Click to watch the video on the Times' Ministry of Gossip blog
"We don't hate you because you're famous. You're famous because we hate you."
So went one of countless tweets about Rebecca Black, the eighth-grader whose music video "Friday" — a robotic ditty about waking up in the morning and enduring the drudgery of the school week before reaching exalted Friday — has become a surprise hit on YouTube.
On Tuesday night, Black performed on Jay Leno, and as of Wednesday, "Friday" had been streamed more than 35 million times on YouTube, and hit No. 19 on the iTunes bestselling singles list.
The song almost immediately took a back seat to tens of thousands of Internet comments, many of them downright cruel. It wasn't just the material that provoked such invective — "the worst song ever" has been a refrain — it was Black herself.
"I hope you cut yourself," someone wrote. "I hope you'll get an eating disorder so you'll look pretty, and I hope you go cut and die."
There are plenty more where that came from, none of which can be printed here.
Black's hit is a confusing song. The music takes every convention of rap-influenced synth-driven bubble-gum pop to mind-numbing extremes, and the lyrics, which earnestly remind us that Sunday comes after Saturday and describe the dilemma of choosing which seat to take in a car full of friends who are "kickin' in the front seat" and "sittin' in the back seat" (not to mention driving themselves to middle school), are oddly incoherent.
But none of this is really Black's doing. The song and video are the product of an L.A.-based outfit called Ark Music Factory that, for a fee, will create songs and videos for young aspiring artists. Though Black had to pass an audition and chose between two songs that had been written for her ("Friday" being the more age-appropriate choice, she's since explained), it was her mother who paid the $2,000 bill.
She didn't bet on the blowback. "I could have killed a few people," Black's mother said in an interview on "Good Morning America."
This is a story made for finger-pointing — at Black for her perceived poor performance, at her mother for poor judgment, at Ark Music Factory for its artistic cynicism and flagrant opportunism. And, as a result, it's tempting to spin it into a narrative about everything that's wrong with pop music today.
But the truth is that "Friday" isn't the only cheesy, market-driven single out there, nor is Black the first to be mocked on YouTube. Moreover, Black's mother doesn't appear to have forked over two grand in the hopes that her daughter would be the next Justin Bieber. Instead it seems as if she just wanted to give her daughter a gift — the gift of attention and maybe a teeny bit of fame.
What she apparently didn't realize is that attention and fame these days are as much about hate as about love. To do anything in a public arena is to invite an insta-response that will echo just as loudly with harsh critics as with fans. It means having as many "dislikes" as "likes," as many people making fun of you as embracing you and, when it comes to the Internet, as many scathing, borderline abusive comments as supportive ones (and often many more). It means understanding — or learning the hard way — that being extremely popular is now basically the same thing as being extremely unpopular. Whereas it used to be that the forum for anonymous public opinion was the high school bathroom wall, now the whole world is essentially a bathroom wall.
Many young people today grasp that, at least on an unconscious level. But for just about anyone who came of age in the pre-Internet era — and that would include Black's mother — the notion that public hate can be a perverse form of public validation will always remain, well, perverse.
Maybe that explains why Black herself seems less than undone by the vitriol. Sure, it made her cry at first, she said, but when given the chance to take the video down, she left it up.
"I think that's an accomplishment, you know," she said. "Even a person that doesn't like it. It's gonna be stuck in their heads so, that's the point of it."