In addition to being the most reviled song of the week, the mesmerizingly ridiculous “Friday” - the viral, singing debut of Orange County, California, teen Rebecca Black - also features a video that’s garnered more than 30 million hits on YouTube…in about a week. To put this in perspective: “Friday” has landed more views than the Billboard Hot 100’s current No. 1 song, “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga, has in three weeks. More context: This was the thing we were waiting for to finally eclipse, in attention, Charlie Sheen’s public meltdown.
Immediately quotable (“Fun! Fun! Fun! Fun!”), the monotonic track, Auto-Tuned within an inch of its life, aspires to capture the sticky repetition of Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” guest rhymes and all. The feedback ranged from head-scratching (“Is Awful the New Good?”) to disgusted (“what a train wreck”). All doe eyes and toothy smile, Black went on Good Morning America in a segment about cyberbullying, and ended it by gushingly asking Bieber to sing a duet with her. He tweeted in reply, “Sunday comes after saturday? weird.”
Bieber wasn’t the only celebrity to take notice. With the haters, came some admirers: Nick Jonas covered the tune live, and Simon Cowell marveled, “The fact that it’s making people so angry is brilliant… Anyone who can create this much controversy within a week, I want to meet.” He’s got a point: According to Forbes.com, the YouTube payout for all those “Friday” hits could net $20,000 and iTunes sales could exceed $1 million.
To be fair, we can neither commend nor blame the perfectly innocent Black for the failing-upwards confection that is “Friday.” That responsibility goes to Ark Music Factory, the unknown songwriting-producing duo of Patrice Wilson (the guest rapper in question on the track) and Clarence Jey. For a few grand—in this case $2,000, paid by Black’s mom—they’ll pen two pop confections for your privileged kid and shoot one video.
In return, they get a cut of any profits; in other words, they’re the chief benefactors of this curious phenomenon. (Black, meanwhile, has vowed to donate a chunk of her cut to disaster relief in Japan.) Visit their site, and you’ll see that they hope to repeat it with handfuls of other unremarkable teen girls singing anemic, so-inoffensive-they’re-offensive pop tracks lacquered in synths and Auto-Tune.
Suddenly the dialogue isn’t about how wacky Internet memes are. It’s about whether Black’s even fleeting success is dictating the music you listen to. It reminds us that the history of transient pop singers with opportunist svengalis (their company, tellingly, named a “factory”) is indeed strong. It sends a powerful message that scrappy self-promotion is essential in this era of crumbling music corporations, and that the privileged are at an advantage.
But mostly, it points out that we’ve been hoodwinked into actually allowing Black and Ark Music Factory to profit off of a song we vehemently deride. So who is to blame? Perhaps her song—an unwitting, extreme parody of all that is wrong in pop music—is really no worse than what we consume on a daily basis. While some mock the “Friday” lyric “Tomorrow is Saturday/And Sunday comes afterwards,” is that really any worse, as Salon.com mentions, than Ke$ha’s “Blah Blah Blah”: “Blah blah blah/ Think you'll be getting this/ Nah nah nah.” Somewhere, Dr. Luke’s ears are ringing.