You can Google the video I’m talking about. I don’t care to do you the favor of posting it here.
The video for Rebecca Black’s “Friday”, a saccharine teen pop song produced by a company called “Ark Music Factory”, has gone viral. A quick examination of the company’s YouTube account shows that Black’s single is among many similar songs in their repertoire. It is a niche music organization, meant to capitalize on the type of music that Disney seems to have a monopoly on. I don’t enjoy anything produced for this market, but I also never fit into the target demographics.
The song, by a previously unknown Rebecca Black, has struck internet gold. It’s a corny song about Black’s routine on an average Friday. It is, in a word, bad. I won’t argue that it could be anything else. The response to the video, though, has me surprised and a little shocked.
I am obsessed with “badness”. I consider myself knowledgeable about bad films. I watch pretentious good movies, but more often I watch horrible ones. I’m not alone in this; everybody loves a disaster. What part of history would you rather read about: the relative calm of the Swedish Monarchy or the depraved rule of the Emperor Caligula?
Now that you’re done wikipediaing Caligula, I can continue. Yes, “Friday” is a bad song and a bad music video. The overwhelming response, despite a few people constantly stuck in “opposite day” mode, is negative. The things said about Black herself are quite vitriolic. Let’s go through a few of these complaints first, and then discuss the qualities that I have found that make a work truly “bad”.
“She uses auto-tune excessively”
I couldn’t agree more. One gets the feeling that Black simply stated what happened during an average day the producers made a song out of it. That said, one has to wonder why we’re going after Black so harshly for using auto-tune when it’s use is so common in mainstream music. The majority of music artists on the radio use this tool extensively, whether you notice or not. Its use is so prevalent that we tend to point out artists who don’t use it. It’s just not possible to “ping” on pitch so many hundreds of times in a row. Listen to a soprano aria from any great opera to learn that even the greatest singers in the world “scoop” at times. Black’s use of auto-tune, then, is irritating, but par for the course.
“The lyrics are inane.”
Again, correct. The lyrics are pointless and silly. The ethical dilemma of sitting in the front seat or the back seat is particularly amusing. But pointing out Black’s lyrics for being inane is like pointing out the brutality of killing a mosquito in a slaughterhouse. Even artists we consider “edgy” often populate their songs with inane lyrics. How many “Na-Na”s can Rihanna punctuate her songs with as filler? How about “Telephone”, Lady Gaga’s acclaimed song about being in a club on the phone while a song plays. How original. How many songs does Ke$ha have about being in the club with glitter and booze? Even good songs can drift into the inane, perhaps on purpose. Check out “Day in the Life”, my favorite Beatles song. When I first heard “Friday”, I immediately thought of “woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head.” More important than the depth of the lyrics, however, is the fact that Black’s “Friday” is an edgeless song which is the point of the song in the first place. It’s a bad song, but so was the Macarena. We needed the Macarena at that point in our societal history. It fit. “Friday” fits in the same way.
“The rap in the middle is creepy and stupid”
Once again, agreed, but can this be blamed on Rebecca Black? No. The rapper in question is the producer of the song, and most likely did this to give it some zing. The segment gives us the impression that he is cruising for 14 year-old girls like Rebecca. Again, not Black’s problem, but rap bridges are lame elsewhere. Take Ludacris’ verse in “Tonight” by Enrique Iglesias. He calls back to “Get Low”. Yeah, that’s fresh. Pop stars pepper their songs with rap verses to appeal to another demographic they wouldn’t normally appeal to. It’s a business decision and Black is not the first person to fall into this trap.
“She has no talent.”
According to Black’s website, she has taken lessons in dance and singing since she was very young. You get the impression that like many pop stars, Black was forced by her parents to become the pop star that she isn’t. People tried for years to get Rex Harrison, Broadway “singing” star, to be able to sing a note. They couldn’t. The man literally talked out every verse he ever “sang”. He won a Tony and an Oscar for “My Fair Lady”. Regardless of whether Black now feels she is really dedicated to being a pop star, this life has been most likely thrust upon her by other people. None of us knew what we wanted to do in life at 14. Very few people have the talent to make it big at that age. Not all of us can be Bobby Fischer, and given his later life troubles, perhaps none of us should be.
“The music video production values are horrible.”
They aren’t that bad. Many of the things we complain about regarding your average music video aren’t even there. There are not-so-skinny girls (even with braces) in the video, and they’re not presented as sluts. There is no S&M, rare in for a music video today. The producers didn’t rely on choppy editing to make a scene feel “intense” to cover up flaws. There is no product placement. Check out Eminem and Dre’s new video. It’s a “serious” song, but that seriousness is undercut by the fact that it is an extended commercial for HP, Gatorade, Ferrari, and Adidas. I’ve done some video production work myself, and you could do far worse than the video for “Friday”.
“She sings about the days of the week.”
This is related to the inane lyrics, but deserves its own section. Remember the theme for the show Happy Days? How about Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” and how it lists the days of the week repeatedly? Nobody seemed to care then, did they?
Firstly, a horrible piece of art is not created by one person. It takes an ensemble of goofs, mistakes, and miscues in order to bomb aesthetically. Battlefield Earth (2000) wasn’t a bad movie because John Travolta sucked it up royally. It was bad because everyone involved in that film who could make a mistake made it. It takes a perfect storm of awfulness, not just an overambitious star, to fail that badly.
Secondly, if anybody can blamed for how all of this turned out, it’s Ark Music Factory. The company is a vanity press. Parents pay money to have their kids “produce” a song that will hopefully attract the attention of an agent. Ark has a pattern that it uses for its videos, and the majority of the failure here is from them, not Rebecca Black.
Thirdly, having a bunch of 21 year-old guys lampoon the song and video misses the point. You might as well riff on an episode of Teletubbies. You’re not the target audience. In terms of making fun of general pop music, all of it is fair game, because the stuff you hear on pop stations attempts to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. You wouldn’t watch an episode of Hannah Montana to criticize its lack of professional cinematography. I wouldn’t watch Avatar expecting unoriginal characters, a story that wasn’t ripped straight from a couple of kids films, acting that wasn’t wooden, or special effects that didn’t look like an animation… well, I guess I expected those things, but I digress. Why watch Rebecca Black and expect depth in the lyrics, a gimmick in the beat, or a semblance of a deep message?
Fourthly, today’s music stars are not modern-day auteurs. They are not involved in the creative process. Taylor Swift isn’t and neither is Rebecca Black. This is an industry, and it revolves around making money. Multi-million dollar decisions aren’t left to the 14 year-old girl.
Ark wants to produce tween money makers, and they probably don’t do much distinguishing between good and bad in the process. Even then, whose fault is that? We’ve listened to artists for decades now that had no true talent, only a gimmick. We buy their albums year after year and regret it afterwards. Can we blame a company for trying to break into a market that has so little talent with no real talent of their own? Not if we keep buying the album.
Lay off the kid. At 14, you probably sucked at whatever you wanted to do too. The difference is that failure isn’t on YouTube for all to see. Black’s failure is only partially her own. Watch the video, fine. Laugh, whatever. But the level of downright hate I’m seeing in certain circles could best be used for other causes.
Filed under Satire · Tagged with ARK MUSIC FACTORY, AVATAR., BATTLEFIELD EARTH, BEATLES, BORN THIS WAY, BROADWAY, DAY IN THE LIFE, DISNEY, DR. DRE, EMINEM, FRIDAY, HANNAH MONTANA, INTERNET, LADY GAGA, MACARENA, MEME, POP MUSIC, REBECCA BLACK, REBECCA BLACK FRIDAY, REX HARRISON, RIHANNA, S&M, TELEPHONE, WHIP MY HAIR, WILLOW SMITH