If you’d told me nearly a decade ago that I would be jamming to Rebecca Black in 2019, I would have paired a devastatingly effective eye roll with a flippant “yeah, okay.” I won’t deny that I was an insufferable music snob in my late teens and early twenties. I was desperate to seem cool and other—in those ways that naturally complement youth, with all its awkward graces and benign ignorance—and a cultivated catalog of deep-cuts and obscure bands seemed like the easiest way to communicate just how cool and other I was.
I wanted to be an enigma, but relatable: the kind of manic pixie that could throw down in a mosh pit, but also had a “Best of Céline Dion” compilation CD in the car. I wanted to be both music scout and playlist curator; I wanted to introduce you to your favorite band—because you certainly wouldn’t find them by listening to the radio—and shepherd you through new genres. And I wanted to achieve all of this with an air of casual mystery that whispered “how does she do it?”
In short: she doesn’t, but I wouldn’t figure this out until years later. Because, with all of my “quality” opinions and carefully curated quirks, you would have only ever caught me listening to Rebecca Black ironically—or more dramatically, over my dead body. And in defense of the person I was in 2011—though an idiot—at the time, Black’s only body of work was the viral “Friday”: a song as bewildering as it was objectively bad, which I say with gentle sympathy.
Because before “Baby Shark,” there was “Friday.” An anti-song that managed to wiggle its way on to the Billboard Top 100 list despite of—or perhaps, because of—its abundant autotune, trite lyrics and pulsating oomph-oomph that echoed the cheap synths of a mediocre man’s club remix. It was terrible, it was meme-able; it was inescapable.
And maybe it’s this, the song’s vise-like permanence in our collective memory and not-so-distant internet culture, that led me to commit such a cardinal sin when I noticed Black’s name attached to “Anyway,” a certified bop.
With airy synths and hypnotic percussion, “Anyway” is a single that simply shimmers. Ethereal and light, it follows in the footsteps of indie-pop tinted with an 80’s-nostalgia while never being overwhelmed or overshadowed by the company it keeps. It is absolutely sure of itself, both in tone and direction, and as a result, “Anyway” is immediately enjoyable and effortlessly playable: a truth which took me entirely by surprise.
“That ‘Friday’ girl?” I asked out loud and to absolutely no one as I pressed play. And with those words, I sent a pang! through my own chest.
Love it or hate it, you can’t deny the tenacity and success—or infamy—of Black’s first bonafide hit, “Friday.” The bubblegum-anthem entered the pantheon of pop culture in early-2011 when it ascended the viral staircase of social media and first implored us to “fun, fun, think about fun.”
Now viewed over 129 million times—because YouTube doesn’t have the metrics to measure ironic plays and hate clicks—“Friday” yeeted Black from general anonymity to all-too-easy punchline at a dizzying pace. Despite the fact that both the music video and the song were directed, written, and produced by the now-defunct Ark Music Factory, Black became the face of “Friday,” and the main target of the internet’s vitriol.
It’s a familiar story in our digital age. Something—a song, a video, a gaffe caught on camera—begins to collect clicks and shares, and what starts as a trickle of attention quickly becomes a deluge that dominates our social media dialogue. As its viral velocity increases, this new thing cycles through the different levels of the internet, and spins through the various stages of interest; and while the formula varies slightly viral hit to viral hit, eventually, this new thing will be forced between the planes of vague annoyance and outright contempt. It rarely matters why something has gone viral to begin with, just that it has, which is often reason enough to hate it.
Because the internet is endlessly fickle and messy and wonderful and exhausting, just like the humans who use it daily. Black never planned for “Friday” to be everything to everyone, but suddenly, that’s what it had to be. The tween-tune spoke on and for the state of a genre, and with Black in tow, “Friday” became a punching bag for anyone looking to air their grievances with pop music, the banality of teenage girls’ interests—or, more accurately, the banality they accused teenage girls’ interests of possessing—and the culture of the internet as a whole.
That’s a lot to ask of a song that was only ever “lookin’ forward to the weekend.”
Nearly ten years later, it’s all-too-easy to see how chronically misguided my own original crusade for musical perfection was. Not only was my criteria almost entirely based on the latent misogyny I had yet to pinpoint within the music I was placing on pedestals, I also confused the merits bestowed upon some genres—but denied others—as a caliber of quality.
I was trying to be so cool and so other, I failed to realize just how impossible that truly was. Because no one person, or song, can be—or should be—everything. That’s like politely asking yourself to exist on the edge of a universe that is constantly expanding, and then being surprised when you find yourself stretched too thin.
And if it seems counterproductive to reach back to 2011 and pluck “Friday” from its internet shelf—after all, it wasn’t the genuine product of Black’s own creative focus—hear me out. Because the internet remembers us for who we once were, and reminds us of how we’ve changed over the passing, catalogued years. So, to consider “Anyway” without revisiting “Friday” would be nothing short of a disservice to both Black’s growth as an artist and tenacity as a person.
Only two years after “Friday” entered the zeitgeist of pop culture, Black released a song that mirrored her original hit in a lot of ways. It was a bubbly number about the weekend, but with lyrics like “trying to get Friday out of my head,” the track—naturally titled “Saturday”—cooly established that, not only was Black self-aware, she was entirely in on the joke.
And while Rebecca Black may only ever be “that ‘Friday’ girl”to some, on her latest, stunning single she vows to “love you anyway.” A sweet truth that is entirely believable, and a simple courtesy that we must remember to grant each other, and ourselves.
Ashley Cline is an avid introvert and full-time carbon based life form currently living in south Jersey. Since graduating from Rowan University with her Bachelor's in Journalism, she can usually be found singing show tunes to her dog, drinking too much iced coffee and wearing beanies. Her personal best at all-you-can-eat sushi is five rolls in eleven minutes. You can find her yelling about Carly Rae Jepsen on Twitter and posting photos of her dog on Instagram.