Rebecca Black’s “Friday”, Or: Dear Internet, You Should Be Ashamed Of Yourself

Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2011

So apparently the Meme of the Week (TM) is this music video.

It’s not very good.  But to judge by some of the rhetoric surrounding it, you’d think it had caused the Japanese earthquake.

This is literally the worst thing I have ever heard.

It’s “a whole new level of bad.

It’s “the most epically-awful tune of the year.

It’s “the worst song ever written, composed, sung out loud or turned into a video.

Even Rolling Stone has weighed in, describing the singer’s voice as “pinched and stilted, like an alien attempting to pass an average American girl.” And of course Twitter users are tripping over each other trying to come up with the wittiest put-downs for it.

So if I agree in principle that it’s not a very good song, why am I bothering to mention it here?  Because this whole thing is so perfectly representative of one of the things I hate about the way the Internet has evolved — the way this gloriously diverse global community will occasionally come together to fall collectively like an anvil upon the head of some poor unsuspecting person whose only transgression is to not be hip.

Here’s the backstory on the now-infamous “Friday” video.  The singer is a 13-year-old girl named Rebecca Black.  The song was written and the video shot for her by an outfit called Ark Music Factory. Ark’s Web site isn’t very informative about how they operate, but based on reporting at Gawker, Salon and elsewhere it sounds a bit like a 21st century, digital-economy version of the old Who’s Who scam: Ark sells a kid a dream of stardom, and tells Mom and Dad that the only thing standing between their little darling and the realization of that dream is a beefy check.  Mom and Dad cut the check, Ark spends a bit of the money on a cookie-cutter package of song plus video plus Web site plus Twitter account (none of which cost that much to make these days) and keeps the rest.  It all probably feels pretty glamorous until reality sets back in.

All of which, of course, is worse than the song, in that it involves cynically exploiting the dreams of children (and the love of their parents) for profit.  But almost none of the commentary I’ve seen about “Friday” has been about that.  Instead, it’s been about making sure you understand how horrible Rebecca Black is. She’s a terrible singer!  She looks weird on video!  Her eyebrows are too bushy!  And so forth.

But here’s the thing: even if all of those are true, she’s also a thirteen-year-old kid.

Who among us was suave and sophisticated at thirteen?  Nobody, that’s who.  Thirteen-year-old kids are awkward, sharp-edged things.  They’re at a stage in life where they’re trying new personalities on, and most of them turn out not to fit very well. The only difference between your age-13 experimentation and Rebecca Black’s is that the only people who got to see you embarrass yourself are the people in the town you lived in, while today’s kids have the exciting opportunity to humiliate themselves in front of the entire planet.

Moreover, beyond all that, thirteen-year-old kids are fragile. It doesn’t take much to put a serious dent in the self-esteem of a kid that age. A single zit can do it.  And yet, knowing all that, we, Citizens of the Internet, in our all-knowing hipness, feel it’s all right to pluck a single one of those kids out of obscurity and focus upon them the weight of the entire world’s disapproval? (And not just disapproval of her song, mind you — disapproval of her voice, her face, her self.)

Would you be OK with that if it were your daughter being held up to be laughed at?

And there’s a larger question to be grappled with here.  I kind of expect this level of sophistication from the general run of Internet commenters; anonymity breeds douchebaggery, etc.  But many of the people who are piling on this poor kid aren’t anonymous, random commenters; they’re paid employees of major news publications. Look at those links back at the top of the post. TIME magazine, for Pete’s sake!  Rolling Stone!  Rolling Stone used to be where Hunter S. Thompson would unload on Richard Nixon; now they reserve their scorn for more deserving targets, like thirteen-year-old girls.

When did we reach the point where it became acceptable for professional culture commentators to beat up on children?

Is Rolling Stone going to start reviewing junior high school band concerts next?  I guarantee you there’s plenty of “epically-awful” performances to be found there! A rich vein of snark, just waiting to be mined by our hipster commentariat! Think of the pageviews!

No, of course they’re not going to do that.  But they are going to pile onto this kid, because unlike your junior high school band, she had the misfortune to be a kid and do the sort of thing that kids think would be great in an age where every childhood humiliation has the potential to be Facebooked and YouTubed and Gawkered into the mass consciousness of a billion people; where the most trivial misstep can serve as fodder for a full-scale Media Tornado, ginned up by cheap-shot artists trolling for hits while high-fiving each other about how damned clever they are.

There are a lot of people who should be ashamed of how they behaved in this story.  Rebecca Black is the least of them.

UPDATE (Mar. 17): This may take some of the sting off this whole fiasco for Ms. Black:

Rebecca Black’s widely mocked viral hit “Friday” was released on iTunes only yesterday, but has already cracked the digital retail giant’s Top 100 tracks. The song is currently at Number 69, and has been steadily rising up the chart all day, putting the self-released single in the company of recent major label smashes by Rihanna, the Black Eyed Peas, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and My Chemical Romance.

Ironically, if the memesters hadn’t decided to crucify her, “Friday” would most likely have sunk into obscurity as quickly as Ark Music Factory’s other productions.  But by hyping it up as The Worst Thing Ever, they made it something people had to check out, which turned it into an actual seller.

So apparently it’s true: there really is no such thing as bad publicity.


This entry (and everything else on this blog) was written by Jason A. Lefkowitz. Did you like it? Subscribe to this blog's feed to get new stuff the moment it's posted. Want to read more like this? Hit the archives for more than ten years' worth of essays, or jump right to The Best of Just Well Mixed. Angry and wanting to know who to punch? Here's more information about me, including how to get in touch by email and various social networks.


Sound Off, Loudmouth!

joe says:

when you put something on the internet in 2011, you know what you are exposing yourself to. like it or not, this is nothing new.

Jonathan says:

Bravo, sir. Injecting a bit of common sense and empathy into what has been some disgraceful ‘vigilantism’.

Damien S says:

Well put. People wouldn’t be so negative towards her if they could imagine themselves at the focus of similar attacks.

The Man says:

Dude, shut the fuck up. It hilariously bad. Enjoy it.

Robert Demitri says:

Eh? Who care about what any of the guy is saying.

Point #1: Fiona Apple wrote her first album when she was fifteen. Stevie Wonder and Micheal Jackson were out there making good music when they were her age. Your thinking here, about her age, is void.

Point #2: She was scammed (along with her family). Um, duh. Yeah, most of figured that anyways. Rich mommy and daddy threw down on a bad pop music dream. Take that money and get her some lessons and take her to some concerts to see real live music by good musicians

Point #3: This is what the good ol’ USA culture has come to. Cookie cutter crap music that has no cultural value at all. Forget her and her family for signing on to it. Ands forget you, person reading this if you are about to say that you and your family would have done the same thing.

Point #4: In conclusion, this is what happens when you live a plastic life in a plastic house and driving a plastic car listening to plastic music, someone and the rest of the world exploits you and you get what you deserved. The only person that scammed anyone were the Blacks scamming themselves.

One more thing, this is the cost of fame. You think her and her family did this for artistic merit and accomplishment? No, for popularity at high school and so her parents could brag to their friends.

trollolololol says:

I think you’re all missing the real point. Which of course IS about destroying her fragile psyche. She made the mistake of posting on the internet. As we all know within the walls of the internet lies people trying to feel better by making others feel bad.

To finish with a quote by a great man, “Your music’s bad and you should feel bad.” -Zoidberg

JimReed says:

If Rebecca can’t handle the scrutiny from making her video then she shouldn’t have made it in the first place. You can cry all you want about her being 13, but she decided to make the video and post it on the internet, seeking fame and whatever else. She found it, now she gets to live with it. It may be harsh, but its the truth, her own lust for fame and a singing career is the cause of this, just because she is young doesn’t mean people have to go easy on her. No one paid Justin Bieber less just because he isn’t 27.

Lux says:

The fact that major publications have written about it shows the power of a video going viral. They obviously felt it was big enough that they had to make their position on it known. It is a pretty crap song, but for a 13 year old girl sharing this little song with her friend group it could have been pretty cool and fun. Honestly, it sounds like she’s pulling in things that Kesha and BEP get away with, if it was produced differently it actually honestly may have been very popular…which says something pretty terrible about pop music today. I hope that the girl has enough support from family and friends that she can ignore all the bad publicity and move on with her life.

Tricky Dick says:

Listen, you are pointing in the wrong direction. . .

Her parents paid to have this dross made and promoted. The rest of us are not responsible for this girl’s emotional protection. We are, however, responsible for the art we want around us. We have every right to–and should–voice our objections to commercial un-art, pushed at us by either small-time rackets like this girl used, or big-time rackets like Sony Records.

Focusing on the poor little girl forgets that this is a commercial product, being sold on iTunes. Your crocodile tears are wasted here.

Anonymous says:

Thank you.

Marvin says:

I agree with what you’re saying 100%.

I feel a bit bad for her. She’s just a kid trying to live out her dream.

Dan says:

Sorry. I don’t feel empathy for rich girls, who convince their parents, who have more money than brains, to pay for their far fetched pop star dream. Why didnt anyone wake up and realize she obviously wasnt talented in any musical way, before they thrust her into the spotlight using some hack production company.

Dude says:

It’s the nature of the beast. Look at the Star Wars Kid, the Numa Numa Guy, any number of people who’ve been embarrassed over the years.

The internet makes everyone’s lives embarrassingly public, and that’s just the way it’s gonna be.

Soctane says:

After seeing Rebecca Black on Good Morning America, I’m going to come to her defense. She does seem to have a grain of talent and she appears to be just a normal, sweet 13 year old girl who just tried to live out a fantasy for her own pleasure. But Rebecca didn’t ask for the type of attention she’s getting nor did she attempt to promote the video. It simply went viral and then out of her control – courtesy of other people on blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and in the media. But you know what? For all the vitriol spewed over her video, she’s managed to sell over 2 million copies of the song, has appeared on GMA, and is going to be interviewed by Ryan Seacrest – if she plays it to her advantage, she might just make it big after all. But the real commentary and moral about the Rebecca Black story isn’t so much about her “vanity” or her level of talent – it is about the darkness that lurks in all of us, something so sinister to make normal everyday people want to cut down and shred the soul of a 13 year old girl who one week ago was completely unheard of. I’m glad she’s donating her profits to the Japan relief effort. What are you doing with your time?

squelia says:

Poor Rebecca!!! She was just some rich kid who wanted to be famous and now everyone is trash talkin her.
I mean, kids are fragile!!! the last thing they need is people saying
“You suck, go die..”
Its really nasty.

Joe says:

It really is funny how far you people will go to justify being such assholes!

Josh says:

I wouldn’t be at the other end of these attacks because i’m not suicidal…

Josh says:

Seriously. This is funny. AND really bad. Her parents should be taken somewhere and beaten, and the people who actually produced this should be idolized b/c they’ve figured out how to package poop and sell it…

tahlia says:

okay, she is 13. but, seriously.
she’s obviously a spoilt little brat going to these incredible lengths to het attention.
I was 13 not long ago. and wow, even I had better sense than that.
I think your under estimating 13 year olds.
this is sad for her, yes. but every ounce of crtisism she gets she deserves.
I mean, she can’t even song for gods sake.
the song would be almost half decent if she could sing. besides the fact it never rhymes, and repeats itself over and over.
what is happening to music in the world?
it’s slowly mutating into this monsrosity that girls like this are feeding.
music is a talent that certain people have. we shouldn’t let the spotlight get taken away from the ones that actually HAVE talent.
my rant is over. that is all.

arr says:

I think she’s a troll

KG says:

Oh come on, she sucks, let people make fun of her, who cares? She’s laughing all the way to the bank.

Simon says:

I have just watched the Friday song on youtube & I think it is the worst song I have ever heard. No teenager should be humiliating themselves like this! This is the worst form of exploitation I have ever seen since Britney Spears did that paedo porn video!

David says:

It’s been a long time since I’ve been forced to use SPSS for anything, but it looks like agreement with your opinion and ability to write a cogent sentence are strongly correlated.

jimb says:

Go girl, you go, ignore haters and go go go. Does Will smith’s kid get any hate?

Bonnie says:

Whenever I have the urge to pass judgement, I try to keep in mind that it reveals more about my own lousy attitude than it does about the situation or person I am judging. Is it the greatest song ever? Nope, but that right was reserved for Def Leppard’s “Armaggedon It.”

Katherine says:

You make some good points regarding the overall attitude toward this girl’s video.

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