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. 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”).

  2. 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?

  3. 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.)

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.