Releasing a pop song is a hit or miss proposition. Even with the influence of a major label making deals with certain radio stations and DJs, success is not guaranteed. If the audience doesn't catch on, no amount of air play will ensure success; neither will appearances on TV shows, ad campaigns, feature films, or video games. But what about a newer way to rise to fame? Internet-produced radio sensations are already old hat. Artists like Lily Allen and Secondhand Serenade earned major label deals through MySpace popularity, while Justin Bieber parlayed a series of YouTube videos into a meteoric rise to fame. An online presence is no guarantee of success, but the ability to market directly to potential fans certainly helps.
And then you have a case like Rebecca Black. Rebecca Black, sadly, is gaining notoriety for the ironic, "let's laugh at the bad video," side of Internet fame. She isn't famous, and she's not infamous; she is a meme. But how did it happen and why do people keep clicking on the video?
Somehow, a trend started through Twitter. The popular consensus is that Twitter user michaeljnelson tweeted a link to Black's video "Friday" with the comment that it was the worst video ever made; we just don't know how he found the video. He has 19000 followers. By Friday, 11 March 2011, the little-seen video was picked up for mockery on the Tosh.0 blog and other media sites. Views quickly jumped to the millions. By the weekend, many YouTube users were covering the song, manipulating the video, and raging about its content. Black had become an overnight success without even putting out the video herself.
Near as anyone can tell, Rebecca Black, a young teenage girl, attended an open call for singers held by Ark Music Factory. Ark Music Factory, a suspicious record label and entertainment outlet based in California, flew her to their workplace, recorded "Friday," shot the video, and sent her home. I say the label is suspicious because the flowery language and "we're all in this together" tone of their website reads like the scams that plague the industry. Is this open call an act of benevolence? Who can say? There's usually a participation fee and then a massive acceptance fee to get to record anything with a company like this.
But I digress. Someone, somewhere, found the low-budget video of a less than mediocre song and started promoting it as a joke. Now it has over 9 million views on YouTube and Black is being compared to Justin Bieber.
If this were simply a funny music video, would people be so enthralled with the meme? I'm thinking not. There's something else going on that the audience will not admit and I think I can break it down simply: the song is catchy.
Forget about the awful lyrics, like "7AM waking up in the morning, gotta be fresh gotta go downstairs, gotta have my bowl gotta have cereal, seeing everything the time is going, ticking on and on." That's only part of the draw. You laugh at the lyrics, but you get that chorus' melody stuck in your head.
The bad graphics in the video don't explain it, either. There are, sadly, major label artists that wind up with worse-looking music videos. There are cringe-worthy moments, yes, but that might lead to one or two clicks at best.
When Ark Music Factory wrote this song, they probably didn't realize the repetitive melody would make it impossible to forget. It's a step above a jump rope rhyme in complexity, but that didn't stop Gwen Stefani from being nominated for Album of the Year for her debut solo effort, did it?
The digital instruments and autotuning used to throw the track together as fast as possible are actually on trend for pop music. The people that buy into Ke$ha or the latest incarnation of Enrique Iglesias would genuinely like "Friday." It sounds like everything else that gets played, has memorable lyrics (for the wrong reason, but memorable nonetheless), and it's easy to sing and dance along with.
I doubt Rebecca Black is ever going to be able to live down "Friday" and the true nature of the meme. She is not the next Justin Bieber. She is, however, a brand new meme that can come crashing down any moment now. Until then, at least you might have a better understanding of why everyone keeps linking you to the video and why you won't stop pressing play.