I don’t know about you, but Rebecca Black’s “Friday” is one of the biggest defining cultural milestones I can remember from my teenage years. Not just the song itself, mind you, although its repetitive earworm-iness has definitely stuck with me for quite some time. Mostly, it impacted me via the music video’s reception and subsequent meme-ification by the public. It’s hard to overstate how mainstreamed mockery of the video was: we had Youtube Poops, comedic dubs, “reviews” by angry men screaming in their basements (that I will not link to), and worst of all, an inevitable Glee cover. Yikes. All this over a song by a 13-year-old who signed with a record company that’s made an industry out of making children with rich parents into “pop stars” that was never even intended to make much of an impact, and certainly not in this way.

So, I’m going juuust a bit against conventional wisdom on the Internet when I say this: “Friday” isn’t that bad. In fact, I really like it.

I mean, I will admit that 17-year-old Ross was on the hater train for a while, because that’s what you do when you’re a teenager on the Internet. But for all the frothing at the mouth people did about “Friday” being “one of the worst songs ever made,” I really just can’t agree now. It sounds like exactly the kind of music you’d expect a 13-year-old girl to make. It’s not inappropriately sexual like other attempts at teen viral video stardom I could name, and its repetitive nature ends up being more soothing than irritating. It entirely bypasses dislike for me and loops back around to appreciation: “gotta get down on Friday” becomes a mantra, not a meme.

Most of it comes down to the fact that “Friday” wasn’t coldly calculated to be laughed at instead of with like SyFy Channel Original Movies or anything Tommy Wiseau’s done since The Room. Those operate on a deeply condescending and even cruel logic that assumes you’ll watch them just so you can feel superior for recognizing how bad it is, despite the fact that the creators themselves are laughing at you all the way to the bank for actually buying into it. “Friday” on the other hand, is completely, 100% sincere about its content, from Black repeating “fun” over and over flatly to the out-of-nowhere rap cameo from songwriter Patrice Wilson, which lends it its own special kind of charm that mega-expensive pop monstrosities often don’t have.

But apparently, perfectly innocent sincerity is too much for the toxic culture of the Internet, who saw fit to make “Friday” the third-most disliked video on Youtube and shower Black with death threats, which led to her being placed under police protection. She released a follow-up single, “My Moment” that addressed the people criticizing her, which really only made things worse. Eventually, she faded into relative obscurity by continuing to make perfectly serviceable Disney-esque teen pop, leaving her another drop in an ocean of yesterday’s memes.

But in 2013, everything changed. Black collaborated with Youtube musician Dave Days to make a song called “Saturday” with a video that parodied “Friday’s,” from Black picking up a cereal bowl with “gotta have my bowl” written on it to Patrice Wilson making a cameo at the end, bursting into the party shouting the verse from “Friday” and subsequently being arrested. It’s a classic move: win back the crowd by showing you’re willing to make fun of yourself. Disney did the same thing with Enchanted after a string of lackluster animated films in the early-mid 2000’s. And, like Enchanted, “Saturday” worked as expected. Rebecca Black was no longer the target of every pathetic 4chan creep’s bile; she was the Cool Girl who laughs at herself the next day after waking up with a moustache drawn on her face. Now that she’d said “Just kidding, ‘Friday’ is so dumb, lol” she was magically okay to like again.

While “Saturday” is a completely fine song on its own, watching the video there’s a very uncomfortable air about it: a sense of desperation to not be hated by the public at large by disavowing something that wasn’t even her fault. Black isn’t responsible for writing “Friday,” or directing the video, but she was made to answer for it all the same, because how dare girls ever want to have fun, fun, fun, fun. It’s worth noting that this coincided “nicely” with the ultra-misogynistic backlash towards Twilight and its fandom, yet another example of girls being shamed for enjoying things (yes, there are legitimate criticisms of Twilight to be made, but that’s not what these people were mad about).

So what lesson are people supposed to take from this, exactly? Never be sincere online? That must be the lesson quite a lot of people took from it, as most online interactions tend to be steeped in at least six layers of irony before they’re deemed worthy of responding to. Genuine emotion tends to feel like performance, whether we feel like it or not. If you write a lengthy, in-depth piece about some social issue or trend in entertainment that’s really close to your heart, it’ll often get picked up and spread around as a “rant,” which is language that demeans the emotional and intellectual labor that goes into producing such a thing, no matter how innocently it’s used. If you unleash a tweet-storm about your issues with mental illness or abuse, the common reaction tends to be “don’t react,” because we’ve been so trained to deal in sarcasm and jokes online that real, human emotion from someone whose face we can’t directly see has become alien to us.

While social media’s grooming to consume information at an even faster pace than before has made people more aware of real-world issues than ever, it’s also distanced us from the specifics of lived experience. I can’t speak for Rebecca Black, but her recent release of the single “The Great Divide” (which is really good) seems to indicate she wants to leave everything regarding “Friday” behind her and simply be considered her own person. The video is stark and simple, and the song is a booming, powerful production; listened to on its own you’d have no idea it was her at all. But maybe that’s part of the problem. “Friday” will always be a part of who Rebecca Black is and she shouldn’t have to deny it in order to be granted personhood by the Internet Sincerity Brigade.

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2 thoughts on “The Dangers of Sincerity on the Internet, or, The Saga of Rebecca Black

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