The Rebecca Black Renaissance Is Finally Upon Us

At just 24 years old, Rebecca Black has been a meme, an ordinary teenager, a household name, a cult pop hero - now, she's trying to write her own narrative.

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Infinite Pop is a Music Junkee column about the past, present, and possibilities of pop music.

It’s been 10 years, or 535 Fridays, since ‘Friday’ went viral and changed the then 13-year-old Rebecca Black’s life forever. To some, the song was a punchline that came and went; for others, we’ve never stopped singing along.

Yet in the last few years, many of us have had a shared experience while scrolling through social media: at first, the initial shock of coming across Rebecca Black in the present, seeing her all grown up. And then comes immediate relief — that whether she’s recounting the dark side of the ‘Friday’ experience, singing with her mature voice, or coming out as a queer woman, that she seems to be living her best self. In all that time, she’s never stopped working on her craft.

Out now, her new EP Rebecca Black Was Here marks, unbelievably, the third act of her career — and she’s still only 24. It’s a collection of six sonically dazzling pop songs that could only be sung by Rebecca Black — and that are bound to rewrite what we think we know about her.

Speaking over Zoom, Rebecca’s exactly as delightful as you’d expect, with the poise and graciousness of someone who’s been doing this for a long, long time. We share a laugh over a series of absurd incidents that happened last August. It started with a beautiful cover of Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’ that she recorded as a Cameo for my 30th birthday, which caught the band’s attention via a writeup here on Music Junkee. The good times were cut short after the band faced a deluge of criticism for just having played the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, a now-infamous COVID superspreader event.

“What can you do, you know?” Rebecca sighs. “People make choices… A good choice is writing a song like ‘All Star’; playing an event during COVID — not so much.”

If it ever feels like we’re living in a simulation, maybe ‘Friday’ was the inciting incident — and Rebecca Black patient zero.

Reprogramming History

In person, she has a casual glamour — sporting bright red hair and some artful tattoos. On the new EP’s cover, though, she cranks the pop factor way up. It’s a striking image: wearing a two-tone wig, and garish earrings, she has a similar expression to her smile on the ‘Friday’ YouTube thumbnail, but her eyes are deranged, Lynchian – and her mouth is dripping green gunk. It’s both hilarious, and the possible beginning of a horror film.

Black’s sonic reinvention starts with track one, ‘Better in My Memory’, a post-breakup song set to frenetic hyperpop beats. “Reprogramming our history / So it’s perfect in my mind/Changing the way it ended/So you’ll never see me cry” — the lyrics are anxious, but the production is equal parts manic and joyful. Says Rebecca, “I found myself pushing my producers harder, to take risks. I wanted to take even the poppier songs into worlds where maybe people wouldn’t expect them to be, especially for me.”

Track two, ‘Personal’, starts with her vocals sounding uncannily like Grimes: pitched slightly up, she even nails her specific lisp. But by the chorus, it’s entirely Black’s own, as she takes the blame for a necessary breakup: “You’ve got some harboured feelings/Like I left you for no reason/I promise even though it hurts/I won’t take it personal!”

Rebecca explains, “The project was written as I went through this one relationship. That’s part of what makes some of the lyrics so consistently blunt — that was really the best way I could process it. Writing this music was a huge part of understanding my queerness, who I am, and how I deal with these kinds of things. I allowed myself a lot more liberty to experiment and try new things, sonically.”

Indeed, it takes a few listens to process just how confessional these songs really are. Though her delivery and the synth-candy production soften the blow, Black is brutally honest in her lyrics — with her herself, with the songs’ subjects, and her audience, too. You may not expect that from songs with such kitschy hyperpop elements, but that combination just works — like the bedazzled chainsaw she wields in the ‘Personal’ video.

‘NGL’ could be the album’s sleeper hit, with bubblegum-trance synths that more than live to producer Glitch Gum’s name. But on the second half, a sense of melancholy sets in. Black trades her futurism for more classicist pop — ‘Blue’ floats on ’80s-styled synths, like a regretful Eurythmics ballad: “Two years down the drain/A whole life we had made/It was ours for the taking…”.

The EP has one final curveball: it might not be a traditional breakup album at all. On ‘Worth It for the Feeling’, Rebecca finds herself reconsidering the relationship… and by the closing track and first single, ‘Girlfriend’, she’s all in. With melodies and production that could honest-to-god fit on Teenage Dream, it’s a tentative celebration of what could be. Rebecca proclaims, “I’m getting back with my girlfriend!” — will it last? Who knows. But it feels right in the moment, and that’s enough.

“Every song lives in its own unique world”, she explains. “That was the one thing I was most nervous about – and still am!”

Photo Credit: Supplied

Reclaiming Agency

The common denominator between those songs is Black’s voice. Once derided, she spent much of the last decade noticeably improving with each single. Now, her vocal texture is gorgeous: relaxed, yet utterly confident, buoyed by vocal production and reverbs as lush as any big pop record of the last decade.

These days, it seems like every pop project comes with a preordained narrative: my most personal work yet! More often than not, it’s a marketing angle that isn’t embodied in the music. On Rebecca Black Was Here though, it’s true — and it doesn’t feel the slightest bit calculated.

“I had no idea what the project was going to be when I started the writing process,” she admits. “Obviously, I’ve grown up a lot, even just in the last three or four years. It just hit me that I was ready, and I had a collection of music that didn’t work best as singles.”

“If you asked me 10 years ago if I was ahead of my time, I would have said no – I had NO idea what was going to happen.”

What emerges is her deep, instinctive love and understanding of pop music. Rebecca namechecks some influences you might not expect: “I’ve been a huge fan of artists like Grimes, SOPHIE, Robyn, Madonna — who’ve been incredible pop artists for so long”. She even shouts out another cult favourite in the lyrics of ‘NGL’: “In your bed listening to Sky Ferreira/Know you’re gonna cry, mess up your mascara…”

10 years ago, when Black debuted — there was no such thing as a truly underground pop star. As I wrote in my remembrance of SOPHIE, there were only the artists who’d made it, those who’d tried and failed, and up-and-comers who were destined to become one or the other.

‘Friday’ was one event that helped to break that paradigm. It showed that anyone — not just major-label artists with huge marketing budgets — could go viral with an original song. It showed how that process could go very wrong for the artist… and eventually, how they could reclaim their image and agency, step by step.

Just like we weren’t prepared for ‘Friday’ the first time around, seemingly no one was prepared for the official remix Black released for the song’s 10th anniversary in February. Produced by hyperpop provocateur Dylan Brady of 100 gecs, with a truly strange combination of featured artists, the ‘Friday’ remix piled absurdity atop absurdity. The more you watch the video, the more it becomes a deranged, genius work of provocation — and the more sincere it ultimately feels. Call it ‘Friday (Rebecca’s Version)’, if you want.

“I wanted to push it as far as it could be pushed, to take it to a place that I found exciting,” Black says. “Whether or not people consider it better than the original, I just wanted it to be an evolved version.”

In a press release, her lead visual collaborator Weston Allen referred to Black as “one of the greatest 21st-century American folk heroes”. To that, she can only laugh.

A less melodramatic way to phrase that would be: as someone who effectively grew up online, whose song inadvertently helped to democratise pop music on the internet… does she ever feel like she was ahead of the curve? “If you asked me 10 years ago if I was ahead of my time, I would have said no — I had NO idea what was going to happen,” she answers.

“I felt like I was unable to keep up with the way that people perceived me and my music. I mean, I was 13 — I was so much more concerned with 13-year-old type things. Now, I’ve had these conversations with other people in music whose opinions I respect, and everyone makes different parallels between ‘Friday’ and the kind of music that exists now, and other songs of that era.”

To my surprise, she brings up another viral teen hit from 2011: “Like the ‘My Jeans’ song, I think it’s an amazing song!”

“No, I guess is my answer,” she laughs, “I don’t think I was ahead of the curve! But now, I feel like I have taken that part of my life and reflected on everything that happened. Putting that remix out was really fulfilling for me. Even things like ‘Saturday’ were, at that time in my life, an important step to finding a sense of my own power, to make choices solely for myself.”

Many have attested that ‘Friday’ was a great song all along; at the very least, an iconic 21st-century nursery rhyme… but it was also a blank canvas that we projected onto. It existed outside Rebecca Black’s control.

She’s been all of the above: a meme, an ordinary teenager discovering her sense of self online, a household name, a cult pop act… but most importantly, she’s a three-dimensional human being.

Rebecca Black Was Here: in other words, she never left. Now, she’s writing her own story.

Richard S. He is a pop songwriter, producer, and award-winning journalist. He tweets at @rsh_elle.