Rebecca Black and the culture of Internet hate



Yesterday, 14-year-old YouTube musician Rebecca Black posted the official music video for her brand-new single “My Moment”. It comes on the heels of her viciously-derided music video “Friday”, which went viral in March 2011 and inspired a storm of Internet hate, including thousands of comments, parodies and remixes. The video actually broke a record for the amount of “dislikes” on a YouTube video with a total 1.27 million downvotes in only two weeks, surpassing the 1.17 million on Justin Bieber’s video for “Baby”.

Judging from the quality of the new Rebecca Black single, it looks like the Internet will respond in a similar way – but it may not rid us of her uninspired lyrics or sugary vocals. The reaction to “Friday” and “My Moment” speaks to the double-edged nature of Internet hate, a phenomenon that could see Rebecca Black join the ranks of Selena Gomez, Bieber and every other bestselling teen pop sensation.

If you’re reading this article and are unfamiliar with Rebecca Black’s “Friday”, click this link to check it out. It was originally put together by California-based video production company Ark Music Factory, a business that produces music videos starring young “talent” for a fee. In the case of Black, Ark Music Factory was paid $2,000 by Black’s parents to write and shoot a music video with Black as the star. “Friday” was written by Ark Music founder Patrice Wilson, who appears as the rapper character in the “Friday” video.

It’s pretty easy to point out the flaws of the song and the video: the lyrics of “Friday” are juvenile at best; lines like “Tomorrow is Saturday / And Sunday comes afterwards” and “fun, fun, fun, fun” are simply embarrassing. This is coupled with shameless Auto-Tuning of Black’s voice and a series of generic (but seemingly wholesome) teen-related scenes. To Black’s credit, most people acknowledge that the girl was manipulated by Ark Music Factory and the fault lies in their lack of talent, not Black’s.

Others point out that Ark Music did not intend the video to achieve the kind of visibility that it did – “Friday” seems more like an overproduced home video meant to be shared with friends and family, not viewed millions of times on YouTube. In a disappointing new twist for the company, Ark Music Factory now claims on their website to have “discovered” Black, and that they can provide a similar service for other teens.

Tens of millions of views later, the original upload of “Friday” was pulled from YouTube, due to a copyright claim by Black. Observers correctly assumed that Black was being positioned to take a stab at a music career – a prediction which was fulfilled on July 11th when the official fan site announced the release of “My Moment”, scheduled for July 18th.

Now the release day has come and gone, and the audience reaction has already been swift. As of this writing, there are 2.4 million views on “My Moment”, a number that is sure to rise exponentially in the next 48 hours. The video has logged 174,000 dislikes, compared to 98,000 likes. Upon scrolling through several pages of comments, a surprising amount of the response is positive – with many users agreeing that the song is better than “Friday”.

In my opinion, “My Moment” is still fairly bad. I hate this kind of tween pop anyways, and I never enjoy hearing more of it. Compared to “Friday”, the lyrics have improved, and the Auto-Tuning has been cut down. The lyrics actually address the stream of hate directed at Black’s last video, including the line, “..haters said, ‘I’ll see ya later’..”. The real story here is the overwhelming sense that the whole video is an effort by Black (and whoever’s pulling her strings) to prove that she’s a bankable star.

Certainly, “My Moment” is firmly rooted in the kind of artificial material churned out by the likes of Selena Gomez or other Disney-fied personalities. But that doesn’t matter to the music industry, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone actually builds a career for Rebecca Black out of “Friday” and “My Moment”, in spite of all the vicious criticism.

This is due to the nature of hate on the Internet. Because the Internet allows instant gratification and a level of anonymity, when the majority of users turn against a character like Rebecca Black, the criticism lacks a certain weight. The insulting comments or hurtful parodies can’t fully hit home in the way they would in an offline context. Black has also nobly resisted the temptation to attack her critics, refraining from the kind of tear-stained countermeasures popularized by Chris Crocker.

What’s more, despite all the hate, Rebecca Black is now a household name. Any music producer can take that recognition and craft it into a Justin Bieber-esque “experience” for young fans, gambling on the kids’ undeveloped musical tastes and turning Black into a product line, with clothes, perfume, et cetera. Instead of making Black disappear, the Internet hate machine seems to have created a monster.

It’s kind of funny to see Black and her handlers stomp on the Internet’s assumption that they can stop a money-making endeavour like this. It proves that we still don’t fully understand how much influence Internet commentators can have – while they exercised a lot of clout in the recent uprisings in the Middle East, they don’t appear to be able to stop a pop star juggernaut. It might seem trivial to compare geopolitics with pop music, but they both have presences online, so shouldn’t online commentary affect them in similar ways? Sure, no one will be taking to the streets to protest another mediocre pop act - but considering how grating Rebecca Black is sure to become over the next few years, maybe someone should.

What do you think about Rebecca Black? Did the “My Moment” video convince you that she has some talent? Or is she still as overproduced as ever? Sound off in the comments, and check out some of my related articles on the big, bad world of the Internet.