March 19, 2011

A Rhetorical Analysis of Rebecca Black's Viral Hit "Friday"

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Cory Matthews on TGIF’s Boy Meets World once said, “Friday, I love Friday. Soon I’m gonna be home for the whole weekend.” Eighteen years later, 13-year-old pop singer Rebecca Black echoes this notion with a subtle rebellion against the teeny boppers of the 21st century. In her first single “Friday,” Ms. Black blasts the Tiger Beat-reading and Justin Bieber-worshipping establishment with a devilishly scorching rebuke of the lifestyle. She asks, “Why must we gotta get down on Friday?”

In the opening verse, Ms. Black introduces the idea of choice. But what choice, if any, is she authorized to make? The educational system has decreed that she must wake up at seven in the morning. Ms. Black goes on to list the things she “gotta” do. What are the consequences of not being “fresh”? Is it so unfathomable that a girl may want to stay in bed or eat cereal from the box? And why must her morning sustenance be cereal?

Ms. Black runs through the monotony of the morning that her family, emotionally numb after years of routine, so readily accepts. While she yearns to end this life sentence to apathy, time inevitably continues “tickin’” like a bomb about to explode.

The arrival of her friends at the bus stop presents Ms. Black with a moment of clarity: These young, presumably free-spirited teens, are her escape from boredom. At least, they should be. In the front seat, her friends are “kickin’.” The young man in flannel, a common garment for the hip, is in the early stages of a monogamous relationship with the girl in the passenger seat. “Sittin’” in the backseat are two strictly platonic friends.

Ms. Black is forced to decide: Which seat can she take? Pondering her choice, however, is futile. The ugly word “gotta,” which Ms. Black introduced us to in her opening verse, returns. She mocks the choice she has with a highly questionable action. She sits in the middle seat of the back of the car. In the parlance of the street, this is referred to as “bitch.” Scholars note that absolutely no one voluntarily rides bitch.

Ms. Black realizes that in the parameters of normal car behavior, she cannot choose the drivers seat because of her age. She cannot sit passenger side because she failed to call “shotgun.” Which seat can she take? The only one available.  The worst seat.

Having made her faux decision, Ms. Black launches into the biting chorus of her pop anthem. She sings that “It’s Friday, Friday/Gotta get down on Friday” mockingly at her friends, suggesting that they are irreversibly bound to the social convention of “gettin’ down” on Friday. It’s not their choice to make. Friday has come, and with it the obligatory partying as well. If everybody is “lookin” forward to the weekend, Ms. Black questions, what sort of existence is that?

The mantra “Partyin’ partyin’” continues ringing.  Ms. Black’s friends, drones behind the wheel of a Chrysler Sebring, happily blasting music while staying under the 35 mph speed limit in the suburbs, respond like Pavlov’s dogs with “Yeah!” Ms. Black’s message is sobering: Society has labeled this what it isn’t—“fun fun fun.”

The second verse joins Ms. Black in media res 12 hours later at 7:45 p.m. in what, given her curfew and bedtime, is the twilight of her Friday. Here, Ms. Black releases the anger she has been harboring. Because the young ladies are “cruisin’ so fast” with the top down, none of them can hear Ms. Black’s PG-13 vitriol. She begs for time to “fly,” in hope that this nightmarish weekend outing will end. She reminds herself to “think about fun,” and, exasperatingly looking for support, shows her cards to the listener: “I got this, you got this.” Ms. Black winks at us, asking us to understand that this Friday is not her cup of tea, or perhaps more aptly, her box of juice. She continues, “My friend is by my right.” Then who, we ask, is young lady on her left, and the two in the front seat? Not her friends. As social interaction on Friday promises, Ms. Black is awkwardly trapped with acquaintances who consider her to be a BFF.

The refrain of “kickin’” and “sittin’” in the car returns, but the question of where to sit is moot: She is already in the car. The choice is no longer where—it’s why she continues to take this obligatory Friday night ride.

In the song’s bridge, Ms. Black returns to her charade and plays with the notion that Friday is some sort of uber-day. She bluntly states that yesterday was Thursday. Tomorrow is Saturday. Afterwards, or perhaps “after words”—Ms. Black has a raucous time twisting simple language into a complex web—is Sunday.  She mocks those who anxiously wait for two days that, much like her youth, will disappear before she’s able to have a “ball.” “We we we” refers to the pack mentality. Friday is here. And predictably with these hollow young women, this must be the best night ever and nothing short of “fun fun fun.”

Herein begins one of the most controversial sections of the song: The rap. Featuring an African American man in his mid 30s, audiences expect this lyrical maestro to hop on the flow and “break it down.” He evokes the muses by calling for “R-B,” but what follows can only be described as gibberish. Surely Ms. Black wrote these rhymes as a solemn “buzz off” to those who readily embrace her satirical anthem as a real ode. The rapper claims to drive fast, yet a school bus passes him by. Does the tick tock of the bus have some greater meaning? You’ll recall Ms. Black heard the same noise in her home in the first verse. But really, none of this means anything.

In the final act of “Friday,” Ms. Black and the young ladies, gussied up for what is likely the most happening spot for 13-year-olds in the suburbs, march into a scene reminiscent of straight-to-VHS films with plots revolving around slumber parties. Ms. Black stands under a tree as a prophet, feeding anyone who listens with lines they want to hear. With every chant of “Yeah,” America’s youth foams at the mouth, excited to be cogs in the machine that runs the teeny bopper universe. Ms. Black’s attempt to upset the establishment has failed, pushing her to make a decision about fun.

And it is here, after three minutes and 47 seconds of auto-tuned pop, that Ms. Black makes her first, tragic choice: She abandons the revolution and gets down. It is, for lack of a better phrase, a black Friday. TC mark

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