When it comes to artists that defined the past decade, Rebecca Black might not be at the top of your list. But once you break it down, Rebecca Black’s “Friday” – released 10 years ago this year – set the blueprint for how songs would be made, marketed and distributed in the years to follow. Its exceedingly viral nature, irony-driven success and even its unhinged use of autotune can all be seen in fragments with just one scroll of your TikTok ‘For You’ page.
“Friday” didn’t just understand the assignment all those years ago – it set the assignment.
Now, Rebecca Black is a few days off 24 years old. She’s tattooed, she’s red-haired and she’s ready to re-introduce herself with her new self-titled project, Rebecca Black Was Here. “I've been here for a moment, and I've been trying to just figure it out for myself,” she tells MTV Australia. “Ever since ‘Friday’ and even before ‘Friday’ existed – all I knew was being a teenager who was trying to understand what was going on.”
At 13 years old, Black was thrust into viral fame just as we were all learning how bad the internet could really get. Death threats were made to her online and on the phone, the police had to get involved, and, of course, she was dubbed as having “the worst song ever made”.
Yet, those experiences – even with the trauma – helped shape the person, and the artist, Black is today. “I guess, in hindsight, what happened with ‘Friday’ ... all of those types of things allowed me to find the person that is in this project,” she says. “And that was all I could do and the best way I could define the project overall.”
Six songs long, Rebecca Black Was Here is an onslaught of Black’s varied interpretations of the pop landscape. It’s riveting and invigorating, yet doesn’t compromise on honesty and vulnerability. There’s the smooth funk of “Girlfriend”, the abrasive glitch of “Personal”, the sultry croon of “Worth It For The Feeling” and then some. Yet, what’s key about the project – and it’s biggest drawcard – is that it remains cohesive and coherent despite its sonic range.
“One of the most poignant parts of the project to me,” she says, “is how just many of the references and ideas and the things that I wanted to try I was able to actually get into the project. But it was also one of the scariest parts about this project: being afraid of people not seeing it as coherent or whatever it should have or could have been.”
“Every time I come into the studio,” Black tells, “(producer) Micah Jasper is always like, "this is so different from what we did last time, but it makes so much sense and I love this, and I feel the same way.”
No one who has been paying attention is expecting Rebecca Black to put out a “bad” song. She’s been steadily building her repertoire since 2016, dropping a string of singles and EPs garnering critical acclaim from some of music’s biggest tastemakers. Not a bad result after worldwide infamy.
In a cultural zeitgeist that is so driven by facade, Black admits she’s struggled to portray herself accurately. “There's so many things that I have unpacked for myself over the past 10 years, but one thing that hit me in the face a couple of years ago, in therapy, was the way that I thought I had to portray myself when I was a kid,” she says.
“I was so focused for so long on how to be the thing that people would like, and it all of a sudden became very obvious to me that nobody likes somebody who's trying to be anything else. People are very intuitive. They really can pick up on when something feels off.”
“It never worked for me in the end. The only thing that did work for me were the moments where I felt comfortable and safe enough to be whatever I was. Whether or not it made any sense or not, at least I was trying to be myself.”
The journey of self-discovery through adolescence and beyond is one we all go through, though definitely with far less vilification than Black did (“not everyone has a “Friday” in their life”). But, notably, Black’s journey led her to the realisation and understanding that she is a queer woman, coming out publicly last year.
Black, a queer Latinx woman, understands the importance of representation in media and recognises just how far society has to go on that front. Growing up, she says she struggled to find that representation for herself, but she ended up finding it, in part, in SOPHIE, the pioneering pop producer who tragically passed away earlier this year.
“I'm so grateful for artists like SOPHIE and so many others who have provided that (representation) in whatever way that might be,” Black says. “Ever since I came across SOPHIE, I felt not only the fearlessness in that project [2018’s Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides] and in their work… but [I felt] a care to make exactly whatever they wanted without concern for it being gotten or being understood. That was something I searched for, for so long and I'm still not quite at the finish line – who knows if I'll ever be – but I'm looking for myself.”
Her connection to SOPHIE goes beyond liberation through the artist’s work, however. SOPHIE helped pioneer the ever-evolving colourful sub-genre of “hyper-pop”: pop music that’s sickly sweet, aggressive, hard and almost plastic in nature. Now, after collaborating with artists like Dorian Electra and 100 gecs, it could be argued that Black finds herself in that world too.
The pipeline from “Friday” to hyper-pop is clear, with Wonka-like production and almost complete distortion of vocals, but Black doesn’t think Rebecca Black Was Here exists solely in that realm. In fact, she says she enjoys toying with the expectations that it would.
“I've had a really fulfilling experience, in making this project, with playing with the perception that people might have of me and what they might expect me to do,” she says. Not that I'm intentionally trying to go all these different ways, but it's just the reality of what I like.”
She later says, “I've got all sorts and types of feelings that are constantly changing about it all in regards to the way my career has gone and what the past 10 years have been like. But I went into this project just trying to make music that made a lot of sense to me, and that felt like it was an accurate representation of what I wanted it to be. But that morphed and changed a million times in the process of making one song.”
Another pipeline Black has in parts travelled on is the all too common social media star to legitimate musician. Yes, Black gained notoriety through “Friday”, but she wasn’t taken seriously until she had built a genuine fanbase on YouTube.
The social media personality to musician trajectory is as old as YouTube’s innocent early days of cinnamon challenges and best friend tags, and it’s proving just as fruitful for talent today – TikToker Bella Poarch signed to Warner Music just last month.
While Black admits this pipeline has produced some great music – “Troye Sivan is an ICONIC ARTIST!” – she also reveals that her younger self wasn’t so accepting of these career moves.
“I've had my own feelings about [social media stars pursuing music] and they've changed a lot over the last few years,” Black says.
“I struggled with a bit of judgment that came from only my own insecurity about it, where I felt this need of searching for answers from some people – is this your passion?”
“But, I had so many people speak for me for so long and what I was doing and why I was doing it and why I made ‘“Friday’” and so many of them were so wrong. Whether or not anybody's [making music] for passion or for the clout of it all, I like good music.”
At the time of writing, Rebecca Black is an independent artist. Being independent comes with obvious drawbacks – less funding, less help and less resources – but in Black’s case, it’s allowed her to take the front seat. “We're all trying to make our own imprints [where] we can,” she says. “When you involve other people who have a stake in it, it can feel like their ideas have as much or more weight than your own.”
“One thing that any artist should always hold, and this is what I've learned from my own experiences, is their own gut instinct and their own priorities mean something. I could have done a lot of different things. I could have made a lot of different choices over the past 10 years, and even over the past year in making this project. But the ones that I made were … what I wanted to do for myself.”
The choices that internet icon Rebecca Black has made has led her to this moment: Rebecca Black Was Here. But, as the project’s title suggests, this is but a timestamp on her life and her career. There will be more.
She’s already got her seatbelt on, the top down and is cruising down the highway to wherever her quest for self-discovery will take her next. “Friday” is but dust in her wake; she’s looking forward to the weekend.