With a new release, Rebecca Black Was Here, the singer has definitively overcome the tale of her infamous start
Rebecca Black just released new music, and it’s great. Just imagine reading that sentence 10 years ago. It couldn’t have been much fun to be 13-year-old Rebecca Black back then, when her well-meaning mother ponied up the money to have her daughter record a silly, throwaway pop song and film a music video for it. What likely would have made for an oddball memento of youth instead became a national punchline. “Friday” was a massive sensation, mostly for all the wrong reasons: It was cited in the press at the time as one of the “worst songs ever,” a viral hit that tended to split reaction equally between so-bad-it’s-good and so-bad-it’s-awful, the kind of thing that should’ve remained a digital party favor from a bat mitzvah. Black’s deeply Auto-Tuned voice and flat, nasal delivery were excoriated, and while many shared it with a good-natured sense of “Whoops, poor kid,” there was unfortunately also the rest of the internet, cruelly and stupidly mocking a girl barely out of grade school.
Only, a funny thing happened over the course of the next decade: Rebecca Black kept at it. Where many might have diplomatically turned tail and retreated into the comforting anonymity of everyday life, Black forged ahead with the only thing she really wanted to do: keep making music. Embracing (or maybe accepting) the fact that, for the next few years, she’d be known as that largely untalented girl who made the ridiculous viral hit, Rebecca Black accepted her lot and kept working at it. She mostly disappeared from public attention, a William Hung-like “remember that?” piece of trivia—but all along, Black was steadily uploading new music to her YouTube channel, often covers of hits like “Wrecking Ball” but also the occasional original number.
The music she made during those years is essentially forgettable (especially “Saturday,” an ill-advised attempt to follow up on the notoriety of her debut), but that’s the point: It’s a teenager learning the tricks of the music-career trade, spending long days learning melodies, delving into the history of pop music, and growing up in the same way as any other person beginning a lifelong love affair with music. Black was a kid following the same path as so many musicians before her; unfortunately, she had to do it with the albatross of her much-derided past weighing her down. But she eventually took that ignoble 15 minutes of fame and wrenched it into an asset: When she began officially releasing new music again at 19, she used her name recognition to land a spot on the Fox singing competition show The Four: Battle For Stardom, and actively campaigned against cyberbullying, citing her own experience.
But maybe it took coming into her full identity as an adult to trigger something significant in her music. Last year, Black publicly came out as queer, and in early 2021, she released “Girlfriend,” a joyous ode to reuniting with a significant other that bounces along with the bubblegum-pop froth of an old Katy Perry joint. The next original, “Personal,” was even better, a burbling, electro-pop groove that erupts into a stuttering embrace of a failed relationship, accepting what life serves up. It’s a righteous, and righteously addictive, bop.
Significantly, both the song and video for “Personal” work as a symbolic signal of Black’s transition from her amateur-hour early days to the fully formed pop artist she’s become. The first 30 seconds feature generic synths and a heavily Auto-Tuned verse, as though calling back to the hoary, unimaginative studio trickery that first brought the world’s attention upon her. In the video, Black is lounging on a bed in heavy makeup and glammed-up boudoir wear, as she rolls her fingers across endless, identical lines of pill bottles, like a Valley Of The Dolls fever dream. But then, a jarring bass thrum kicks in, Black’s natural voice doubles with its digitally manipulated counterpart, and a menswear-clad Black, hair loose and unkempt, dances down a flight of stairs, grabs a bedazzled chainsaw, and cuts loose with dance-like-no-one’s-watching bravado. It couldn’t be a more apt metaphor if she digitally morphed the younger her into this new self.
Now, Black has collected “Girlfriend,” “Personal,” and four other, equally catchy tracks as Rebecca Black Was Here. The results suggest a singer who has incorporated the many parts of herself into a cohesive—if happily messy and unstructured—whole. There are exuberant, Charlie XCX-evoking numbers (“NGL”), aching torch songs (“Blue”), and soak-in-your-feelings grooves (“Worth It For The Feeling”), all of them capable of going toe-to-toe with any contemporary pop hit currently sitting on the charts.
Black is refusing to call this an “album” or an “EP,” instead terming Rebecca Black Was Here a “project.” When The A.V. Club reached out to ask why, she responded: “This project for me kind of fell in several different places that made neither ‘album’ nor ‘EP’ really fit the best. And honestly, the word ‘project’ was what I’d also referred to it as from the get-go and throughout the process of creating it—so it’s just what stuck, and made sense to me the most.” That might seem eye-rolling to those who prefer simple terms and clear categories, but for an artist who had to spend her formative years stuck in the “one-mistake wonder” box with everyone else who stumbled into fame through a much-derided fluke, resisting categorization makes all the sense in the world.
Rebecca Black Was Here is a vibrant, sugar-coated confection of pop thrills that should make even the most skeptical acknowledge her talent. It occasionally relies too heavily on the hyperpop tricks of gimcrack music (the auto-tune makes itself too present at times, a shame given her rich voice), but even that can be part of the fun, an acknowledgement that the old Rebecca Black was, proudly, once here. And now, with a strong calling card and clear sense of musical identity (not to mention an upcoming tour), Black has established herself as a legitimate pop talent, one who possesses the makings of something great. Fun, fun, fun, indeed.