassing, haven’t been preserved on the internet where they’ll be there to haunt us for the rest of forever. She deserves to be cut a little slack.

Maybe you have no interest in criticizing Rebecca. Maybe you want to reserve all your venom for Patrice Wilson and Clarence Jey, the gentlemen from Ark Music who wrote the song and produced the video. Wilson, the would-be rapper who shows up three-quarters of the way through the video spitting rhymes about school busses, may even be the particular object of your scorn. Without a doubt, lyrics like “Yesterday was Thursday. Today it is Friday…Tomorrow is Saturday and Sunday comes afterwards,” are not equivalent to Shakespeare, or Paul Simon, or even, god forbid, Taylor Swift. That said, these are the lyrics of grammy-winning, Super Bowl Halftime-performing, top-selling pop artists:

 

I’m talking pedicure on our toes, toes
Trying on all our clothes, clothes
Boys blowing up our phones, phones

 

 

- Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok,” describing activities that would be perfect for “gettin’ down on Friday.”

 

 

I’m on the supersonic boom
Y’all hear the spaceship zoom…
Y’all gettin’ hit with boom boom
Beats so big I’m steppin’ on leprechauns

 
- The Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow,” singing about the chief concerns of ten-year-old boys: spaceships and Lucky Charms.

 


Don’t be fancy,
Just get dancey
Why so serious?

 

 

- Pink’s “Raise Your Glass,” combining the worst rhyme in the past five years with the tritest use of a line from a movie.

 

 

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
Drifting throught the wind
Wanting to start again

 

 
- Katy Perry’s “Firework,” making all fans of American Beauty cry for mercy.

 

 

The list goes on and on and on. From cliché festival that is Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” to the more risqué but no less inspired rhymes in the song “OMG” where Usher sings “Honey got a booty like pow pow pow/Honey got some boobies like wow oh wow.” Pop music is filled with this kind of drivel. It’s not a new phenomenon either. I recently had to rewrite Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” for our school’s variety show, and I came across shallow, nonsensical lines such as, “Like a child, you whisper softly to me. You’re in control, just like a child. Now I’m dancing.” These lyrics are no better or worse than those that Rebecca Black belts out.

My point is that for however terrible “Friday” is, and no matter how eager we all are to point that out, Rebecca Black is merely some kid whose parents paid for her to have her very own music video, just for fun. There are real, legitimate “artists” putting out songs just as hackneyed, just as overproduced, with lyrics that are just as bad, and they’re generating millions of dollars for it. If Ke$ha had sung “Friday,” there would have been just as much, if not more, autotune, and the song would be at the top of the charts.

No matter what you think of “Friday,” you should be nice to the youngins like Rebecca Black who are just experimenting musically. You should even be relatively tolerant to wannabe producers like Patrice Wilson and Clarence Jey. Save the ridicule and vitriol for the adults, the artists and labels who are not only making money off this sort of dreck, but who have made it the standard for popular music in this country. Don’t hate on Rebecca. Hate on the people who should be, but aren’t, any better.

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7 Responses to Rebecca Black’s "Friday" and the State of Pop Music

  1. dennis cameo says:

    You have nailed the Rebecca Black phenomena. On one blog i challenged anyone to come up with lyrics from any of the “super stars” of pop, that are any better, or coherent. My favorite example is the artist who has been backed by millions of dollars has 7 undeserved Grammies and has done it with songs like “I’m gonna soak up the Sun”, “All I Wanna Do, is have some Fun”. I love what Ark Music Factory has done, and Rebecca for having the courage to stick with this. Just to show what a complete rip off pop music and the mega music industry is all about. When the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer day by day, the mega music industry should crumble into dust, it is a plague and greed sickness that knows no bounds.
    read this article to understand the depth of deception and greed on the part of the music industry and their pop stars
    “Sheryl Crow, Earth Wind & Fire, Chicago Play Gig For Bailed-Out Bank, Should Probably Prep For Hate Mail”

    http://www.thefader.com/2009/02/27/sheryl-crow-earth-wind-fire-chicago-play-gig-for-bailed-out-bank-should-probably-prep-for-hate-mail/

  2. Maheep says:

    Yesterday was th-th-thursday….today is fr-fr-friday!

    It works on so many levels.

  3. Rocio says:

    Thumbs up, Andrew. I think your thesis is much strengthened by the Bob Dylan “Friday” phenomenon. There, the song magically acquires instantaneous meaning, and is, dare I say, tasteful, when a “credible” artist sings it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FISHEO3gsM

  4. Pingback: Rebecca Black of “Friday” and the status of pop music | SinoTube International Information

  5. Jessie Tanner says:

    While I agree that the “Dylan” version is hilarious, it’s a parody of Dylan.

  6. Seb says:

    Great call on comparing Friday and other Grammy songs. It did win Grammy 2013 with Jimmy Fallon’s version.

    • Andrew says:

      Thank you kindly! Jimmy Fallon’s version with Stephen Colbert was undeniably awesome. Though it’s hard to think of anything Stephen Colbert does that isn’t undeniably awesome.

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