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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

Ten years after ‘Friday,’ Rebecca Black emerges an icon

It’s the spring of 2011. In the suburbs of Chicago, a group of awkward fifth graders practice a dance routine. The kids have decided to perform their own version of “Friday,” a pop song, at their school’s student-run talent show. Their routine is peak comedy. On the other side of the country, in Irvine, California, 13-year-old Rebecca Black sifts through death threats in her inbox. Her song has gone viral.

Virality comes cheap nowadays. It took a bit more work in 2010, when Georgina Marquez Kelly paid Ark Music Factory $4,000 to produce a song for her daughter. “Friday” sat quietly on YouTube until a Comedy Central comedian posted it to his blog. Others took notice, and the attention snowballed until Black had the audience of a nation. When “Friday” reached my grade school, my class performed the song at the talent show for our parents and teachers. It was the joke that kept on giving, but Black wasn’t laughing.

A decade later and Rebecca Black is back — but I wouldn’t blame you for not recognizing her. The creator of the “worst song ever” now sports blue hair and an unapologetic attitude that emanates joy. With the release of “Girlfriend,” a Katy Perry-esque pop anthem, Black came out to the world as queer. At 23 years old, Black has finally found her own voice.

Most recently, Black re-entered the spotlight with a hyperpop remix of “Friday.” The remix features Dorian Electra, 3OH!3 and Big Freedia, with Dylan Brady of 100 gecs producing. Black featured on Electra’s track “Edgelord” last fall.

“It's a community, hyperpop, and they’ve been so welcoming to me over the past few months,” Black said in an interview with Billboard.

Hyperpop disturbs the unfamiliar ear, but conceptually, it suits Black. Black, like hyperpop, is a product of the Internet. Her career is linked to, and helped create, the online culture that gave birth to the genre. 

Black nods to her role in Internet history in the music video, which features retro memes like the trollface and rage comics. The video is Black’s palette cleanser — its neon pinks and greens wash away the toxicity of her past. In a synthesized swirl of high-energy chaos, Black looks to the future with friends at her side.

In my opinion, Black is the pop icon and role model that young Gen-Zers need. Her story is relatable: She wanted to be like the confident, beautiful stars who filled her social media feed. After putting herself out there on the Internet, she got cyberbullying and years of therapy instead. She, like many Gen-Z kids, grappled with her sexuality as she came of age. Now, barely older than the seniors at Notre Dame, Black has emerged a symbol of perseverance in the digital age.

Not convinced? Picture a middle school-aged girl who made a TikTok of the latest dance trend. The girl is generally disliked at school; there are whispers that she is “not into boys.” After her classmates get wind of the TikTok, it is passed around class group chats and mocked mercilessly. The girl feels lost and her parents “just don’t understand.” I can think of somehow who would understand, though. Rebecca Black could probably speak to that girl better than any pre-packaged Disney Channel star.

Now Black is at a crossroads. Does she fully embrace hyperpop or become a queer Carly Rae Jepsen in the vein of “Girlfriend?” Neither, probably. Black is keeping the details of her current project under wraps, but she warns that “the sounds and things [she] explore[s] might surprise people.”

“It hasn't been made with the idea of ‘let’s make big pop hits,’” Black added.

No matter the direction of Black’s musical style, her status as an icon and role model will only be further confirmed. Everybody’s looking forward to the weekend, and I, for one, am looking forward to Rebecca Black’s promising future.