03.17.11

Rebecca Black: 'I'm Being Cyberbullied'

In her first interview since becoming a viral sensation with her song “Friday,” 13-year-old Rebecca Black talks to Chris Lee about how the video came to be—and “haters.”

In her first interview since becoming a viral sensation with her song “Friday,” 13-year-old Rebecca Black talks to Chris Lee about how the video came to be—and “haters.” Plus, QUIZ: Rebecca Black or Top 40 Hit?

Rebecca Black never set out to become the latest viral sensation. The Orange County, Calif., eighth grader did not assume she’d displace Charlie Sheen as a top Twitter trending topic thanks to the first song she recorded–a scrappy synth-pop confection called “Friday”–or, for that matter, that the song’s deliciously lo-fi video would go on to be viewed a staggering 13 million times (and counting) in a month on YouTube in spite of (or more likely, owing precisely to) its amusingly amateurish production values.

And Black, 13, certainly never anticipated the social media uproar, mainstream media hellfire, parodies, and remixes that greeted “Friday” as the video became nearly ubiquitous across Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Time.com called the song–which provides a primer on the days of the week, innocently celebrates partying, and ponders the merits of “kickin’ it” in a car’s front versus the back seat from a wholesome teen girl P.O.V.--“a whole new level of bad” and “a train wreck.” Slate proclaimed “Friday” “disastrous” while Yahoo asked straight up, “Is YouTube sensation Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ the worst song ever?”

“Those hurtful comments really shocked me,” Black said yesterday in her first interview since the song came to dominate a certain quadrant of popular culture and crack the iTunes Top 100 singles chart this week, besting the likes of Bruno Mars and Justin Bieber. “At times, it feels like I’m being cyberbullied.”

Black’s odyssey from suburban anonymity to punchline on a blog for the Comedy Central Web-parody show Tosh.O to budding, against-all-odds pop star began inauspiciously enough. She performed musical theater and sang as part of the patriotic ensemble Celebration USA. Talent shows and vocal lessons, all the normal stuff. Until, as Black’s mother Georgina Kelly explained, a classmate fatefully told her about a Los Angeles-based vanity record label called Ark Music Factory where she could gain real-world experience in her chosen profession.

Acing a casting-call audition, Black was invited to record one of two songs label heads had written for her. And, as part of a $2,000 package her mother paid for, they offered to produce an accompanying video in a bid to make a splash on YouTube. The song she picked: “Friday.”

“I didn’t write it at all,” Black said, clearing up a major misconception. “The other song was about adult love–I haven’t experienced that yet. ‘Friday’ is about hanging out with friends, having fun. I felt like it was my personality in that song.”

But the lyrics and production don’t necessarily reflect the real her. Black’s voice arrives sounding heavily processed through pitch-correcting computer software called Auto-Tune. Her unique phrasing renders the word “Friday” as “fry-ee-day.” And such affectless lyrical couplets as We so excited/We gonna have a ball today/Tomorrow is Saturday/And Sunday comes afterward, prompted many to wonder if the whole thing was some kind of elaborate Borat-style prank.

“A few times, when I heard some of the lyrics, I was like, ‘That doesn’t make sense,’” Kelly recalled. “Rebecca said, ‘I sang it as they wrote it, Mom.’ So I didn’t micromanage it.”

According to Oliver Wang, a pop-music critic and sociology professor at California State University, Long Beach, “ 'Friday' embodies any number of current trends practically guaranteed to inspire a set of backlashes.” Among them: “music for teens, anemic dance tracks, Auto-Tuned vocals, super-trite songwriting and most of all, a resentment towards young people whose presence seems to disproportionately dominate social media.”

Things, of course, got ugly with an outpouring of YouTube commenter Haterade that stunned Black and Ark Music gave her the choice to strike “Friday” from the site. Instead, she stuck to her guns. “I decided not to give the haters the satisfaction that they got me so bad I gave up,” Black said.

“I decided not to give the haters the satisfaction that they got me so bad,” Black said.

Rebecca Black "Friday" Official VideoArk Music boss Clarence Jey, who cowrote and produced “Friday,” defended Black as a legitimately talented–if misunderstood–artiste.

“Funniest part of the whole thing is Rebecca Black is actually [an] amazing singer [with] a unique tone and a fantastic fun person,” Jey wrote in an e-mail. “The concept we feel seems to have crossed a lot of boundaries, for the better or worse.”

Having survived the wrath of Twitter nation, the teen is now profiting from the experience–although Kelly says her daughter’s first investments will be donations to Japan relief organizations and school arts programs. For now, at least, she is scheduled to do only limited media—granting interviews soon to both Good Morning America and On-Air With Ryan Seacrest. And Black’s plan going forward is to record an acoustic version of “Friday” to showcase her vocal range in a non-Auto-Tune environment.

“I want to show people there’s more to me than they think,” said Black.

Chris Lee is a senior entertainment writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast. He previously worked as an entertainment and culture reporter for the Los Angeles Times. His work has also appeared in Vibe, Premiere and Details magazines and has been plagiarized in The Sunday Tribune of Ireland and The Trinidad Guardian.

Brian Ries contributed reporting.