Rebecca Black’s unexpected career arc is a thing of beauty

In June of last year, Twitter user @s_jobs6 mused, “There are few things to celebrate in this world but the fact that Rebecca Black is now a gay icon is definitely one of them.” And they weren’t wrong. Black’s unusual career arc — from viral punchline to genuine artist — is absolutely something worth celebrating.

In 2011, Black was a middle schooler in suburban Los Angeles when she released a song called “Friday” via an outfit called Ark Music Factory. Ark was sort of a pay-to-play record label, where producer and rapper Patrice Wilson would help aspiring young musicians write a pop song and make a (low-budget) video in exchange for money.

“I found it through a friend of mine at school and I was like, ‘Oh, this looks interesting,'” she tells Tom Power in an interview on Q. “And my parents, my mom really, thought it was worthwhile to do for some reason.”

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Q23:37Rebecca Black is getting down — and getting even — with her new album, Let Her Burn

The resulting video, much to Black’s surprise, went viral — and not in a good way. In retrospect, the response to “Friday” seems like an absolutely unhinged orgy of online cruelty. Adults — including some prominent comedians — spent weeks mercilessly dunking on a child, turning Black and Friday into a widespread subject of mockery.

Black acknowledges that, at the time, the criticism felt shattering.

“When you’re a 13-year-old, it’s impossible to process,” she says. “You’ve grown up for 13 years knowing that adults know more than you, knowing to look to adults for advice, knowing to look for validation elsewhere as you learn how to operate in the world. Every piece of feedback that I got, I took as fact.”

For most people, being on the receiving end of that kind of dogpile at such a young age would turn them off music, and publicity, for life. But Black is not most people

She made a cameo in a Katy Perry video. She kept circulating at the fringes of the internet and pop culture. She developed a following on social media. She continued making music, getting hooked into the hyperpop scene (a genre that combines pop melodies with psychedelic, glitchy production and terminally online sensibilities). She released two EPs, and in 2021 she did a 10-year anniversary remix of “Friday,” featuring hyperpop artist Dorian Electra, late ’00s genre-bending duo 3OH!3 and New Orleans bounce legend Big Freedia. 

“It wasn’t about making the song better,” she says of the remix. “It wasn’t about making the song anything other than what I would have loved to see it be in one of my most chaotic fever dreams. And it’s made [playing] it one of the most fun parts of playing a show for me, seeing people scream and dance to it.”

Black came out as queer in 2020, but she says that long before she came out — before she even figured out her own sexuality — she always felt loved and embraced by LGBTQ+ audiences.

“The queer community, even before I came out, was a community that really was behind me for a long time,” she says. “I think that there was some thread of shared emotion or experience that resonated with them, and maybe they resonated with me. And that was always something, even as a kid and as a teenager through high school, I was so grateful for.”

Now, Black is releasing her full-length debut album, Let Her Burn. It’s an album that is at times surprisingly raw, earnest and real. She says she’s particularly proud of the song “Cry Hard Enough.”

“I think there’s a maturity in that song that I was always struggling to find,” she says. “The balance of making something that felt really big and serious, but also I love my music to be extremely maximalist. I love it to be really pop at the same time.”

She adds that, with this album, she’s no longer trying to reclaim her narrative or prove herself to other people. She’s just making music that she loves.

“I finally made something that I love so dearly and has given me so much information about myself and about how I find purpose and meaning,” she says.

The full interview with Rebecca Black is available on the podcast Q with Tom Power. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Interview produced by Vanessa Nigro.

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