Who exactly is Rebecca Black? It’s a question that the 23-year-old has been grappling with ever since she got swept away in a whirlwind of virality 10 years ago thanks to a song called Friday. “Having such a crazy start to things, and with so much more happening in the beginning than I ever expected, I’ve always felt like I was kind of working backwards to find really who I was, as an artist, and what I wanted to say.”
On her new release, Rebecca Black Was Here — a pacey six-track “project” that blends hyperpop, disco and R&B, and charts the ups and downs of a relationship — the Californian feels as though she’s “captured this moment in time really well” for herself. But she hasn’t always been the one in charge of her public persona.
In late 2010, aged 13 and inspired by another girl in her school who had done likewise, Black persuaded her mother to spend a few thousand dollars on asking a songwriting company that catered for young singers, ARK Music Factory, to come up with a track for her and shoot a video.
After turning down the first offering — a song about being a boy’s “superwoman”, shunned because it felt inappropriate for someone barely into their teens — ARK returned with a more relatable track, a fairly anodyne ode to hanging out and getting ready for the weekend. Black agreed, recorded the song in a studio, filmed the video at her dad’s house and then, for a few weeks, thought little more of it.
While the foundations of today’s all-consuming meme culture were already being laid in 2011, the internet was a very different place to what it is now. Twitter was, largely, somewhere to talk about your breakfast, not for presidents to spew bile. And though other music videos had already gone viral at this point, this was still almost two years before Psy conquered YouTube with Gangnam Style.
So when Black, on her way home from school one day, watched with bemusement as her video started racking up thousands, then hundreds of thousands, and then millions of views, it came entirely by surprise. This was in early 2011, and was the beginning of what Black has since described as “the weirdest year of my life”.
Within days, Friday had taken over social media, and Black became the zeitgeist. She was on late night TV talk shows, all over television news, and encircled by money-hungry music execs. As the video raced towards the 100-million-views mark, she had to endure almost constant ridicule, the severity of which ranged from jokey YouTube comments and parody videos to death threats. Soon, the taunting at school became too much, and she moved to homeschooling.
Friday was a runaway train, and in the years that followed, Black has been trying to regain some of its power. She’s done it largely through self-deprecation (a commendably brave move when the world is laughing at, not with you), appearing in Katy Perry’s video for Last Friday Night in 2012, and recording a follow-up song called Saturday a year later.
In February 2021, the decade-long saga arrived at what Black describes as the “perfect closing chapter”. Along with Dorian Electra, 3OH!3 and Big Freedia, she marked the 10-year anniversary with a tongue-in-cheek, but undeniably donking remix of Friday, which has since garnered more than 1.2m Spotify streams. It was, Black says, “really everything I had hoped to do and more in terms of reclaiming that for me”.
It was also “powerful” to see “how the conversation had changed about that song over the years,” Black says. “The amount of messages and things that people have said to me over the years, especially the last few years, about how now they look back and either find joy in that song, or they think back to some of things they said about that song or about at me at the time, that they would never say today, and acknowledge that… I just think there’s been a lot of change over the past 10 years with how people view that song.”
There’s also been a radical reassessment in how she views herself as an artist. After Friday’s success, her creative direction was led by an entourage of music industry types who, by all accounts, didn’t have her best interests at heart. “I always felt incredibly young and naive in terms of how to lead my own work, because I was a kid for so long in the industry,” Black says. “And I was surrounded by a lot of people who only made me feel more like a child.”
At 16, she fired her team, and decided to go it alone. Since then her solo music, which has arrived through singles and EPs at a steady rate over the years, has been self-released. And though she’s built a new cadre around her, Black is the driving force. “I’ve got an incredible team who no doubt deserve so much credit in making this [new project] happen, but the creativity and the ideas and the music have been led by what I finally wanted to do, and that is so gratifying.”
Rebecca Black Was Here, which fizzes with booming synths and relaxes with mature slow jams, certainly has the feel of an artist intent on upending any lingering notions of what they used to be. “For a long time, I felt really afraid to grow up and kind of be anything more than this little kid,” she says. And though she acknowledges that she’s still young in the grand scheme of things, “I’ve grown up a lot, and there are just so many things I want to do and try”. In the visuals for the song Personal, Black wields a huge, glittering chainsaw, which is a solid metaphor if nothing else. “Woman wielding diamond chainsaw is where I’m at”, she says with a laugh.
But there’s also a break with convention in the tracklisting, with the first five songs working through the various emotions of a break-up, only for the final song to confirm that Black intends on getting back with her ex. That disco-tinged song, titled Girlfriend, also feels like a gleeful celebration of queerness for an artist who came out publicly in April last year.
“It’s been extremely cathartic”, Black says of the song, and adds that although the plan wasn’t initially “to make a joyful queer song — I was just trying to express what was happening to me at that moment — in the end that’s what it became”.
When she did come out, it was as if the internet revealed a whole different side to the one that tore her down as a teenager. YouTube videos and Twitter were awash with loving, welcoming comments, congratulating Black on her announcement.
“I feel so grateful for the way that people have accepted me and embraced me, especially in the queer community,” Black says. “I mean, I’ve said this a lot: my relationship with the queer community, for as long as I can remember, has always been extremely important to me — not only because I really believe in the right for queer people to live equally, but because the queer community had my back before anyone else.”
A lot of that, Black thinks, “has to do not only with the way maybe some people resonated with my experience, but the way that queer people embrace camp”. Whatever the reason, “it was just important for me to uphold as much respect to the community as I could,” she says.
Where Black goes next in her most unconventional of careers is still a relative unknown (“It takes me three hours to decide what I’m going to eat for a meal,” she jokes). But there is a newly announced US tour for next year — her first ever as a headliner — and new material is already in the works. “I just love to make music, so I’m always making it,” she says. “Whether I know if it’s going to [be released] or not, I’ll continue to do that for as long as I love it, and hopefully that’s forever.”