How Rebecca Black Will Take Over The World

Mar. 24, 2011

In one of the first chapters of the Spanish textbook Acción, Davíd Vargas asks Graciela to his school dance through an original rap song, “Hola Graciela, mi amiga en la escuela. Por que no vamos a la fiesta y bailamos.” The characters in this introductory textbook create a storyline intended to try and engage and relate with students while teaching the basics of Spanish; it was a hokey representation of high school life devoid of any of the complications of teenage life – teens whose lives made Jesse Spanno’s caffeine pill addiction on Saved by the Bell seem like one of the darkest nights of the human soul. When my Spanish teacher, Mrs. Hornsten, played the tape that accompanied this particular activity, I remember laughing to the point of tears, this particular song becoming the focus of all sorts of adolescent mockery. It was just so bad.

But now in retrospect, the educators who created the materials for Acción won out despite our efforts to belittle their creativity. I still remember Davíd’s rap, and if I ever get stranded in Latin America and want to ask someone out for a night on the town, I can thank the creators of Acción for composing a simple tune that works so well as a mnemonic for language that pieces of my Spanish education will stick with me until death. When I’m forced to take bed rest from old age and riddled with Alzheimer’s, my mind will likely wander to Davíd’s rap as I ask a confused nurse about tonight’s Spanish homework.

In later years, my teachers used Spanish pop songs by actual, bankable artists. I can still sing all of the words to Selena’s “Como la Flor,” and we used to sing Shakira’s “Estoy Aqui” to practice our speed of pronunciation. My familiarity with these immensely popular artists was later a great tool to help create small talk while traveling. Pop music is an important tool when learning a new language, and language is essential to culture. In that sense, the much-mocked “Friday” by Rebecca Black creates the perfect storm for an international mega-hit.

With popularity being the primary metric of success of pop music (I mean, really, do we expect a sublime experience of beauty from pop music?), Black and Ark Music has created an undeniable hit. It’s a song so unpretentious in intentions that it seems impossible not to chock the success to pure coincidence. It’s an age-appropriate song for a 13 year-old artist about the simple parts of being a teen; how we all just can’t wait to go out and have ice cream at the bowling alley with our friends after a hard week at school. In a world where our popular imagination of the teenage dream has more to do with constantly sneaking off to bone down with a boyfriend rather than a healthy morning routine before heading off to school, “Friday” is a truly original and refreshing piece of work in the teen pop landscape.

In response to the song’s clean message, snark and plain out hater-ade have become the default voice of almost all and any discussion of the song online. As a piece of media that owes its popularity solely to Internet and online distribution, it’s no surprise that the 13 year old is being openly mocked in the same public forums responsible for her success (something which she seems to brush off surprisingly well in this endearing, if slightly bizarre, profile).

Her and her parents’ only crime (if you want to call it that) was indulging their privilege by paying an allegedly exploitative production company $2,000 to produce her as a pop star. That’s nothing. Tons of parents with high hopes for the child-star potential of their own kids pay more than that on headshots alone. The level of ‘outrage’ defies a rational merit. To be upset with Rebecca Black’s success is to be upset with the American system of entertainment as a whole. As an underdog narrative of unlikely success – an unknown talent ‘discovered’ by producers – Rebecca’s story reflects values traditionally celebrated among pop artists who are more highly produced and coddled by the media. If we hate Rebecca Black, it’s because it holds up a mirror to our own illogical popular taste.

Regardless of artistic criticisms of the song, 9.7 million views creates a situation where popularity and aesthetic qualities will never see eye to eye. If the American public and media is destined to trash her, there’s no reason for outsiders not to embrace her. So now imagine the following:

Dan, a hypothetical teacher in a fictional, yet realistic scenario, decides to go teach English in Korea to try and pay off his college debt since he can’t find work. Dan is teaching 9 year olds at an extra curricular private school. He gets to the lesson where he has to teach the kids the words for the different days of the week. Wanting to engage the kids through pop culture, as well as looking for a way to trick them into remembering more English vocabulary, he has them listen to Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” With it’s repetition of basic vocabulary and a musical production style akin to Lady Gaga’s “Disco Stick,” he’s found an age-appropriate song that both engages the kids interest contemporary pop styles and helps them remember the lesson.

In the future, I imagine small talk in a conference room, the kind of harmless banter people do in business meetings, turning to the subject of music. One businessman, who grew up in East Asia says, “So you like Rebecca Black?” An American businessman, in the same room representing his company and colleagues, nods his head, biting his tongue remembering how he left a comment on Black’s YouTube video 22 years ago saying she should kill herself.

Rebecca, and the songwriters who worked with her, tapped into something special – a song so ordinary, trite, and redundant that we can all remember the lyrics and sing along after one listen. It’s something so simple it feels like any one of us could have made it, and so people hate her because they want to be her. They hate her for getting the fame they feel they could achieve had they been given the same set of circumstances. Simply put, the haters are just jealous. TC mark

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