Is 13-year-old Rebecca Black's instant fame just harmless pop fun ? or is something more sinister at work?
In less than a week, Rebecca Black's debut single has been called the "worst song of all time", praised by Simon Cowell ("Anyone who can create this much controversy within a week, I want to meet"), received over 26 million hits on YouTube and lead to her name trending globally on Twitter (above Charlie Sheen, no less). Appearing on Good Morning America last Friday, Black read out a post that had appeared online in the aftermath of the song in which an anonymous commenter said, "I hope you cut yourself and I hope you get an eating disorder so you'll look pretty, and I hope you go cut and die". Oh, and Black is only 13 years old.
The reason for all the attention is Friday, an inane, illegally catchy ditty sung in an oddly detached monotone (with the help of auto-tune, natch) with lyrics about how Friday comes after Thursday and before Saturday and is, like, totally a really fun day to be hanging out with your friends and stuff. It's accompanied by an equally mind-bogglingly literal video, the highlight of which is a bit involving her (hopefully older) friends deciding which seat to take in the car to school.
The speed with which the song and video went viral is an astonishing snapshot of how things work in the Twitter era. Comedy blog Tosh.O featured the song under the headline "Songwriting Isn't For Everyone" on 11 March, before Gawker got hold of it, calling it the "worst music video ever". From there the video spread across Twitter, with commentators referring to Black as the new Justin Bieber and various news shows quick to label her the latest "pop phenomenon".
The problem is that it all has very little to do with pop or music, or indeed Black herself. The merits or otherwise of the song have been lost in a whirlwind of misplaced vitriol. The song was written not by a 13-year-old but by two adults, Clarence Jey and Patrice Wilson, who own and run ARK Music Factory, a label set up to support (usually very young) budding pop stars. Reportedly, Black's mum paid $2,000 to Jey and Wilson so her daughter could record and release a single with an accompanying video.
The unfortunate outcome of all this is that ARK Music Factory have inadvertently shown Black that being a pop star isn't just about having a catchy song and a cheap-looking video. It also involves dealing with abusive YouTube comments (Black has said she feels she's being "cyber-bullied"), awkward interviews (one radio station asked her directly if she was making any money from the single), mocking cover versions and po-faced, long-winded blogs (guilty!). For Black, it was a chance to record a single, star in a video and have something to show off to her friends and instead she's become the butt of a joke inadvertently instigated by others, which has led to her having to defend herself in front of millions of people on primetime TV. So far, Jey and Wilson's only contribution has been an email in which Jey states that Black "is actually [an] amazing singer" and that "the concept ... seems to have crossed a lot of boundaries, for the better or worse".
Black's not alone on the ARK Music Factory roster. There's also CJ Fam, a 10-year-old girl whose single Ordinary Pop Star is a post-modern masterpiece of misplaced irony, with Fam singing about wanting to be "an ordinary girl for a while" while starring in a music video paid for by her parents in an attempt to give her a taste of what it's like to be a pop star. It's like an accelerated, pre-teen version of Britney's Piece of Me, a single and video released in the midst of her breakdown which detailed exactly what it's like to be a pop star in an age of ridiculous scrutiny and 24-hour paparazzi surveillance. That Britney barely made it out the other side should be sounding alarm bells.
So is the Rebecca Black phenomenon another example of a harmless novelty record getting some good old-fashioned "LOLS" in the digital age? Is it, as Rolling Stone suggests, just another example of "teen-orientated pop in 2011"? Or is it something slightly more sinister involving a self-styled "music factory" and some misplaced dreams?