Rebecca Black Puckers Up to Kiss the Zeitgeist


The ’Net’s aflame with scabrous analysis of Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” but is any of it warranted? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Whatever the case, this deceptively imbecilic single has attracted streams of snark, scorn, and praise from detractors and supporters alike, all propelling the 13-year-old into the dimming limelight of viral fame and sending whores like myself scrambling for hits.

Like it or not, folks, Ms. Black is the Chosen One, the bridge between old and new media, the transition between structured celebrity and immediate global exposure. As Dr. J.F. Kincaid argues most persuasively in his essay “Liking Teen Pop Doesn’t Mean I Belong in Prison,” her computer-enhanced emphasis of “Friday’s” first vowel represents a new spoken language, one that knows not nuance and compensates for nonverbal communication’s over-reliance on the consonant. The calculated rise of stars like Justin Bieber has fast become a relic of packaging; what Ms. Black portends is a more accurate harbinger of the future. Her willingness to be this bellwether is nothing short of heroic.

However, we must first give credit to the Svengalis at ARK Music Factory for teaming Rebecca Black with tune-purveyors Clarence Jey and Patrice Wilson in the first place. The potential for “Black”/“Friday” wordplay must have been irresistible: a reference to competitive commerce as well as, let’s face it, homage to Steely Dan, an obvious lyrical influence. In fact, “Friday” could well be considered an organic epilogue to “Black Friday.” (Messrs. Fagen and Becker could not be reached for comment.)

Clarence Jey’s catalog is lousy. with layers of musical tribute. His “Hello My Love,” written for California troubadour Cindy “The Great” Santini, is also, not coincidentally, the opening line of Shuggie Otis’ “Strawberry Letter 23.” But here there’s no correspondence, just the immediate contact of gentle voice upon stirring companion. “Hello, my love,” Santini burbles with a helium vivacity compared to Sheryl Crow by writers prone to blackouts. “Been sleeping once again / Rise up, sunshine / It’s time to wake up / Stop your thinking” — valuable advice in a strife-laden universe or an editorial comment on George W. Bush’s governing philosophy. “Following you, following me,” she continues, invoking post-prog pop strategists Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, and Phil Collins. Santini’s own recorded genesis, Making Sound (2010), is aptly titled, for that is exactly what she does.

“Friday” is similarly structured: chronologically, with morning spilling into another meteorological dazzler over Anaheim Hills, California. It’s the same sun that peeks through the windows of baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew and NFL legend Deacon Jones, no stranger to the pull of music-loaded Fridays himself. Perhaps he chanced to hear the song on local radio and thought about his reign with the L.A. Rams, when he sweated on the side through clubs with the band that would one day become WAR. But Carew and Jones are anomalies in this planned community; their equally prosperous neighbors are predominantly white. Ms. Black, despite her name, is no exception. She’s as wholesome as a teenaged Caucasian can be.

Yet “Friday” has more in common with Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day” than it does Santini’s “Hello My Love.” Both are street-savvy narratives, albeit with minor, insignificant alterations.

Cube:

Just wakin’ up in the morning, gotta thank God
I don’t know, but today seems kinda odd
No barkin’ from the dog, no smog
And momma cooked a breakfast with no hog
I got my grub on but didn’t pig out
Finally got a call from a girl I wanna dig out
Hooked it up for later as I hit the door,
Thinkin’, ‘Will I live another 24?’
I gotta go ’cause I got me a drop-top
And if I hit the switch, I can make the ass drop

Black:

7 a.m.*, waking up in the morning
Gotta be fresh, gotta go downstairs
Gotta have my bowl, gotta have cereal
Seein’ everything, the time is goin’
Tickin’ on and on, everybody’s rushin’
Gotta get down to the bus stop
Gotta catch my bus, I see my friends

(* Precisely one hour after law enforcement officials descended upon Ice-T’s home)

The only discernible differences between the songs are diet- and transportation-related (although the “Friday” video depicts Black rejecting the bus for a convertible — a “drop-top,” if you will — piloted by a tousle-mopped 13-year-old. Anaheim Hills residents are so wealthy that driver’s licenses are apparently optional.). Both awaken into peculiarly favorable scenarios. Cube’s involves a lack of harassment from authorities and peers, and is sweetened by carnal and corporate attention. For the younger Ms. Black, freedom from schools and parental supervision is enough. Both are also troubled by a sense of mortality; “Thinkin’, ‘Will I live another 24?’” Cube wonders, while Black noshes her Froot Loops and observes the hustle and flow. “Makes tick tock, tick tock, wanna scream,” she later laments.

Time is a recurring theme, its aggravation abutting an effervescent chorus as release: “It’s Friday, Friday / Gotta get down on Friday / Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend, weekend.” In her very first song, this promising young chanteuse has sonically bottled the spirit of Johnny Kemp’s “Just Got Paid.” Although not of working-class origins, she’s successfully married the struggle of Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Takin’ Care of Business,” minus the rock-star neener-neener, to the unshackled jubilation of Loverboy’s “Working for the Weekend” in ways not even Mike Reno in his finest headband could imagine. “Friday, Friday,” “weekend, weekend” — she says them twice to impart their weight, as if she can’t believe they’ve arrived. Or, perhaps as Dr. Devin Rexall has suggested in “Rebecca Black Can Count to Eight Days a Week” (Brain Matter Quarterly, Summer 2011), she’s countering the misery of “Monday, Monday,” by The Mamas & the Papas.

But even in her bubbly ebullience, she recognizes how quickly reality re-surfaces. “Tomorrow is Saturday,” she reports, glumly and correctly, “and Sunday comes afterwards.” All we can do is live in the moment, our friends on either side, embracing the Friday-ness within, as the best pop music has for decades. Because we all know what Mondays can bring.

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