Rebecca Black's Search for Identity
Rebecca Black's unabashedly sapphic bop 'Girlfriend' came onto my radar recently. "Holy shit," I thought to myself, thrilled, "She's grown up and got a Carly Rae Jepsen meets Katy Perry sound? I need to hear more of this!"
Well, not exactly... 'Girlfriend' is that, but Rebecca Black isn’t that. Not yet, at least - out of a dozen or more releases, it’s just that one song.
The truth is, Rebecca has been trickling out songs for years, throwing things at the wall, looking for the style that will make her take off.
As I hopped from song to song in the Youtube recommended links, each song was different. They could have each been from a different singer. I was so excited after hearing Girlfriend, but each song I listened to left me more confused.
Skipping past the series of regrettable cash-ins while she was under management of Debra Baum right after 'Friday', then a handful of forgettable EDM pop tracks, are a few more recent interesting songs with -wildly- different vibes. So who IS Rebecca Black?
Welcome Back (she never left)
Every piece of press that Rebecca gets has the same lede: Remember the Friday girl? Well she’s BACK, she’s GROWN UP, and she’s a REAL MUSICIAN now!
But apart from a 3-year hiatus between 'Saturday' and 'The Great Divide', Rebecca has actually been consistently releasing music every year since 'Friday'. There's no comeback to speak of, she's always been around, just not gathering much attention.
It's the kind of PR move that works once and only once: that was then, this is now, and then you stand on the quality of your work and move forward. But every bit of press I could find, at the release of every song coming out almost every year, has taken this stance, not even mentioning the prior songs. She keeps trying to break out, but the viral fame is too comfy to leave behind.
The lead single off her one and only EP ‘RE/BL’, 'Heart Full of Scars', feels like an intentional callback to her viral phase and the cyberbulling she experienced. And I don't doubt that the bullying and harassment she went through left some deep marks. And the biggest thing that’s put her in the headlines lately, of course, is a new version of Friday.
So on the one hand she is trying to move forward with a pop career, but on the other hand she keeps leaning on her prior name recognition and winking back at the past.
She also has a pretty large presence on Youtube. I admit, I have not done a deep dive of her Youtube, Tiktok, and other social media presence. As I understand it, she is friends with a group of LGBTQ Youtubers and makes appearances in their work as well. Most of the recent vlogs on her channel, though, once again are themed around 13-year-old Rebecca.
I mean, those viral-fame-milking videos have double or more the amount of views compared to her other videos, so I guess do what the algorithm commands you to do, girl.
A short history of Rebecca Black the artist
I want to start out by saying I'm not going to consider 'Friday' as part of her career. I want to judge her current work on its own merits: would I be listening to it, if it didn't have any name recognition?
Directly after 'Friday', Rebecca was signed to DB Entertainment and released a string of awkward songs and videos. The less said about them, the better. Then was 'Saturday', dipping from the one-hit-wonder sequel song well with the best of them (see Kung Fu Fighting's Dance the Kung Fu, and The Devil Comes Back to Georgia).
The one cohesive work she has released is the EP ‘RE/BL’ in 2017. Other than that, everything has been released in one-off singles or pairs.
She’s got very safe EDM pop in Foolish and Anyway. She’s got some sweet but dark, Melanie Martinez vibes in Sweetheart and Do You. (She’s even worked with Billie Eilish’s brother Finneas on Satellite). Every time she seems to be heading in a certain direction, she releases something completely different.
As of yet, though, she hasn't settled on any genre or general identity that I would expect from a pop artist. Not that I'm expecting every song she puts out to be the same, or that I don't love some experimentation, but the things she has put out simply don't feel cohesive, and it's like each song is aimed at a different audience.
Who Is Her Base?
So, having listened to all the songs she’s put out to date, I’m at a loss with how to describe Rebecca Black as a pop artist.
Is she a mainstream pop idol? Is she retro-inspired and glittery?
Is she cute but a little dark and edgy? Or a boundary-pushing hyperpop queen?
She's a chameleon, becoming a different artist each time she works with a new collaborator. And I think this is hurting her chances at building a devoted base of fans.
February was big PR moment for our girl Rebecca. Just a week after 'Girlfriend' dropped, so did the hyperpop remix of Friday.
Unfortunately, hearing the phrase 'Friday hyperpop remix' gives you just about everything you need to know, and you barely need to listen to the song. I'm not saying that because of any distaste for hyperpop - Simply, the actual execution of the idea was unsurprising and unexciting (IMO).
It's not completely out of left field, though, as Rebecca is honestly dipping her toe into hyperpop. She had a feature on Dorian Electra's latest album, and her main 2020 release "Closer" has some light Sophie/Charli-esque touches (albeit in a much safer and chiller way than the Dorian track). Her Fantano interview does imply this is something she’s interested in pursuing further.
If Rebecca goes full hyperpop, I am totally behind that. It's a ripe niche, people will appreciate her meme appeal rather than be driven away, and 'hyperpop star' is a rather more achievable goal than 'mainstream pop star'. If she can do that and do it well, it could be the perfect career move for her.
I do hope Rebecca finds her identity as a musician. It’s a tough step for any artist deemed a “one-hit wonder”, and doubly difficult for her unique situation. I think she’s got a lot of potential, and someday we’ll stop saying “Oh, the Friday girl?” and start saying things like “Oh, I loved her latest album!”