Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” a song and music video produced by the Los Angeles company Ark Music Factory, has gone viral over the past few days, bubbling up from Tumblr and Twitter to become one of 2011’s fastest-growing memes. The clip has already been parodied, covered, and remixed many times over, and will likely inspire further variations as it spreads throughout internet communities and pop culture. The fascination with the video mainly comes down to its subpar production values, grating hooks and extraordinarily stupid lyrics. (This is a song that makes a point of explaining the sequence of days in the week.)
But there’s something else going on here, something that makes “Friday” uniquely compelling. After all, there’s no shortage of insipid failed pop music out there, and Ark Music Factory is responsible for many other music videos by young unknowns that are just as cringe-inducing, if not much worse. When you see this video, you immediately notice everything that it does “wrong,” but it actually gets a lot of things about pop music right, if just by accident.
For one thing, Black’s voice is totally bizarre. It’s not just the processing on her vocals — she has a peculiar tonality that inadvertently highlights the absurdity of boilerplate pop lyrics that may not seem as ridiculous if, say, Katy Perry was singing instead. When she sings the “Friday, Friday” hook or the “fun fun fun fun” refrain, she sounds unlike anything else in pop music. Perhaps the closest comparison is Laraine Newman in Saturday Night Live‘s Coneheads sketches — pinched and stilted, like an alien attempting to pass an average American girl. Obviously, this isn’t the most pleasant sound in the world, but Black comes out sounding like a distinct singer with an alluring sort of anti-charisma.
With a voice as strange as this, Black probably doesn’t belong in the world’s most generic modern pop song, but here she is. “Friday” is exactly what you expect from teen-oriented pop in 2011, from the sing-song melodies on down to a guest spot from an anonymous rapper who’s only tangentially related to the rest of the song. If the video was intended to be a parody of teen pop convention, it would be on par with some of the best SNL Digital Shorts by Lonely Island.
And thus Black and Ark Music Factory have made a video that forces its audience to reckon with a particular formula for pop music. It’s not as if any of this was ever actually cool, but suddenly it seems as if any legit pop singer goes anywhere near the vibe of “Friday,” it will just seem like a joke.