x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Rebecca Black looks to keep 'Friday' party rolling

The teenager became an overnight sensation thanks to the success of her debut release on YouTube. Sustaining her career will be quite another task.

Rebecca Black, 14, saw her single Friday notch up an incredible 167 million hits on YouTube — but it only reached 58 in the US chart. AP Photo / Chris Pizzello
Rebecca Black, 14, saw her single Friday notch up an incredible 167 million hits on YouTube — but it only reached 58 in the US chart. AP Photo / Chris Pizzello

"I'm not going to be just a one-hit wonder, this is what I have wanted to do all my life and what I plan to do for the future," writes Rebecca Black on the biography page of her website, demonstrating the kind of clench-jawed conviction that would have made the wannabe Madonna proud in the early Eighties.

"I'm determined and I don't think people realise how hard I've worked for this to happen. I'm not going to let the haters stop me."

It is now six months since Black's Friday video became an online sensation. It has since notched up 167 million views on YouTube, until Black's record label began charging to watch the clip against her wishes in June, prompting a copyright dispute that forced its removal from the video-sharing website.

As a result of her YouTube success, the 14-year-old daughter of divorced veterinarians from Anaheim, California, has performed on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, seen her signature song appear on Glee and she has even turned up in a Katy Perry video.

That's not all. Earlier this month she joined Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez on the winner's roster at the Teen Choice Awards, arguably the leading barometer of celebrity popularity among North American adolescents. That her 15 minutes of fame have been extended is now beyond doubt. Of course, the question remains, why?

To answer, it is helpful to return to the Friday clip. What hits you most immediately is the intrinsic peculiarity of Black's vocals.

They are quite unlike anything you've ever heard before - auto-tuned to the point of sounding inhuman but strangely nasal, too, like a robot with blocked nostrils.

Then you begin to take in the production values, so shoddy they would shame a second-rate Seventies TV sitcom, and the video's treatment, which is literal to the point of wince-inducing. In the opening frames, Black urgently informs us that she "gotta get down to the bus stop". And she does.

Of course, there is also a catchy chorus and a succession of not exactly Dylanesque lyrics.

These examine a typical American teen's Friday morning routine from consuming a nutritious breakfast ("Gotta have a bowl, gotta have cereal!"), to navigating the school journey ("Gotta make my mind up - which seat can I take?"), to sizing up one's position relative to ones peers ("My friend is by my right - ay!), to planning the weekend's leisure activities ("partyin', partyin', yeah!"). Rolling Stone magazine called Friday an "unintentional parody of modern pop". Once seen, it is definitely not forgotten.

That, apparently, is what you get when your parents enlist the professional services of the Ark Music Factory, at a cost of $2,000, plus the same again for supposed ownership of the subsequent audio and visual recording.

The self-styled "indie record label", based in Los Angeles, describes itself as making it possible for "an emerging artist to be discovered, defined and delivered, to advance in their chosen career and be successful".

Throughout this four-minute Friday, Black remains utterly unknowing, unfazed and unembarrassed, even by the string of inane lyrics she is required to deliver and remains unflinching when she sings: "Tomorrow is Saturday, and Sunday comes afterwards."

Black's naivete makes the majority of the vitriolic online responses to Friday seem utterly shocking. Indeed, more than three million viewers pressed the "dislike" button under the video on YouTube - an unwanted record for the website.

But does anyone, particularly a teenager who made a low-budget pop video (Black says of the video that she "didn't really expect much to come out of it") deserve to read this: "I hope you get an eating disorder so you'll look pretty and I hope you go cut yourself and die."

She later confessed she has been reduced to tears by such comments and says that "at times it feels like I'm being cyber-bullied".

But self-pity has been conspicuous in its absence.

During an interview with Good Morning America, the teen displayed both humility - "I don't think I'm the worst singer, but I don't think I'm the best singer" - and plenty of resilience.

"It's an accomplishment that even a person who doesn't like [the song] is going to have it stuck in their head," she reasoned. Black also gave an acoustic performance of Friday that suggested (backhanded compliment only partially intended) that she has evaluated her own talents pretty accurately.

Without the dubious benefit of auto-tune, she certainly managed to carry the song's (by now) all too familiar tune.

Perhaps most impressively, she has also displayed a sense of humour, a character trait often lacking in fledgling pop-stars.

One of her Twitter messages teased fans about My Moment, her then unreleased second single, by writing: "It does not have to do with weekdays, or months, or numbers or colours. Throwin' that out there."

The way Black has conducted herself since is even more commendable. Indeed, it may actually have helped to extend her moment in the spotlight. She has emerged as bubbly and feisty, self-aware without being overly self-conscious, driven but not deluded.

In short, she has become an underdog you can (and want to) root for. And since it emerged last week that real-life bullying has forced her to become home-schooled, it is hard not to feel a little protective towards the girl who shot to fame.

But before we begin to read Black's story as some kind of social media success story - albeit one with deeply troubling personal repercussions for the girl herself - let's take a look at the chart stats.

Those 167 million YouTube views did not yield especially impressive sales figures - Friday climbed no higher than number 58 in the US, two places higher than it managed in the UK.

Her follow-up effort, a fairly self-explanatory empowerment song called My Moment, has amassed 23 million views of its own since debuting on YouTube last month.

But that hasn't helped it to break the charts in any significant music market. So, what next? Well, just last week Black performed for 10 million TV viewers on an episode of America's Got Talent.

Simon Cowell and Lady Gaga are publicly on side, while Katy Perry, a fellow Californian, is also smitten.

She invited Black onstage during a recent concert to join her for an affectionate rendition of Friday. The following day, video footage of their performance was the talk of the pop blogosphere.

Black is now preparing a five-track digital EP, to be released later this month on her own RB Records.

It remains to be seen whether her charm and chutzpah can prolong what should have been an incredibly limited shelf life.

Whatever happens, Black won't be fading away without a fight. As she sings on the opening lines of My Moment: "Weren't you the one who said I would be nothing? Well, I'm about to prove you wrong." It might be wise not to write her off just yet.

Nick Levine is a freelance music journalist based in London.