Rebecca Black leaves meme in rear view: NPR
Sarah Pardini/Courtesy of the artist
Tomorrow will mark 12 years since Rebecca Black, then a music-loving teenage girl from California, released the music video for “Friday,” a weird pop song for which she didn’t write the lyrics or write the melody. Or produce. Or direct the video for. She was, after all, 13 years old. You may remember what happened next – Black became one of the first prototype teenage internet celebrities and, by measure of that job description, a target for bullying.
Now 25, Black has left her meme (far) behind, focusing in the years since on coming to terms with the experience and herself, while working toward the dream. pop stardom on his own terms. Black’s first album, let it burncomes out today.
This interview has been edited and condensed. To listen to the broadcast version of this conversation, use the audio player at the top of this page.
A Martinez, morning edition: GOOD. So, Rebecca, 12 years since”FridayIt was February 10, 2011 when the song was released on YouTube.
Rebecca Black: Yeah. That’s almost exactly halfway through my life, strangely.
Oh my God. So you’re 25 and you were, what, 13? So what happened in the meantime?
What happened? I mean… I had to become a fully realized person. I was a teenager when this song came out, and this song was one of those weird, weird experiences that I had, that somehow I convinced my parents to do.. .. then this moment became obviously much bigger than any of us anticipated. So it was almost like I was working backwards from this moment that I’m in right now.
I really had to decide, is this something I want to do forever? And if so, what do I do with it? And what have I to say?
Many people loved “Friday”. A lot of people hated it. So I think for you, that seemed like the thing that was going to define you for a long time. At some point, did you get to the point in your head where you’re like, “I have to get rid of this? Or have you always thought, “Well, this is the thing that put me on the map?”
It has been a layered experience for me. I mean trying to figure out what happened to me when I was 13 and then how the relationship I had with that experience changed as I got older is what probably defined me more than the experience itself. Going through this as a teenager – when the internet was in a completely different place – I mean, I was just trying to deal with the experience of having a completely different version of my life, growing up in county d ‘Orange, to go to college, have my friends, love musical theater. And then it happened.
Millions of people being aware that you exist as a teenager, it’s really complicated, and something that I didn’t really understand. And probably still don’t understand now. I struggled a lot, as a person who became who I am now. Now I’m 25, with this experience of feeling like I’ve been defined by something I never really wanted to define, especially as a kid.
Have you been protected at all? Or did you hear and feel every moment of the hate coming your way?
I mean, my parents definitely tried to do everything they could – but having no experience in the industry, there was so much they didn’t know. Also, being 13 years old in 2011, I had Twitter, I had YouTube, I had Facebook. I had everything.
Was it expensive? Or were you too young to realize it was awful?
It was expensive. Yeah. I mean, having so much information as a kid – and not even having a semblance of self, really, to bounce back from. It’s all about that – there’s no filter that you’ve built into yourself to be able to say, like, “I don’t know if I’m okay with this.” If someone says “you don’t belong here, you’re bad at it, you’re a disgrace even for trying to do something like that” those words have such a different intensity when you’re a kid because you are fair believe them.
What was the best part? Aside from all the awful stuff, was there anything really great about it? ‘Cause when you appeared in Katy Perry’s music video for “Last Friday night“, it was just a few months after the release of your song “Friday”. I thought, “Okay, she must be riding this incredible wave right now.”
Oh, it was such a crazy time of incredible ups and downs. For example, I would spend the morning reading everything that was said about me on the Internet, then I would get picked up and driven somewhere in the valley to shoot the Katy Perry music video. Or win a Teen Choice Award, which at age 13 is the greatest achievement.
You barely qualify! You are barely 13 years old.
And I have already won the prize in this moment!
I think the best thing that came out of it was that it put me where I am now. I guess I don’t know if I’d be the same person – I certainly wouldn’t be the same person I am now if it hadn’t happened to me.
I think of today – how many digital child stars are there? They create content for TikTok, for YouTube, for just about every social media site possible. And it looks like you were the first, almost, to show up like that. I wonder if anyone sees your story as some kind of road map: let’s try to make sure that this child doesn’t have to deal with some of the things that you had to deal with.
Yeah… I mean, I hope so. And that’s something I remember talking to my mother a lot about, a few years after the fact. My mom just wished she had some kind of manual to go to to try and walk me through this. Or someone she could talk to. I hope it exists now.
Fast Forward So Far: The Album let it burn. I know you released singles, between “Friday” and now. What happened that you couldn’t release a full album? Was there something that wouldn’t let you? Or were you just trying to work on yourself as an artist?
For sure. I mean, 12 years between a debut album and a debut album is a long time. There were a number of reasons.
I know looking back, at 18, at 16, at 23, I was desperate to release a full album. Especially as someone who loves music and is as interested in music culture as I am, I always wanted to express myself in this way… but as an independent artist for a long time, it was difficult to convince anyone that it was even worth it for me to do that. Of course, I guess I could have posted something on SoundCloud and called it a day. But I knew I wanted to do something bigger than that.
So while I wish I could say I was ready to do it, these past few years have been the most important creative years of my life. ‘Cause I finally believed that I could do it, and I knew what I had to say.
So I released singles: In 2021, I released an EP called Rebecca Black was thereand that’s when I finally felt like I had something… I finally felt like I found the voice, [and] I had found an audience that I connected with and [who] connected with me and would hear what I had to create. Not only would I take the time to listen to it, but I would really take what I had to say as a pop artist, as my own unique story.
One of the songs on let it burn is “Destroy me”, and one of the lines is: “Watch me as I crash and burn again and again / Go on, destroy me.” I mean, it seems like it’s about being judged by other people’s standards.
Totally, totally. The song has a lot to do with my own relationship with myself and the way I talk to myself, and those relationships that I’ve had – oh, it’s so exciting to talk about!
When I wrote this song, I was really struggling with how I saw myself. This song is really about the insecurity you have with yourself, giving permission for other people to come in and destroy you or upset your own view of yourself.
You mentioned a girlfriend – what does she think of who you were and who you are now?
Well, we’ve been dating for about a year, and she’s a producer. We didn’t work together on that.
Oh! She will be able to judge your work!
If there was one person I was afraid to share the album with, it was her! But she really – thankfully – had some positive things to say about it.
She’s a few years older than me, and she was living abroad when the song came out. So she’s like, “Yeah, I definitely kinda knew the name…”
So someone who didn’t know who you were?!
Yeah. I also dated people who were, like, very aware of this.
Did you feel like you had to explain that to him?
There was a day when I was like, “Have you ever seen the video? For some reason, I feel like you have to watch it.” I kinda forced her to do it.
And what did she think?
She said, “That’s cute. You were a kid. Adorable.”
The reason your story interests me so much is that there are many times these days where you are defined by something – whether good or bad – and that happens to be the only lens that people have of you. And it takes luck and hard work to overcome that, or at least to get people to see someone different. I think it’s your time, so the word Friday isn’t the first thing people think of when they think of you, is it?
Yeah. I mean, it’s definitely a piece of that. It’s also part of the reason why this moment may have taken so long to arrive. I wanted to show people that I didn’t just deserve to be some sort of redemption or comeback story.
This album is as good as anything out there right now. This album can compete. And me, as a performer, I can compete with all the other pop stars who are in this field. It was really important to me. This is how I feel about myself and where I am now. And whether other people agree or not will be up to them.