It’s a new day for Rebecca Black. The viral phenom has just released “Saturday,” the follow-up to her mind-bendingly bad single and video “Friday.” And I’m pleased to say that it’s an incredibly good, boundary-pushing piece of pop art. No, I’m kidding, it sucks terribly.
Black and her team, including duet partner Dave Days, who takes a verse and sings harmonies here, seem to think that displaying some modicum of the self-awareness that “Friday” lacked entirely will erase the public perception of her as a talent-challenged hack.
It does not. The un-subtle recalls to some of the more laughable moments of the “Friday” debacle (the bowl of cereal, the shocking ‘fun, fun, fun, fun’ lyric) in fact make them instantly un-laughable. We weren’t laughing with you, Ms. Black, and we don’t want to. It’s important that you understand that. You’ve actually ruined “Friday” for us. Amazing.
As some reviewers have noted, “Saturday” is a much more professional production. Black’s voice sounds better, and the song is both better written and better produced. But now she, and we, must face the moment of truth in which we hear and evaluate the ‘mature artist’ being offered here, unfettered by producers Ark Music Factory, which rightly took a lot of the blame for “Friday.” Now, almost three years after that toxic smoke has cleared, we gaze upon the banal horror of utterly soulless, overproduced, uninspired tween party pop, no different from a hundred other forgettable, disposable songs.
And that is why we should be glad for “Saturday.” It exposes the quality-irrelevant mess that pop music has become. If the person responsible for what has been called the worst song ever produced can turn around and release a song that would sound right at home on Top 40 radio or at the VMAs, what does that say about those celebrated pop pushers who were spared the embarrassment of having a “Friday” released before the pros got their hands on them?
In a world where making a record is as easy as starring on reality TV, and even easier when you have your own show, Rebecca Black was bound to happen.
Don’t worry. Black, the fourteen-year-old from Anaheim, California, who made us wonder if she was making fun of shallow pop stars or being one herself in her viral YouTube video “Friday,” hasn’t gotten her own reality show. Yet. But isn’t it only just a matter of time?
What she does have is a level of fame”or infamy, depending on how you want to look at it”without having any discernible singing talent. Before it was yanked from YouTube in June over a dispute between Black and her former record label, Ark Music Factory, her “Friday” video had logged some 161 million views. Black became an Internet favorite, with article after online article devoted to her and her music”well, her song. Some people loved her; some people hated her; everyone was talking about her. Everybody’s still talking. Katy Perry even invited Black to costar in her “T.G.I.F. (Last Friday Night)” video.
Yes, Rebecca Black is a huge hit. Ironically, though, she has yet to have one. For all of the hoopla surrounding it, “Friday” was never a commercial success as a single. It peaked at No. 58 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and didn’t fare much better anywhere it was released.
Australia, one of the few places where “Friday” made it to the Top 40, is about to launch its own fourteen-year-old star, Jack Vidgen, recent winner of Australia’s Got Talent. Sadly, it’s gonna take a miracle”or maybe a Black cameo in his video”to give Vidgen’s career any momentum in the US, which Justin Bieber aside, has been resistant to young male solo pop (i.e., white) stars since Justin Timberlake went Hollywood.
Go ahead. Admit it. The first time you heard Katy Perry‘s “I Kissed a Girl” way back in 2008, you knew that by the time the novelty of a song about dabbling in lipstick lesbianism ran its course, so, too, would the career of the straight woman who was singing it.
Then something strange and unexpected happened when the clock struck Perry’s 15th minute of fame: It kept right on ticking. How did she pull it off? I have a few theories.
No. 1. She’s shallow and proud of it. Unlike Lady Gaga, Perry won’t take credit for trying to save pop music, gay people or the world. She never pretendsthat her music is anything more than feel-good pop. Who else would invite Rebecca Black, the most-hated pop star who’s not really a star (“Friday,” which peaked at No. 58 on Billboard’s Hot 100, wasn’t the big hit everyone seems to think it was) to co-star in one of her videos (“T.G.I.F. [Last Friday Night]”)? “Firework” is about as deep as Perry gets”and lest she come across as too earnest, she tempered the semi-serious message with firecracking boobs in the video.
No. 2. She’s up with regular people, because she’s one of them. Gorgeous but not intimidatingly so, sexy without selling sex, Perry also manages to be quotably catty while still being likeable. Gaga is outrageous and memorable, but she keeps her emotional distance. For all her avowed egalitarian values, there’s something distinctly remote about Gaga, on and off her records. You don’t imagine yourself hanging out with her on a day off. Britney Spears has lived in a bubble for years. Beyoncé is too fabulous. And Rihanna plays with guns.
That leaves Perry to bring a little humanity to pop divadom. She doesn’t have to be photographed taking out the trash to convince fans that she’s just like them. She could probably have any guy in Hollywood or on the charts, but instead of hooking up with a genetically blessed stud of the moment (so Taylor Swift, so Miley Cyrus), she went and married Russell Brand, a goofy comic with a sketchy past.
No. 3. She rocks the singles scene. She lacks Adele‘s vocal power, and she uses many of the same producers and co-writers that her peers have been passing around for years (for the love of God, girls, give Dr. Luke a rest!). But Perry’s singles still stand out, and they’re sturdier than they might initially sound. “Teenage Dream” and “E.T.” don’t exactly blow you away on first or even the 10th listen. They burrow into your subconscious slowly. But once there, they don’t let go. (Ironically, Perry’s crowning musical achievement, the Timbaland collaboration “If We Ever Meet Again,” which I’ve seen fill dance floors from Buenos Aires to London to Melbourne, only went to No. 37.)
When Teenage Dream was released in August of 2010, the reviews were mixed to downright hostile. But Katy Perry is not an album artist. Her music is best digested in bite-sized nuggets. By the time Teenage Dream was logging it’s third No. 1 hit single (“Firework”), it had been nominated for Album of the Year at the GRAMMY Awards, alongside critical favorites by Eminem, Lady Gaga and Arcade Fire. Strong, distinctive videos pulled off without any assistance from hordes of gyrating dancers helped too. Look for her nine nominations at the August 28 MTV Video Music Awards (more than any other artist) to further boost Teenage Dream‘s staying power.
The album has created a fifth Top 3 single and shifted more than 1.5 million copies in the US, and it’s still going as strong as, if not stronger than, the superstar albums that came after it. Rihanna has sold nearly as many copies of Loud (released in November 2010), but after three No. 1 hits, she’s struggling with the fourth and fifth singles, neither of which is likely to go Top 40. Lady Gaga’s Born This Way opened spectacularly in May, then cooled off quickly, with none of the singles repeating the success of the No. 1 title track so far. And poor Beyoncé. Her fourth solo album, 4, has yet to produce a runaway hit at all.
By the time Gaga is trying to extend the lifespan of Born This Way with an expanded limited edition release featuring five new radio-friendly tracks, Teenage Dream’s “Peacock” or “Circle the Drain” probably will be scaling the charts.
But will we still be singing along in 2015? That’s open to debate. Pop history is littered with artists who fell out of favor after two huge albums (see Debbie Gibson, Perry’s “T.G.I.F.” video mom). But even if Perry is just a pop footnote by mid-decade, she’s already surpassed everyone’s wildest teenage”or grown-up”dreams.
Let’s be honest, the media has been pretty rough on Rebecca Black since her video, “Friday”, went viral in March. Not only was she called the world’s worst singer, but the fourteen-year-old received death threats and dealt with rumors that she is pregnant. It’s safe to say that Rebecca Black is dealing with quite a bit more than she bargained for when she asked her mom to fund her video project.
And yet all this negative feedback has not shut Rebecca Black up. Interestingly enough, it has done quite the opposite. Yesterday she released a follow-up video, “My Moment”, and plans to release a five-track EP sometime in August. So, why didn’t Rebecca Black go into hiding after all this harassment? Could it be that the perks of being in the spotlight outweigh the negatives? (The fact that this previously unknown girl now gets the opportunity to star in Katy Perry‘s newest music video “Last Friday Night” and make appearances on the red carpet is certainly incredible.) Or, could it be she wants a chance to prove to America that she is more than just a bad joke before she goes down in history as starring in one of the most atrocious music videos ever?
It seems that Rebecca Black wants to follow Justin Bieber‘s path”she is even used one of his collaborators, Brandon “Blue” Hamilton, to co-write her newest single. After all, Bieber was originally a YouTube sensation too, who was taken under the wing of Usher and dragged into the spotlight. But the difference is that Bieber became famous for his talent at such a young age, not his lack thereof. So, the odds that Rebecca will take off as successfully after her initial blow-up are not as likely.
If people are interested in listening to Rebecca Black’s new single, it will be because they are waiting to find something new to bash her about; hoping she’ll mess up again. So, for Rebecca’s sake, let’s hope she’s developed a thick skin, a good sense of humor and is ready to deal with the aftermath of another potential video flop.
Every decade lives twice. Each one seems to get a second shot about twenty years after the fact. The ’50s were hot again in the ’70s (which might be why Happy Days was one of TV’s biggest hits). The ’60s resurfaced in the ’80s (as did tie-dye t-shirts and the British invasion), and Saturday night fever flared up one more time in the ’90s (though that didn’t stop the film 54 from flopping).
We’ve been stuck in the ’80s for a while now, but the ’90s are coming around again. I recently attended a ’90s party at a nightclub in Sydney, Australia, and the dance floor was packed with the retro-obsessed. The beats were technotronic indeed, but thanks to the varied playlist, I remembered that there was so much more to the decade in music than grunge and Europop. (Bell Biv DeVoe‘s “Do Me” and Elastica‘s “Connection” provided particularly pleasing trips down memory lane.) Here are five reasons why the ’90s rocked even harder than you might recall.
1. Sisters with voices ruled. And I’m not just talking about Sisters with Voices (otherwise known as SWV). TLC was arguably the most unique multi-platinum girl group ever, while En Vogue was the most glamorous one since the Supremes. Solo stars like Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton, Mary J. Blige, Celine Dion and Sarah McLachlan joined the hit parade, and Whitney Houston could still raise the roof”and she did with the soundtrack for The Bodyguard. Aside from Adele and Beyoncé (when she’s not huffing, puffing and trying way too hard to bring the house down), none of today’s female hitmakers can match the fierce ruling divas of the ’90s for sheer vocal power.
2. Rock & roll was king. Grunge may have been a relatively short-lived turning point, but for a moment there, the music was actually more important than the marketing. Thanks to bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Radiohead (all of whose platinum success seemed more accidental than calculated), Britpop (Blur vs. Oasis was so much better than Kings of Leon vs. Glee or the lead singers of Coldplay and Muse being married to Hollywood), and the grrrl power of female and female-driven acts like Bjí¶rk, P.J. Harvey, Alanis Morrisette, Hole, Belly, the Breeders and L7, rock and alternative music was both popular and interesting.
3. Stars were born, not manufactured on television and YouTube. This year, Rebecca Black went viral on YouTube and became a “star” without ever actually having a hit. (“Friday” topped out on Billboard’s Hot 100 at No. 58, 24 notches lower than the Glee remake.) And nothing against American Idol” it’s given us some bona fide, hit-making talents (Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia, Carrie Underwood and Adam Lambert, among them)”but it’s also gave us William Hung! When music stars are created instantly (in Hung’s case, due to an extreme lack of talent) or groomed in front of our very eyes, pop stardom starts to lose its mystique. Clarkson’s fame will never seem as hard-won as Celine Dion‘s; Carrie Underwood will never be as good a story as Shania Twain; and I’d trade soulful, one-hit wonders like Dionne Farris and Des’ree for Fantasia every day of the week. At least we never had to watch them almost self-destruct in public. Which brings us to…
4. Less was more. Before Twitter, YouTube and tabloid media overload, pop stars always left us wanting more. Now they reveal every thought and all of the minutiae of their lives via endless Twitter updates. (Sean Kingston recently tweeted a photo of himself surrounded by medical equipment while recovering from a jet-ski accident in Miami that nearly cost him his life. Too much?) The tabloids give us 24/7 access, showing them doing just about everything except going to the bathroom (including having sex!). And we can catch them whenever we want to on YouTube (and make them seem more popular than they actually are by continuously pressing play in order to increase their “views”) and watch them falling and bombing onstage, tangling with the paparazzi, and getting prickly with TV interviewers before doffing their shirts and hitting the streets of New York City.
Lauryn Hill was one of the biggest stars of the late ’90s yet she always managed to sidestep overexposure. Where is she now? God only knows (though it recently was revealed that she’s pregnant with her sixth child). If only Amy Winehouse, her critically acclaimed late-’00s equivalent, had been able to fall apart in the privacy of her own home.
5. Courtney Love was far more daring than Lady Gaga. I’ll admit it: I miss Courtney Love. Whatever you thought about her music, the lead singer of Hole was never boring. Take away Lady Gaga’s freaky-creepy visuals, though, and all you’re left with is a talented but over-earnest, politically correct pop star. She’s says all the right things, but listen closely”none of it is even slightly provocative. Her carefully considered soundbites are intended to be up with underdogs and offensive to no one. Even her pro-gay agenda is as respectful as possible to the political right. Just once, I’d like to see Gaga get naked and sexy (for someone who wears so little clothing, she’s remarkably, and safely, asexual), or totally lose it, throwing good intentions out the window and engaging in a public bitchfest. Isn’t the moral majority asking for it?
20 Essential ’90s Albums
Annie Lennox – Diva
Babyface – For the Cool in You
Belly – Star
Bjí¶rk – Post
The Cardigans – Gran Turismo
Dolly Parton – The Grass Is Blue
Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach – Painted from Memory
John Anderson – Seminole Wind
Kate Bush – The Red Shoes
k.d. lange – Ingenue
Mary J. Blige – My Life
Morrissey – Vauxhaull and I (or Your Arsenal)
Neil Young – Harvest Moon
Neneh Cherry – Homebrew
Portishead – Dummy
Radiohead – The Bends
R.E.M. – Automatic for the People (or Out of Time or New Adventures in Hi-Fi)
Sarah McLachlan – Fumbling Towards Ecstasy
Suede – Coming Up