It is a fair guess that most readers will be familiar with the 13-year-old would-be pop star Rebecca Black by now.
Ever since her debut single Friday and its accompanying video became the latest YouTube sensation, millions have struggled to digest its meaning.
Is it simply another ultra-trashy piece of teenage pop? Is it the worst song of this generation? Or is it an ingeniously subtle satire on mass consumerism?
While internet forums and social networking sites savaged the young performer, she received support from some surprising quarters, including the pop diva Lady Gaga, who hailed Black as “a genius” in a question-and-answer session organised by Google.
The American Idol creator Simon Cowell praised Friday in People magazine, describing the song as one “girls sing into their hairdryers as they are getting ready to go out”.
Cowell, who is responsible for the marketing behind such mega-selling artists as Leona Lewis and Susan Boyle, went further by declaring his admiration for those responsible for bringing Black to the masses, stating: “Anyone who can create this much controversy within a week, I want to meet.”
Cowell’s wish may come true as Patrice Wilson, the founder and chief executive of Ark Music Factory, the Los Angeles-based label behind Friday, has announced that he was the co-writer and producer responsible for the viral sensation.
Wilson, who also goes by the stage name Pato and appears as the rapping limo driver in the Friday video, said in an “exclusive” video interview released through the label’s website that he used to be a “big” Euro-pop artist, successful in Poland and Slovakia. His motive for going to the US and starting a label, he claimed, was to produce “great pop music that is clean and fun”.
What makes the six-minute interview a little chilling is Wilson’s statement of his intention to scour America and create a stable of young pop stars delivering more songs in the vein of Friday.
Describing his label as less interested in its artists’ musical development than in simply lodging their songs in the listener’s brain, Wilson unapologetically defends Friday’s heavy use of Auto-tune and repetitive lyrics as an attempt to create “that radio sound.”
“A pop tune is supposed to be really, really catchy, regardless of how easy the lyrics might be,” he maintains. “The whole point of creating tunes and songs like that is we want people to keep singing along and saying, ‘I can’t get this song out of my head’.”
But perhaps the biggest controversy is Wilson’s pay-per-song business approach. Youngsters wanting a taste of pop stardom can pay between US$2,000 (Dh7,340) and $4,000 for a package that includes a prewritten song, a video clip and “lunch”. In some deals, royalties go directly to the label, though in Black’s case they are shared with 40 per cent going to the label and the rest to the artist.
Some critics have described the process, essentially a musical form of vanity publishing, as exploitative of the children involved. However, searching through the label’s current list of eight artists, Pato included, reveals what could be a shrewd marketing move to fill a hole left by the major music labels by creating pop music free of racy themes for young teenagers and pre-teenagers.
Ark Music Factory’s artists sing mostly of wholesome topics such as first crushes while the video clips are set in suburban high schools, homes and tepid pool parties. They eschew the parent-troubling sauciness that saw artists such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Miley Cyrus jump from teenage pop to mainstream stardom.
The absence of decent tunes might limit their chances of crossover success and, perversely, after listening to them it becomes apparent that none of the other songs possesses the sheer awfulness that makes Friday stand out. Abby Victor’s Crush on You and Kaya’s Can’t Get You Out of my Mind are run-of-the-mill Euro-pop numbers that could have been made in well... Poland or Slovakia.
The only remotely redeeming song in the mix is Sarah Maugaotega’s Take It Easy, with its breezy Hawaiian rhythms.
It is also, coincidentally, the only song on this list in which Wilson’s inane rapping doesn’t make an appearance.
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