Friday, December 9th, 2011

AMNESTY 2011: Rebecca Black – Friday

You know what it is…


David Moore: Thinking of this song as a “single” is a mistake. It’s an event, sure, whatever. It’s a ritual at this point — just as some might sing “Happy Birthday,” in a variety of languages, on their birthdays, others sing “Friday” on their Fridays. Gotta get down on Viernes, Vendredi, Veneris. If the song’s infectiousness (not meme, virus) seems unfair,  it’s because you’re thinking of it as a single by any other name. But it’s not. It’s for campfires, for drunken stumbles down the road, for humming in bed, for silently acknowledging when you look at a calendar, for doing as an impromptu acapella at lunch, for playing on the piano at parties so anyone can sing along. And just about everyone reading this can play it — it’s just “Heart and Soul” with an extra “bum-ba dum-ba” per note. This is a song we seem to have always known, and now will always know. The only other recent songs that have had this effect on me — that are inked into the fabric of my everyday experiences so that I am helpless to defer to them on Pavlovian cue, like the Manchurian candidate’s Queen of Hearts — are Lil’ Mama’s “Lip Gloss” and Das Racist’s “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” which I sing compulsively when I see pass a M*A*C store or a…well, you know what it is. And isn’t it nice to have a song like that, with that power, divorced from such topical and fleeting referents, to have a song that’s as relevant to me now as it will be fifty years from now, and would have been fifty years ago. It’s not about the verses; supply whatever words you want. It’s about Friday, Friday. Yesterday was Thursday. Tomorrow is Saturday and Sunday comes afterward. So it goes.   

Kat Stevens: This is the song I have sung out loud the most in 2011. It is also the song my boyfriend has sung out loud the most. And my sister. And my boss. And the schoolkids on the 149 bus. And my Swedish co-worker who, as an alarming stereotype, usually listens to metal and ABBA. She likes Fridays, just like the rest of us! But there are still pockets of ignorance out there untouched by Bowl and Cereal. Last week a college friend of mine finished his accountancy exams and emerged blinking into the sunlight the pub for the first time in many months — I played him the Youtube video on my phone and he asked “Is this real?” My Mum is still unsure exactly what the Internet is (“the blue E, isn’t it?”) but she is learning the guitar, so when I visit her this Christmas I plan to teach her to play “Friday”. Even though it will be a Saturday.

Josh Langhoff: Greil Marcus, from the paragraph on early rockers that made everything clear, made me cry, etc.: “I can only marvel at their arrogance, their humor, their delight… They sang as if they knew they were destined to survive not only a few weeks on the charts but to make history… Naturally, they sound as if they could care less.” He was talking about Elvis and Little Richard, all those Mount Rushmore guys, but I recall this passage whenever I listen to oldies radio and hear the Chairmen of the Board constipating their way through “Give Me Just a Little More Time”, or the melodramatic hiccups and la-la-las of the Diamonds doing “Little Darlin’,” or any random drum fill by the Dave Clark Five, or even the inexplicable “Mr. Roboto.” How did they think this crap would stick? Yet their songs echo out of the past like white hot tuning forks plunged into my ear canals over and over and over again. My world is reshaped in their image — I have to squeeeeze my conception of the world through these songs to understand their warped appeal to my fellow humans. Thus will my grandchildren marvel at the inexplicable “Friday,” which will far outlive many “better” songs I’ve “preferred” this year, by The Ark or Big K.R.I.T. or whoever. I mean, who am I? Who are you? What, do we think we have “taste” or something? Why do we imagine anyone cares?

Edward Okulicz: Right now, I feel like there’s a war going on, between those who want to seriously assess the worth of everything, and those who are content to drag us towards compete lolification — a state of completely dull irreverence. Rebecca Black is Gavrilo Princip in this war. “Friday” is mostly a bad song. But it’s not entirely a bad song. And what its writers hadn’t counted on was that Rebecca Black, or some combination of her and Auto-Tune, was going to give this chorus such an ebullient, infectious performance. A good production/writing team would have seen the potential of what Black could have made — let alone had some pride or consideration– and put a bit more work into fine-tuning the song around the assets once they realised what they had. But Ark Music are hacks and “Friday” entered the world unfinished, and bizarrely worthy of both the love and mocking it would go on to receive. That this song is being appreciated as a curate’s egg of modern pop sounds annoys me as much as the fact that, if it had been finished properly, nobody would have heard, let alone cared. That’s not Rebecca Black’s fault, but I’m still going to give this a low score to make my own pointless stand against lol-culture. Raise. Your. Standards. Please.

Alfred Soto: Since I would only have heard of — let alone listened to — this thanks to snarky bloggers, I’m relying solely on aural impact, and it’s neither here nor there. Give any mall girl a song and synth programming and she might conceivably sound like this, but she might sound better than Rebecca Black, whose voice is all head and no diaphragm. Instead of exposing her to this fifth-rate “Working for the Weekend” knockoff, her producers might have suggested, say, a Joan Jett cover. Covers worked for Tiffany.

Katherine St Asaph: When you’re showcased on MTV, storyboarded in Katy Perry videos and ransacked for commercial jingles, and when you sling press releases to tastemakers in complete earnest, you are no longer an outsider artist. Ark Music Factory is now irrelevant; “Friday” is now a phenomenon that should be judged by real standards. This score is not for Rebecca Black, a decent young girl privileged enough to get an awesome gift. Nor is it for “Friday,” a song no more remarkably mediocre than the level “serious” pop’s at now. It’s because “Friday” represents everything wrong with music this decade. There’s the lockstep mockery of unsuspecting amateurs (see also: Idol auditions), their co-opting and wringing dry by suits who only see fun videos for their monetization/SEO value (see also: Kreayshawn, Antoine Dodson, etc.), the smart-but-sad recognition on said viral folks’ parts that there’s something in it for them if they cooperate, the “building” of “critical” “credibility” that’s really just rooting around in turds for kernels of novelty if not quality (see also: every magazine profile, blog post and Jukebox high score — sorry, guys; I include myself here too.) The “Friday” machine is as concerned with musicality as the horse_ebooks spambot is concerned with things other than making you click affiliate crud. Anything redeemable is neither an afterthought nor an accident but a liability, one that you’ve read into it and could read into literally anything else. Because there’s the worst part: the vacuuming-up of time and attention at the expense — because attentive time is a zero-sum game — of people trying and achieving more and being cynical less. “If I ever give up on pop music, I suspect that it will not be due to having lost the ability to enjoy it, but because, as with Olympic gymnastics and greyhound racing, I have run out of ways to believe that it doesn’t constitute abuse,” wrote Glenn McDonald in 2000, even then not prescient, but belated. As a person, Rebecca Black is equally deserving as any other 13-year-old; as a trinket, “Friday” is perfectly listenable; as a cultural phenomenon, “Friday” is indefensible. The time you spend disagreeing is time you deny people with better intent.

Jer Fairall: Too much bile directed at a talent-challenged naif and too little at the adult “professionals” who conned her clueless parents into forking over $4,000 for this non-song. Buyer beware, I guess, but this is rather like hiring a professional photographer to shoot your wedding only to get the pictures back with everyone’s heads lopped out of the frame.

Anthony Easton: It’s not bad, and so when it was zinging around the internet, as the ne plus ultra of horrible pop, I was sort of surprised. I mean it isn’t good either; it’s a commercialized example of teenage vanity supplied by parental capital, so it is an excellent piece of craft doing what craft is supposed to do, middle ground, middle of the road indulgence for a suburban princess. The interesting thing for me, is that all of this said, whether this was public or private — what the producers and writers intended and what Black intended — the digital/net culture of this is swampy between what is allowed privately and what is allowed publicly. It seems kind of unfair to judge this as a pop song as opposed to an internet meme; an Internet meme that became very very public very very quickly, and an Internet meme that was carried along by Black in a cunning way for as long as she could. So talking about Black on Glee, or Black and Perry, or Black’s second single seems fair game, but this one seems less so, though her being able to get to this Glee/Perry/second single place came from the first single — and both Glee and Perry are very, very good at meta-contextualizing and making pastiches of both net and nostalgic cultures, so Black would have been low fruit. It’s a bramble bush, and what is happening outside the text is more interesting than the text itself, but the text would be a solid, easily forgettable, factory-sheened pop song.

Brad Shoup: Ironically, this may have started with a tweet from Michael J. Nelson, who ought to know as well as anyone the sheer pleasure in noble amateur failure. He wanted his followers to see “the worst video ever made,” a video which was filmed at Black’s house with a cast of friends and family. (The whole backseat/frontseat thing — kind of a big teenage deal — actually involves a bus, but the shoot wasn’t budgeted for it, so seeing Black ponder where to sit in a car stuffed with adolescents became a major joke.) The song, of course, came from the savvy mercenaries at LA’s Ark Music Factory. In light of the scant material that’s come down since — which shows her to be a passable if tentative singer — the lack of care in this lyric is insulting. Teh t00bz has done a smash-up job of underlining the worst bits, but it’s obvious Ark’s Patrice Wilson and Clarence Jey started from the sickly seed of the chorus. But I’ll say it again: Rebecca survives what this track perpetrates against her. She does her best with the staccato delivery that’s mandated, but when her undertrained vocal is loosed, it’s absolutely winning. Hell, even her bleats of “Friday” carry a genuine excitement. Rolling Stone called it “anti-charisma,” but there’s nothing anti- about a 13-year-old girl handed the keys to her very own pop song. For another, I like the cheap nature of the production: the MIDI cymbal hits, the muffled, sampled “yeahs,” the stuttering synth chords. Pop is wonderful; pop deconstruction is wonderful as well, and it needn’t be the exclusive province of alt-eggheads. There’s a “let’s put on a show” feeling that cuts into the grating, quotidian text. It brings to the fore that very human need for recognition and community that infects all our musicians, all of whom were Rebecca Black once.

Jonathan Bradley: Failure doesn’t improve just because it’s so exquisitely realized. “Friday” first found attention because it arrived without context; it looked like it had been built to compete with the Rihannas and the Ke$has, but failed the pop Turing test in a hideous manifestation of the uncanny valley. Then it turned out we were all just laughing at a thirteen year old girl lucky enough to go to teen-pop fantasy camp and emerge with a personal memento that, like everything else on the Internet, was only private for as long as no one cared about it. Sometimes art brut is just brutal though, and when a remorseless public and a capitalizing creator tried to prestidigitize the souvenir into a real pop song, the result was exactly the joke we first stumbled across: a machine-produced single too inept to be real. At least Robin Sparkles was written as a gag.

Jonathan Bogart: In Subway the other day for lunch, I was trying to ignore the piped-in radio but still heard a commercial for some store or other’s Black Friday sales. It was sung to this tune. The word viral has never seemed so apt.

Andy Hutchins: For a brief moment, I had the only place on the Internet where you could see the lyrics to “Friday.” I figured they were worth transcribing to get the full effect of the inanity. And, obviously, they are stupid: Explaining the progression of the days of the week is dumb; describing a morning routine that lacks an alcohol toothpaste is dumb; the abysmal rap is one of the worst-written and worst-rapped verses of 2011, though Big Sean may quibble with that distinction. But though I’m a lyrics-based listener first, I have come to love “Friday.” It burrowed into an iPod and got play on road trips (alone, but still) and I actually enjoyed hearing it reworked as a Black Friday-themed jingle. That’s because, beneath all the artifice, there’s a really good pop song chassis here: Synths that are sunny but not electrocuted, a weird slide whistle transition all over the place, and a bridge that articulates the “I don’t want the weekend to end” feeling anyone who has ever looked at a clock on Sunday around 6 p.m. has ever felt. Pop songs don’t have to aspire to a lot to be great, and the ones that do tend to come off a lot worse than the divine stupidity of “Friday.”

Sally O’Rourke: “Friday” was never as bad as everyone said it was. The lyrics aren’t dumber than most Black Eyed Peas singles, and Rebecca Black’s abrasive Auto-Tuned nasality isn’t a thousand miles away from Ke$ha. But, despite what contrarians claim, it’s not very good either. Katy Perry’s cover version was more or less inevitable, given that it could pass for a rejected One of the Boys bonus track with minimal rewriting and a marginally more competent guest rapper. Still, “Friday” has two things going for it: that grating/ingratiating chorus, and Rebecca herself — not her voice, but her sense of wonder, how her awe at being in a recording studio translates into joyous anticipation of what the weekend may bring.

Iain Mew: Nyan Cat > Rebecca Black Friday.

106 Responses to “AMNESTY 2011: Rebecca Black – Friday”

  1. Iain F said what i said in a 1/10th the words

  2. Just beautiful, all. Perfect range.

  3. QUICK someone do the standard deviation!

  4. 3.58 I think.

  5. Truly, a wholly unanticipated byproduct.

  6. Cor! Though Ke$ha managed 4.17 last year.

  7. Average deviation w/ weighting was lower than edwardo’s estimate, 3.41. Still good enough for #1 of this year, but still below Ke$ha’s “Cannibal” and Das Racist’s “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.”

  8. Oh, Edward did standard dev., which is in fact 3.58. Average dev. is the formula for controversy though (plus weighting for contributors).

  9. I hope if nothing else I’ve helped a few people learn how to play “Friday” on the piano.

  10. Katharine wins.

    Still don’t understand all these months later why, as critics, we’re supposed to be so contrary and all-embracing and pop-positive we can’t just call something clearly awful awful.

  11. (Sorry, Katherine, I misspelled your name.)

  12. Because, Chris, all of this stuff! “Friday” isn’t awful, but it’s meant to be taken away from its original context, not gawked at within it. And I don’t mean to say all songs are like this — far from, hardly any are. But this one seems to be.

  13. Dave, what does “meant” mean there? Who “meant” it to be taken away from its original context? Rebecca Black? Ark Music? Reddit? And why should we heed that intention?

  14. “Friday” isn’t even bad! I could name at least a dozen of songs that are worse as songs. At least two are on the Top 10 right now.

    Nor are the Ark Music Factory people horrible songwriters — there’s this one song by this other singer that’s a total “All That She Wants” ripoff, but it’s better than “Alejandro,” and I can listen to it without feeling shitty about myself because I’m not going to see her agreeing to be made fun of on awards shows because that’s how it works, the same way that middle school (and, uh, grownup) bullies act super-nice and condescending to the kids they’re going to mock once they leave.

  15. Also if we all thought songs were good for the same reasons there would be little point in having a multi-contributor site like TSJ :)

  16. And in re: Sally’s comparison of Black’s voice to Ke$ha’s, I think there’s an extraordinary difference in the verve with which the latter attacks “Wake up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy” and Black’s dead-eyed “Seven a.m. waking up in the morning.” There are occasional pop stars who completely lack talent. Contra snooty rockism, the charts aren’t full of them. Black shows what happens when the machine is handed the proverbial any old person off the street.

    This is bad music. That was the point right from the beginning, and it remains bad, no matter how many people lol at it around a campfire.

  17. To be fair, I think the “verve” is mostly “getting to sing more than one note,” but yeah, point.

  18. Chris, you don’t have to be so contrary! I’m not being contrary in my affection for this song. I’m maybe a little contra its haters, but I get where you all are coming from. Honestly, I hadn’t heard this song in its entirety until I listened to it for the Jukebox, and I wasn’t aware of how it got made until today, but I’ve walked around singing it for months, usually misremembering the words as “gotta make love on Friday”, which is its own can of worms.

    Anyway, I’d rather listen to “Friday” than the following #1 hits:
    Hold It Against Me (i know, i’m sorry)
    Give Me Everything
    Party Rock Anthem
    Last Friday Night
    Moves Like Jagger
    Someone Like You
    We Found Love

  19. Fine, I’ll say “it is improved” when taken from its original context. But it’s more than that. (I imagine when people sing this song around campfires they are not lol-ing — they’re just lolling, having a good time and stuff! You can only mock it for so long before you’re on its own terms, i.e. reach the chorus)

    That said, Kat is right and after all I did choose this thing specifically to game the controversy system. (3 for 3! Woo!)

  20. Josh, it could totally be “make love on Friday.” Another nice thing about the song is that its simplicity makes it really really easy to put new lyrics into. The chorus is the chorus and the verse’s are a single note, w/o rhyme. Some old 90’s ballads worked that way for me as a kid, too — just last night I sang a nonsense version of “Kiss from a Rose” with my wife in an IKEA.

  21. I suppose I sang it “at” my wife. She’s a saint.

  22. Chris, why would you assume Dave is being a contrarian when he’s loved this song (and written well about it) for months?

  23. @jbradley – I was comparing the timbre of Rebecca and Ke$ha’s voices (the “abrasive Autotuned nasality”), which is what inspired the “SEE MA FRANS” gifs et al. I’m still not as taken with Ke$ha as most on this site, but I agree she would have given it a livelier, more inspired reading than Rebecca did. At the same time, I’m kind of charmed by Rebecca’s naïveté, which is something that Ke$ha lacks (not that one approach is better than the other).

  24. I’m very sick/running a fever/not really mentally competent enough to write things about stuff but I really really wish I could have reviewed this. I remember the first friday after “Friday” went viral, getting out of class and listening to it my room because my roommates hated it so much. I don’t know if I like tihs song but it was a highly memorable experience with music for me.

    Anyway, these blurbs are amazing! Well done all. Well done.

  25. Alfred, because I completely fail to understand how anyone can find anything redeeming in this as composition, performance or meme. Didn’t then, still don’t. It actually offends me as a pop fan and longtime pop defender—it ruins everything we as critics do to make the general public understand that there’s no such thing as a “guilty pleasure”; that writing good pop songs is actually difficult; that, no, this assembly-line piece of crap is not equivalent to what the million-dollar Rihanna songwriter camp does (good and bad) or what Dr. Luke does, etc. etc. etc.

  26. I wouldn’t go that far — I’m probably closest to Edward: “Friday” is mostly a bad song. But it’s not entirely a bad song.

  27. “there’s no such thing as a “guilty pleasure”; that writing good pop songs is actually difficult; that, no, this assembly-line piece of crap is not equivalent to what the million-dollar Rihanna songwriter camp does (good and bad) or what Dr. Luke does, etc. etc. etc.”

    Pop writers try to do these things? That seems futile. There are guilty pleasures. (Do you feel guilty that you are taking pleasure in this? Then it’s a guilty pleasure!) Writing good pop songs is not necessarily difficult. Assembly-line productions — which this is not, for what it’s worth; it’s the definition of an independent production! — can compete with professional songwriting. If these things weren’t true, we’d have to erase huge swathes of pop history.

    Anyway, I do agree that “pop fans” may not dig this song as pop, if by “pop fan” you mean pop-as-genre fans and not pop-as-mode-of-reception fans. But “pop fans” also may not dig hokey Christmas music — novelty music — which is currently pumping through plenty of pop stations. “Friday” is much closer to “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” some kinda hangover from the Tin Pan Alley tradition, than it is to Z100. But whereas Tin Pan Alley can’t absorb Z100, Z100 could certainly absorb some Tin Pan Alley.

    I’d love to hear more genuine novelty on pop radio — it’s one thing that Black Eyed Peas occasionally do well, though like many pop acts, their “professionalism” sometimes ends up nuking the smaller incipient pleasures of the trifles-turned-stadium-rockers. (“My Humps” is great! And was apparently written in 10 minutes!)

  28. *not do, rather, but convince others of these things. You know what it is.

  29. “The cynic in you must, by now, be thinking, “What are these dick head Timelords on about? They haven’t told us one concrete thing to do since we’ve been in the studio other than, ‘Leave it to the engineer and programmer!’ If it was that easy, everybody would be having sodding Number Ones. This manual is a con. Just like all those ‘get rich quick’ and ‘keep young and beautiful’ books. Just another part of the late eighties sham. The fag end of Thatcherism. Full of patronising prose and cheap metaphors. I mean, for God’s sake, The Timelords! They’ve only had the one hit and that was pure fluke. A pair of ageing fakers and now they’re trying to take the piss by writing this load of crap.”

    We don’t think we could argue our way out of the above other than to say that some time between mid-Tuesday evening and late Wednesday afternoon something will happen and everything will start to make sense again. The track will begin coming together. By Wednesday evening you will know you are on to a winner. There is nothing more that we can tell you, even if we were there with you in the studio. Just hold on to your fantasy. Roll around on the floor and scream if need be, because it’s all too late now. Ideas will come out of you that you never thought were there, just let them flow. Don’t get too ahead of the game. Don’t get carried away thinking your record is going to change the face of pop music.”

  30. Sorry I missed this one. A [1] for me by default, because it beats her live performance of it on Good Morning America.

  31. I am very glad I gave up feeling guilty about enjoying the (off-key! half-assed! monotonous!) pop music I enjoy. If I am constantly singing a song when drunk or sober it then I am enjoying it, and that should be sufficient. If I am hungover and hatorade on a technically-polished and lovingly crafted Beyonce track because I’m not in the mood then that’s ok too. This may well make me annoying to all humans and hugely unqualified as a pop critic OR THE EXACT OPPOSITE.

    P.S. I am drunk at the moment.

  32. My blurb was supposed to only be a placeholder; I’ve never been so embarrassed to have not gotten around to fleshing out my thoughts on time.

    My own R.B. exegesis will have to wait/be performed on my own blog, but in the meantime I wanted to congratulate everyone here on their really well-written thoughts, both in the blurbs and in the comment stream. I’m so proud to be writing on a site where both Dave’s and Katherine’s views are true.

  33. Sorry, I don’t mean to keep belaboring this—and I’m truly not out to denigrate Dave or anyone else who finds something redeeming, even awesome in “Friday”—but I just read something that makes my point more lucidly than I have been here. It’s Nitsuh Abebe’s recent, fair-minded and beautifully written New York Magazine piece on the Metallica/Lou Reed collabo album, which ends as follows:

    “But for every fan Lulu introduces to something new, it will probably wind up convincing two dozen others that ‘art’ is just a word for things that are weird and pointless and not really very good. And that is not cool at all; that is a real shame.”

    In the above graf, substitute “Friday,” “pop” and “flimsy” for “Lulu,” “art” and “weird,” and you have my feelings on Rebecca Black *precisely*.

  34. That idea seems unworkable to me — “For every fan Duchamp introduces to something new, it will probably wind up convincing two dozen others that ‘art’ is just a word for hings that are weird and pointless and not really very good.” So what? Or, to elaborate/belabor:

    (1) Hypothetical people’s narrow perceptions of art (or pop) are not the concern of the artist OR the pop writer. They *can’t* be. How narrow do you want to go before you stop letting it affect your own work?

    (2) Anyone who talks about art in a yes/no binary is kind of missing the point of art in the first place, which is all about the details. If we replace the word “art” (“is it art *at all*”) with “*bad* art” (“what kind of art is it?”), the claim becomes “bad art is just a phrase for things that are weird and pointless and not very good.” Which, to me, sounds like a passable, if not very useful, definition of bad art.

    (3) So Rebecca Black: “‘Bad pop’ is just a word for things that are weird [flimsy] and pointless and not really very good.” I can absolutely accept someone’s evaluation that “Friday” is weird, flimsy, pointless, and/or not really very good. But of those three descriptors, only the last one seems to be a categorical distinction that explains itself.

    Certainly we all have favorite pop songs (and art pieces) that are weird and/or flimsy. Unless flimsy is just a general stand-in word for “not really very good.” Certainly we have favorites that are pointless (pointlessness is in the eye of the beholder, after all). Very few of us have favorites that are not really very good by our own estimation. But whether or not it’s really very good isn’t what’s actually interesting about a conversation about the thing — why isn’t it very good? If all you can do is point to the first few descriptors, you’re not working hard enough yet, because you could just as easily come up with examples of the same qualities in work that you do like. So what’s going on in “Friday”?

    My argument (to be reductive) is that it’s a timeless children’s song in ill-fitting pop clothing — and that it’s not really even trying very hard to approximate modern pop. Which, for someone who likes modern pop, is probably pretty annoying! But I wouldn’t be surprised if it lived on in singalongs long after the video and song ceased to be relevant. Certainly I’ll remember it for the rest of my life, which I definitely can’t say with any certainty about any other songs released this year.

  35. I’ll leave it to you, Dave, to remind me of the existence of “Friday” when we’re both 20 years older. I’ll admit I still remember how “Chocolate Rain” goes a half-decade later, but I wouldn’t say memorableness has made that good.

    Also, clearly there are folks who can find value in almost anything. “We Built This City” by Starship is widely agreed among pop/rock critics to be the worst popular song of the last 30 years or so (tops numerous “worst song” polls, etc.); and yet, it was just reintroduced to a new generation in a prominent sequence in ‘The Muppets.’ (Clearly Jason Segel is a fan.) Does that make “Built” any less shitty? I’d say not, but maybe you’d disagree.

    Also, no offense, but claiming my hatred of Rebecca Black makes me a philistine on the order of Duchamp haters of a century ago is, putting it mildly, a cheap shot. Just, no.

  36. I don’t believe he was calling you a philistine, but rather demonstrating that appealing to how a work is obviously bad is a pretty limiting approach.

    And the Starship tune isn’t clearly the worst pop songs of the last few decades. I suspect there’s some massive confirmation bias at play. Can you imagine something so boring as a bunch of critics in lockstep about the best song of the modern era?

  37. My disagreement via Duchamp wasn’t in reference to you Chris, but to the argument being put forward at the end of Nitsuh’s piece. I’m saying that it’s just not a tenable way of thinking about art. I don’t really like Lulu, but it’s also not the basis of my understanding of art as a concept (no one piece of art can do that). Similarly, the distinctions that you’re making aren’t hard and fast rules, which is fine, but it means that any given criterion for evaluating a song needs to be examined on a song by song basis — especially in pop, where so often those criteria necessarily change according to the, er, day of the week?

  38. Also, clearly there are folks who can find value in almost anything. “We Built This City” by Starship is widely agreed among pop/rock critics to be the worst popular song of the last 30 years or so (tops numerous “worst song” polls, etc.); and yet, it was just reintroduced to a new generation in a prominent sequence in ‘The Muppets.’ (Clearly Jason Segel is a fan.) Does that make “Built” any less shitty? I’d say not, but maybe you’d disagree.

    You seem to believe in independent criteria, as if a mere consensus issued a judgment by which we’re supposed to abide; or, worse, that a song emanates qualities which make it “good” or “bad” if we only pay attention.

  39. A superbly written essay on “Friday” is its own defense.

  40. And just because you can write superb essays on a subject doesn’t make that subject good.

  41. If you mean, Katherine, that intrinsic worth is a myth, I agree.

  42. I’m with Alfred; nothing good or bad but thinking (or visible thinking, i.e. writing) makes it so.

  43. My argument (to be reductive) is that it’s a timeless children’s song in ill-fitting pop clothing — and that it’s not really even trying very hard to approximate modern pop.

    @Dave I’d also give “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” a [1] if some amateur tried to release it as a pop song.

    I guess I’d understand the high scores here better if the reasoning behind them seemed to be something other than “I recognize this song from the Internet, and so do other people I know!” Social context can change our perspective on a song, but in this case, social context is all there seems to be.

  44. That’s not really what I meant. It’s possible to write fantastic essays about war or murder or crime, for instance, but that does not make them good. All it means is that someone’s written well about them.

  45. Yeah, Alfred, you-re right—it’s insane for me to believe that a critical consensus ever exists about recorded music, and to say so on a site that asks its writers to rate songs on a 10-point scale and then leads the web page with an average of those ratings. What a reductive shithead I am.

  46. How are you defining “about war or murder or crime”?

  47. I don’t care about the consensus, I care about the blurbs: the quality of the prose, defenses, and dismissals. I found The Descendants a crass, meretricious movie, but I’m almost alone in thinking so.

  48. So you’re in favor of the elimination of the average rating, right? (Heads-up, Edward.) Just want to see you take your argument to its logical end.

  49. The same way I define these blurbs as being about “Friday” — there are other definitions? (And no, I’m not making a direct comparison of “Friday” to anything.)

  50. Chris, you’re taking this too seriously. All I said was I read the blurbs before I check the average rating — and the blurbs are what I remember.

    Katherine: yeah, kinda! There are good wars, and I’d read an essay about the origins of inner city crime.

  51. I mean, this is what I’m getting at in my blurb. Sure, you can make an excellent sing-along to “Friday” — but you can do that with literally any song. It’s effort that can be directed anywhere; why direct it at trollgaze?

  52. So you’re saying that just because you read a good essay about inner-city crime, this makes inner-city crime good? I could be misinterpreting your argument, but that seems to be where you’re going.

  53. OK, I get you.

  54. “So you’re saying that just because you read a good essay about inner-city crime, this makes inner-city crime good? I could be misinterpreting your argument, but that seems to be where you’re going.”

    I resist your analogy because while “crime” may be intrinsically bad (and I think what you mean is that “crime” by itself means nothing, but its consequences do), “Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday'” is not.

  55. I check the average rating—at, y’know, the top of the damned page—before I read the comments. Because, like it or not, average ratings tell me a lot. So does “We Built This City” topping numerous bad-music polls. So does an Animal Collective album topping Pazz & Jop, even if I think that album is wildly overrated. Am I with the consensus? against it? It’s human nature for me to want to know that.

    Given the remarkably generous average rating given Ms. Black at the top of this page, you can take comfort that I am not in the main in my regard, or lack thereof, for “Friday.” While I am disbelieving to some extent about that average, I’m not going to call it irrelevant. I am, however, going to remind my fellow scribes who are pulling that average up that, as Jonathan aptly implies above, writing a memorable nursery rhyme is not, in itself, a praiseworthy accomplishment; and singers who are cruelly and unfairly picked on by the Internet do not then deserve critical kudos for their trouble.

  56. “I am, however, going to remind my fellow scribes who are pulling that average up that, as Jonathan aptly implies above, writing a memorable nursery rhyme is not, in itself, a praiseworthy accomplishment; and singers who are cruelly and unfairly picked on by the Internet do not then deserve critical kudos for their trouble.”

    Neither Kat nor David’s blurb did none of these things; they loved “Friday” and explained why.

  57. *omit NONE

  58. The thing is, I don’t think “Friday” is a good song. It’s not terrible; it’s certainly at the level of any given Jason Derulo track. But just because presumably well-intentioned songs are this mediocre doesn’t mean that’s raising the bar.

    And if there’s any track that can’t be divorced from its context, “Friday” is it. That context is: a company charging a family thousands of dollars for a glorified karaoke video, possibly with the stated or unstated assumption that it’d make her a real, live star; some Internet troll sending out the Bully Bat-Signal to make fun of said 13-year-old (which was, I believe, the initial intent; Ark came later); real people on the Internet heeding the signal in droves; commercial forces bleeding the track dry in the only way that’d make sense, which is more mockery; people trying to defend any of the above. I mean, if you want endearing, amateur teen pop, then Myspace, Soundcloud, minor labels, YouTube covers, etc. are fucking full of the stuff with none of that baggage. (Different baggage can apply, but not that type.)

  59. Dave – I know the controversy index is calculated based on standard deviation (I think), or at least something to do with the scores assigned by the blurbers, but perhaps it should take into account length of comment threads also somehow?

    Which is to say: ‘Video Games’ (more consensus score-wise, I believe) pulled 70 comments in the four days post-post, and in three days R.B. has managed 55-ish, Pizza Hut/Taco Bell pulled around 80. Surely that distinguishes them from some of the controversy index with less active debate?

  60. Obviously, when confronted with a wall of text and a number between 0 and 10, the reader has the choice which they will take notice of first. I like to think both enhance the other. But the number itself isn’t the be-all and end-all. Having said that, I think running an interesting, but hardly scientific or statistically-significant range of scores, then averaging them to TWO DECIMAL PLACES (precision = accuracy! FACT! Er.) as if they were truly significant is this site’s great unsung joke on itself.

  61. ISTR the majority of the Pizza Hut Taco Bell comments were about whether you can get free refills at the Nandos on Chalk Farm Road.

  62. The problem with the score, and i think it’s a problem a lot of us recognize, is that it sort of falls down when you think, these things are interesting or important to note and this is important to the discussion of pop music, and i am going to write that before i write about whether this is a good song or a bad song, or even if i do want to write about whether is this s good song or a bad song.

  63. katherine, your description of the “Friday” timeline seems off to me. The mother’s reason for doing this was specifically (according to her) to teach her how NOT to be a star; i.e., she was intending this to be a lesson in how “amateur production is really hard, and even that isn’t a fraction as difficult as doing a professional pop song.”

    Obviously Rebecca didn’t learn that (though who knows what she learned during the actual production experience up until March 11th when the song went viral). But that was the stated intention of the mother.

    The rest of it, about Internet Bullies, is only partially true. I’ve witnessed literally dozens of people within my own social circle (both friends/acquaintances and students, many of them younger through school networks I work with) enjoying the song in different ways. Lots and lots of kids I work with genuinely love this song, not in an ironic way. As for commercialization of the track, those figures are pretty obscure. It’s not clear how much money the song made, but it’s important to remember that it’s NOT actually part of the tried-and-true music industry systems that find ways to make money more tactically than “Friday” has made its money. Money is a secondary concern to its existence for the most part, and any attempt to cash in on mockery probably speaks to the enterprise (whether it’s Perez Hilton or Good Morning America) than it does to the track.

    As for me, I love it — genuinely, warts and all (and yes, MIDI hi-hats count as a wart) as is, in its original version. And it’s also true that song is enriched when NOT in that original version, which countless remaking of the song make clear. To me, “most memorable melody line of the past three years” and “song I will continue to sing once a week for at least another few months, and then probably sporadically for the rest of my life” count as a major pop success. That’s certainly enough for me to overcome the MIDI hi-hat.

    And Alex, I’ve long thought about comment threads, but there’s no way to quantify those. If someone posts three corrections in spelling to a comment, those probably shouldn’t count as a weighted score. Though perhaps I could do a slight weighting for “over 50 comments” or something.

  64. (That “most memorable melody line of the past three years” is a totally bullshit and arbitrary distinction I just made up, mind. And probably not true! I think I’m thinking back to “Since U Been Gone,” which I sing every time I hear the phrase “since you’ve been gone” in the real world, a much rarer occurrence than Fridays.)

  65. “writing a memorable nursery rhyme is not, in itself, a praiseworthy accomplishment”

    Tell that to Mildred and Patty Hill every time you sing their (still copyrighted) “Happy Birthday”! I’d give ’em praise for that.

  66. That might be Rebecca’s mom’s reason, but it’s pretty clear from Ark Music Factory’s publicity materials back then that they were pushing the “you’ll be a star!” angle pretty hard. I mean, they had that freaking “awards” “ceremony” stream, about which much ado was made. Again, you can’t separate the enterprise from the song anymore and probably couldn’t to begin with.

    As far as people enjoying the song, I think you’re in a huge minority there. Take the whole “Rick Perry is more disliked than Rebecca Black!” meme, which is just the most recent example.

  67. But what you actually said was “a company charging a family thousands of dollars for a glorified karaoke video, possibly with the stated or unstated assumption that it’d make her a real, live star” — in this specific instance that simply wasn’t true. The family CHOSE to pay 4,000 bucks for the experience of their daughter NOT being a real, live star. (Good NYT piece on it here: )

    I’d argue that the song is far far bigger than the enterprise at this point! It’s a global phenomenon, far outstripping the actual clout (which is super negligible) of one of about a million fantasy camp experiences. Would we be making these kinds of assumptions about a group coming out of a Rock School like program (like the amazing Girls Rock Philly) if one of their students became a viral sensation? If the qualm is with people taking out their schadenfreude at the video, then your beef is with the culture, not Ark Music Factory.

  68. But the global phenomenon IS the enterprise, and it’s an ugly one. Girls Rock Philly isn’t producing viral sensations because viral Internet culture doesn’t value that sort of thing, primarily because there is no “LOL,” “OMG,” “FAIL” or any other Buzzfeed-tag value to it.

    As far as the New York Times article, it’s irrelevant; nothing about “a company charging a family thousands of dollars for a glorified karaoke video, possibly with the stated or unstated assumption that it’d make her a real, life star” changes whether her mother adamantly put her foot down or expensively put her foot down while still allowing her a loophole way into a pop song.

  69. Since we were talking about scores a bit ago (well, while I was writing this comment in my head it was the current subject, I guess we’ve moved on now, but oh well):

    This is the only time apart from “Bollywood” when I would ideally have submitted the review without a score. I have never previously encountered “Friday” as the standalone in its own right. I suppose that could stand for some other stuff we cover (thinking of Japanese or Korean stuff which I would never encounter if I didn’t seek it out and where I could be only listening as a soundtrack to the video), but the difference is that I haven’t already been submitted to such an overwhelming abundance of other stuff relating to those songs.

    So when I came to actually listen to the song, it seemed to be completely missing the point in a way which that never previously has done, and certainly wasn’t giving me any enjoyment (note that this doesn’t make it a zero, it would have to be actively aggravating me for that). Hence I decided to judge it against something which felt more comparable, and it fell well short in terms of the amount of joy its spread as a meme has brought me over the year.

  70. These just seem like arbitrary distinctions to be making, since all pop songs come to us with a world attached to them. And I suppose you could rate “Friday” according to the rancid parts of the world that it is a part of (LOL culture, schadenfreude, etc.), but I choose to hear it in the lovely parts of the world that it is a part of (singalongs, good-natured laughter, community). And that’s because the song seems to be of the latter world, even though it’s attacked within the former world.

  71. Anyway, I don’t think that you can actually prove that Ark Music Factory honestly aims for its work to be a global schadenfreude phenomenon, when it just as easily could be framed a fantasy camp experience that genuinely believes it’s putting out a nice product. Nothing in interviews from Ark Music Factory suggest to me that they’re consciously trying to make songs that others will point and laugh at. That makes them an amateurish version of something more like American Idol or X Factor, which we don’t tend to talk about in those terms even though they engage specifically in LOL culture (audition episodes).

  72. There’s nothing stopping a YouTube video from Girls Rock Philly being promoted and mocked. I’m just saying that the less-shady-seeming enterprise behind it prevents us from even considering such a thing. And I think we shouldn’t consider Ark Music Factory that way, either. We’re putting way too much emphasis on the authors in this context and not nearly enough on the audience. The audience made “Friday” — it’s a folk song, y’all!

  73. I did mention Idol auditions as part of the problem in my blurb. They’re apt, because my problem with “Friday” is fundamentally the same as my problem with William Hung, minus the racist subtext and plus orders of magnitude more exposure. It’s my problem with people going and auditioning shittily on purpose just to get them some of that potential finale-show exposure and gag CDs. It’s my problem with producers setting up people who aren’t conventionally attractive, or who aren’t all there, etc., and using them as fodder to mock — and some of them are in on this, some aren’t, but it sucks either way.

    And tons of people talk about audition shows in these terms, in fact; go read any recapper worth his/her words. The difference is that (thankfully) they tend to stay contained in audition episodes. They don’t go on to the larger world.

  74. The question becomes what happens when ironic enjoyment slides into genuine pleasure?

  75. I think I can see the audience rather than authors point, but I haven’t had any of the positive community experiences around Friday at all. Well, apart from watching the Colbert version, and even that was via a mirrored YouTube video in order to be allowed to view it in my country, which gives a certain distancing effect. The song may have given rise to good things as well as bad, but they’re someone else’s good things.

    Whereas I have actually seen communal pleasure amongst my friends arising from the phone app which plays the Nyan Cat song out loud and allows you to move it around the screen.

  76. It’s my problem with producers setting up people who aren’t conventionally attractive, or who aren’t all there, etc., and using them as fodder to mock

    I hate to belabor this point, but it’s really, really important to me in this particular debate that it’s clear, if we’re actually talking about producers, that that is not the case in the Ark Music Factory example. They are setting up people who are not conventionally attractive and are not “all there” (talent-wise, I’m assuming?) as fodder to write a song anyway. Mocking just does not enter into a plausible component of the production of the song. The onus of that mockery is entirely on the audience, and blaming an artist for the shittiness of their fans (and non-fans!) is a fallacy that goes back to…I dunno, probably cave drawings.

  77. “Ironic enjoyment” is basically a nonsense phrase. (It would be like having “ironic hunger” — the feeling of hunger might be ironic in a particular circumstance, but hunger either is or is not) “Conflicted enjoyment,” the phrase I prefer, never “slides” into genuine pleasure — it is genuine pleasure. Pleasure is not genuine or ingenuous, it just is. My pleasure of the song certainly increased as its exposure increased. Now I actively look forward to hearing it, and part of that is because of the ways in which it’s been reappropriated. (And part of it is that was a “grower.”)

  78. Woops, “disingenuous,” I think. Which is still the wrong word. I mean “genuine” or “not genuine,” though we’d be on a slippery slope to “you say you like this but you don’t really,” which is my least favorite claim in all of music conversationdom!

  79. i see yr point–but i am talking about public discourse–between the haha im being ironic kind of love that comes with speaking of this outloud, and finally saying fuck it, i love this geniuinely and outloud.

  80. See, though, I don’t think you’re entirely accurate there. I’ve watched all the Ark Music Factory videos (it was for a listicle; see the part of my blurb where I indict myself), and what they’re doing is using people who can afford to pay them several thousand dollars as fodder to make several thousand dollars each. Songwriting is just an unavoidable part of the process; it’s like paperwork, just a means to an end.

    And the problem with conflicted enjoyment is when people resolve said conflict / cognitive dissonance by putting down whatever they’re enjoying. This is rampant, and it’s what most people have done with “Friday.”

  81. If you’re interested, incidentally, in what the majority of the audience thinks of “Friday,” boom.

  82. “Songwriting is just an unavoidable part of the process; it’s like paperwork, just a means to an end.”

    But you can’t possibly know this! This is the basic foundation for pop songwriting as an “assembly line” in the first place — that, well, of course, these are just two scheming hucksters who exploit young girls. To which I’d say, (1) scheming hucksters who exploit young girls (and boys) have long made successful pop music we don’t bat an eyelash at (see: Paul Anka doc “Lonely Boy,” available on YouTube in its entirety) but (2) that can’t be all there is to the process (or, if it is, then it can’t be all there is to how we actually interpret and use the result of the process). I still think that it’s impossible to say that the song “Friday” asks us to “put down” Rebecca Black. Or at least, that if we do say that, then we need to ask ourselves questions at least as hard as the ones we’re prepared to ask the producers.

    Quibble: The majority of the audience is way way way bigger than your link! The original video and all accompanying comments was taken down months ago.

    Anthony: Repressed versus vocal enjoyment is an interesting framework for it. Though in this case, I wouldn’t call my initial enjoyment repressed so much as muted, in a way. To be honest, I never really figured out what people disliked about it as a song so much, even with the analysis here (which, to be fair, is better than most other analysis of it I saw).

  83. I highly, highly doubt the current crop of YouTube comments is not a representative sample, unless you’re seriously about to make the argument that “Friday” had nothing but adoring comments until it was first yanked.

    And the difference between traditional assembly-line pop production is that, ultimately, the goal’s to successfully create a good song that mass audiences would willingly listen to. Either this wasn’t a goal here, or it was a goal that completely failed. It’s not that the song asks us to put down Rebecca Black, but it’s that the cultural context around the song — which is much bigger than the song itself, probably a 90%/10%

    Honestly, I’m tired of having to argue about how much of a waste of time arguing about “Friday” is. I could be using this time to listen to the Popical Island Christmas album, or either of the two indie-pop CDBaby pages that’ve been chilling out in my Chrome tags for hours, or revisiting 2011 albums, or discovering new artists instead. But I’m not. And that makes me really fucking angry.

  84. Haha, I was actually suggesting that your point about the audiences is even bigger than you’re suggesting with your link. I still fail to see how it has any bearing on the song any more than, say, negative comments on “Baby” by Justin Bieber have on that one (which was the #1 song of last year according to me except that Alicia Keys song I think, for what it’s worth).

    Whether the goal failed or not is certainly up for grabs, based on your rubric for assessing this stuff. I would hope that you don’t have a hard ‘n’ fast rubric, as that would make things pretty boring ’round these parts! The cultural context stuff just fuels the fire for my judgement of this as “GOOD,” perhaps in the same way that cultural context around Britney fueled my appreciation of that album back in 2007. 3 million “dislikers” (according to last YouTube stats) not only can be wrong, but are PROFOUNDLY wrong, which makes my rightness that much more awesome. Hence Controversy Index!

  85. My point wasn’t really about the number of dislikers or likers — or view counts, if you’re going there next. These are always spammed so much on both sides to be near-worthless. My point was about the comments themselves. Your argument is that “Friday” is some sort of populist folk song, which ignores what almost everyone actually has to say about it. You can’t compare this to Justin Bieber or Britney Spears, both of whom are musicians first, whether or not anyone thinks they are any good.

    Let me repeat: I am very tired of your being so obtuse about this argument, and it is genuinely angering me to have to continue it. If you continue it, I will assume you are trolling. Is that clear enough?

  86. I am probably going to keep on engaging you in this argument (call me a troll if ya like) as long as you think I’m being “obtuse,” which is way offensive than “troll.” At this point I would hope we’ve moved beyond mere evaluation of this specific song and can talk about ideas and stuff that come up in relation to it — folk, schadenfreude, internet culture, singing shit aloud, whatever.

    “Folk” isn’t a value judgment of its goodness or badness, or its competence or its so-called “professionalism”; it’s a reference to its known-ness, and the ways it gets to be known. It’s “bad” now according to a YouTube majority (a lot of people hated drinking songs, like the melody the National Anthem is based on, and they started a whole movement to ban alcohol altogether! Which was successful for a time, fwiw) because of a specific cultural context. But it’s out there — its popularity, which I’m gauging from the number of times I’ve heard people singing it spontaneously on the street (more than any other song this year, certainly — and I even heard a girl singing “1+1” by Beyonce the other day! Woo!), reminds me of the way folk music (not in the genre sense) travels.

    Anyway, when I feel passionately about something, I like to try to argue against the counter-arguments as they come. If that’s obtuse, then so be it.

  87. Frankly, nothing I can say is going to convince you or even be noted, and considering that I have actual work to do right now, I’d really prefer not getting myself fired over Rebecca Black. I’m finished with this argument.

  88. um anyone talking shit about we built this city can line up right here for their free punch in the butt

  89. like

  90. “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” > “We Built This City”.

    Both are GREAT though.

  91. i don’t understand we built this city conceptually

  92. no, with rock and roll!

  93. Someone’s always playing jukebox games.

  94. I know the controversy index is calculated based on standard deviation (I think), or at least something to do with the scores assigned by the blurbers, but perhaps it should take into account length of comment threads also somehow?

    (1) Alex, the controversy rating is based on average deviation, the difference between average deviation and standard deviation being that the average deviation is dependent on the scale being used: if we’re rating on a scale of 0 stars through 5 stars, a track will have a lower average deviation than if we’re rating on a scale of 0 through 10, and so on. Standard deviation, on the other hand, is an arithmetical procedure (involving square roots or something that I forget, but I’m sure one can find it on Wikip) that’ll give us the same number no matter what the scale. The reason I used average deviation (a term I’d never heard at the time) is that it was a quick and easy way of showing precisely how much more disparate the scores were for “MotownPhilly” than for “Pop Goes The Weasel” (“MotownPhilly”‘s controversy rating was 2.88; “Pop Goes The Weasel”‘s was 1.11). The reason I wanted to show this was that the blurbs for “Pop Goes The Weasel” were much more argumentative, implying that the song itself was the more controversial song. Of course, getting argued about is itself a sign of being controversial, but I was wanting to underline that whether you were mad at 3rd Bass or down with 3rd Bass you were still likely to give the song a 6.0, while with Boyz II Men we were placidly all over the place. Maybe I wanted to start a fight over Boyz II Men.

    (2) That said, of course controversy rating doesn’t rate how much controversy or comment a song causes, just how disparate or non-disparate the scores are. But anyway, as for taking into account length of comment threads, this has been done, or the near equivalent (obv. we didn’t have comment threads in Radio On, but in future issues you could comment on old songs and on other people’s previous comments, and do so into perpetuity, or at least all the way into 1998). In Radio On #6, in 1994, Chuck Eddy created Line-Item Controversy Ratings for all tracks we’d talked about in previous issues (he literally counted the lines written about a track and multiplied this number by the Controversy Rating). If you’re interested, these were the top ten: Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Radiohead “Creep,” R.E.M. “Shiny Happy People,” Soul Asylum “Runaway Train,” Madonna “This Used To Be My Playground,” Mariah Carey “I’ll Be There,” Bryan Adams “Everything I Do (I’ll Do It For You),” Guns N’ Roses “November Rain,” Metallica “Enter Sandman,” Janet Jackson “If.” Of course, not all lines expended are lines expended in argument.

  95. Both average (absolute) deviation and standard deviation are scale-dependent. The major practical difference is that standard deviation is more strongly affected by extreme scores: thus (3, 3, 7, 7) and (1, 5, 5, 9) both have an average of 5 and an average deviation of 2, but the first has an SD of 2 while the second has an SD of 2.8 (if you use n instead of n-1 in the denominator, which, pace Excel, you should).

    Yours faithfully, Society of Pedantic Statisticians for Proper Pop Quantification.

  96. OK, time to ask naive questions of the wonks — it seems like I’d probably want to go for a more conservative estimate generally (I kind of like that 3-3-7-7 scores are more balanced with 1-5-5-9 scores in the event that there’s one “spoiler” giving a zero or ten) but would it make more sense to calculate average deviation? Wouldn’t be that hard to modify scores, but my very inexact science “feels right,” in that I have successfully gamed the controversy system three years in a row.

  97. *er, more sense to calculate standard dev. INSTEAD of average dev.?

  98. A Zen question: can one really “game” what is, essentially, a one-man process?

  99. Thank you, bradluen.

  100. Thanks to bradluen for getting me to think about what kind of SUPERSCIENCE we should be using for Jukebox Controversies. It is v. important to me (seriously!). I’ve done a couple of hypothetical tests and also run a few numbers in Excel just to get myself familiar with the differences between standard dev and average dev. As I suspected, the thing that average deviation does is help to prevent skewing controversy ratings in the case of a single dissenter.

    Imagine a new single comes out by, oh, I don’t know, Beyonce. Only six people review it. Five think it’s amazing, give it a 9 or a 10. One spoiler decides to give it a big goose egg on principle.

    In this case, the standard deviation is far higher than the average deviation. For a spread that looks like [0,9,9,10,10,10] average deviation would be 2.66 while standard deviation would be whopping 3.95. It seems like this goes against the true spirit of controversy ratings, which seek to find the most controversy, i.e. the most love/hate splitting among multiple contributors. It’s useful in the way that it tempers the spoilers in a buzz band and also for the people sick of a particular artist that others love. Essentially, average deviation is a crank guard, ensuring that one “get off my lawn” type can’t artificially inflate controversies without some fellow coots.

    Still, good to revisit this and actually try to think it through in a statistics-y way. Even if my actual mathematical understanding of statistics is only a shade above Lyfe Jennings’s (21st most controversial song of 2010).

  101. For those of you not hep to the numbers stuff, a 2.66 versus a 3.95 is roughly the difference between the far-and-away most controversial song of the year (“Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” Ke$ha’s “Cannibal,” and Rebecca Black’s “Friday” in the last three years) and around the 10th-most controversial song of the year using the current method (Lil Wayne’s “Hot Revolver,” Everything Everything’s “MY KZ UR BF,” and LMFAO’s “Champagne Showers”).

  102. Here’s where I can use literal (and maybe figurative) schooling — my understanding is that standard deviation’s usefulness in a setting like this would be limited since it’s intended for a normal distribution. But in the controversy rankings, we’re necessarily dealing with a distribution that’s NOT normal. Is that at all right?

  103. Would love to know more about Excel’s particularities here, though (if it uses a different formula for standard dev. than is generally accepted), because when I put in a hypothetical case (0,0,0,10,10,10) in which the controversy score should be a “perfect” 5, the average deviation I get 5 and standard dev I get 5.5. (Meanwhile, I ran some of the most-controversial tracks against the hypothetical Beyonce example above and they were beaten by it when using standard dev, which would give way too much power to lone loonies giving a single aberrant low or high score.)

  104. Standard deviation is always at least as large as average deviation. For a normal distribution the SD is about 25% bigger than the AD.

    Dave is right that the idea of an SD is tied to the normal distribution. There’s a good reason (the Central Limit Theorem) to use SD when your data are a *random* sample from some larger population or distribution. But whatever Jukebox scores are, they’re not a random sample — it makes more sense to consider them as a fixed set of numbers. In that case, there’s no theoretical reason to prefer SD over AD or vice versa: the choice should be a value judgement as to which better matches the idea of “controversy”.

    The stdev function in Excel (and similar functions in most statistical software) does not, strictly speaking, calculate the SD of the data. Instead, it find what I’ll call “SD+”: an *estimate* of the SD of the population, under the assumption that the data are a random sample from that population. The SD+ is always a bit bigger than the SD, because there’s a bit of extra uncertainty due to not knowing the true population mean (you have to estimate that as well). If your data set is large, there’s virtually no difference between the SD and SD+, because you can estimate the population mean almost exactly. With Jukebox-sized data sets, the difference can be large. If, as I suggest, you consider the scores as fixed, not random, then you should use SD and not SD+, since there’s no estimation involved. To correct Excel, you need to multiply the output of the stdev function by sqrt((n-1)/n), where n is the size of the data set. For the (0,0,0,10,10,10) example, 5.48 * sqrt(5/6) = 5.

    Anyway, understand all this and you’ll be ahead of where I was when I started grad school.

  105. Very helpful. Since I tend to keep a running Excel, I think I’ll probably continue to use average deviation, but this is all fascinating (and useful). Thanks!

  106. Glad I can control more for st. dev. in Excel! This will come in handy, hopefully. Trying a few hypotheticals and I’m still concerned w/ spoilers, a not-uncommon occurence here at the ol’ Jukebox, so I’m going to continue with the average deviation weighted (slightly) for number of contributors. Might be interesting to consider comment threads or words expended — I’ll use Lana Del Ray as a test case, perhaps.