Rebecca Black: Brand New Eyes
More than a decade on from the viral track that first made her name, Rebecca Black is no longer just the ‘Friday’ girl - she’s ready to take on the pop stratosphere every day of the week.
Rebecca Black is crying on stage. Stood in front of a sold-out crowd at London’s Heaven, the iconic LGBTQ+ venue is packed with 1,000 adoring fans, all waiting in anticipation of her biggest headline show to date - which also marks the release day of long-awaited debut album ‘Let Her Burn’. It’s understandable, then, why emotions are running high. “Six years ago, I couldn’t sell eight tickets to a show,” Rebecca tells the crowd through tears. “Thank you for sticking by me, even when it was uncool.”
It’s true: being a Rebecca Black fan hasn’t always been an easy ride. Long before her rebirth as a hyper-pop cult hero, Rebecca was best known as “the ‘Friday’ girl”. You already know the song; it’ll probably be stuck in your head for days just at that brief mention. The chipper 2011 viral hit urged that we “gotta get down on Friday”, and quickly propelled the then-unknown teenager into the spotlight - with good and bad consequences.
‘Friday’ saw Black work with LA songwriting firm ARK Music Factory, with the entire recording process and music video shoot coming to a minimal $4,000. Its release wasn’t exactly anticipating big things, but ‘Friday’ soon picked up major traction online, reaching the UK Singles Chart, going gold in the US and racking up over 160 million views on YouTube to date. “I was literally a kid being a kid, and not ready to pursue a career,” Rebecca reflects now, a few hours before her London gig.
At the time, though many labelled ‘Friday’ as “the worst song ever”, with Black branded as a “YouTube laughing stock”, the backlash was personal too. When everyone suddenly knew her name, Rebecca found herself subjected to vile comments and online hate from what felt like the whole world. She stopped going to public school and opted for home-school to avoid the groups of kids laughing at her in the hallways. “When everything changed after the reception and just how big everything got, I had to [navigate] still being a child in a place full of adults,” she says, “where everyone is trying to make decisions for you and trying to tell you what you’re supposed to be, and you also have the rest of the world telling you that you’re an idiot for what you do.”
In the years that followed, Rebecca took her time doing “a lot of non-fun work” on herself and starting therapy. At one point, she was close to applying for a job at the US thrift store Buffalo Exchange because she was so unsure as to whether she wanted to continue pursuing her dream. “I was traumatised after that first experience,” she emphasises. “I think the way I knew how to cope as a kid was like, ‘Oh, well, I just won’t fail again. I’m just not going to put myself out there, I’m not going to do anything that is going to upset people, and that’s how I’ll find peace’. But that’s just so not true! Because then you live the most bland, boring life that you could ever live because you’re so concerned with other people.”
Often finding herself questioning her character and what she should be doing during those years, Rebecca now admits, “I made a lot of mistakes. I worked with a lot of people who, even if they had my best intentions at heart, had no idea what the fuck to do with me.” She continues: “The biggest mistake I ever made was the period of my life where I was so afraid of what people thought about me that I just didn’t do anything at all. I just wanted to be liked, because that felt safer than potentially being hated by everybody again.”
Attributing a lot of her growth to the work of her therapists, Black began to realise that she had to face the shame that she felt from her teenage years head on. “The issue is not who I am intrinsically, the issue is just like, ‘You had a shit go’,” she shrugs. “I think that truly is the thing that holds so many people back and still probably holds me back in certain ways. You know, the fear that we develop around the things that we feel ashamed of.”
Things soon came to a junction in her life. “I think if there was a pivotal moment,” she muses, “it was whenever I finally understood how to trust myself, and could understand that I don't want to live for the rest of my life feeling like I'm picking up pieces of my past. I’m just gonna move forward.”
It’s this resilience and a determined effort to finally accept herself that has seen the singer emerge triumphantly as Rebecca Black 2.0. Rather than cower behind the song that had defined her for so long, she decided to embrace it and boldly reinvent herself. In February 2021, to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of ‘Friday’’s release, she dropped a hyper-pop remix of the track produced by one of the zeitgeist genre’s big names, 100 gecs’ Dylan Brady, and featuring impressive guest appearances from Big Freedia, 3OH!3 and Dorian Electra.
A chaotic but wonderful glitch-pop reworking, the remix allowed her to finally reclaim the narrative and re-introduce herself to the world once again. “I knew I wanted to kind of reinterpret it in my own way and do something fun with it,” she smiles. “I mean, it's fucking awesome that people come to the shows and not only do they know that song, they clearly resonate with that song in a new way and in a different way and celebrate that song. It doesn't feel so isolated to this thing that was always an elephant in the room, or like a sign on my back. It’s like this led me to where I am now.”
This new version of ‘Friday’ is the raucous set-closer for her live performances; a final pop-soaked “fuck you” to the past shame she felt surrounding the track. Rebecca’s strength in the face of adversity and ability to overcome her past has now seen her become a role model to many. “From the start, Rebecca Black's resilience in a sudden, unexpected burst of harsh, uncalled for negative public attention has always been inspiring,” a fan tells us on the sub-reddit dedicated to her. “The shit she had to endure from bullies at that age is just sad,” another agrees. “Sure, she got the good too, working with Katy Perry etc. But still, she ate a lot of unnecessary shit for that song. The fact she still incorporates ‘Friday’ into her setlist (let’s be honest, she couldn't be blamed for never wanting to remember it again) is so lovely.”
It’s perhaps Rebecca Black’s strength of character - both creatively and as a person - that’s attracted such a fierce community of fans to her, and her continued gratitude towards them is palpable. “It's so special to meet somebody who has truly taken time out of their day to invest in the things that I either am or have created,” she says. “I genuinely think my audience are some of the coolest people.” Many of this community - affectionately known as the ‘Rebesties’ - have been there since the very beginning, flocking to her mentions back in 2011 to back her up against those wanting to tear her down. “Everybody is constantly dealing with some version of whatever bullshit is on the internet, and for a long time I would see people maybe get made fun of for just talking in a positive way about me,” Rebecca recalls. “It feels like a certain kind of friendship that I've never been able to have. So many of these people have supported me and stuck their necks out for me before anybody else would.”
Even Lady Gaga briefly joined the ranks, springing to Rebecca’s defence when asked if she had seen the ‘Friday’ video during a press conference back when the track first came out. “I think that Rebecca Black is a genius, and anyone who thinks she’s cheesy is full of shit,” the superstar replied at the time. Mentioning it now, Rebecca can’t help but smile. “I literally don't think she'd ever actually seen the ‘Friday’ video…” she laughs. “But just having someone have my back, for the sake of just having my back, was really impactful.”
Flash forward 12 years, and the Rebesties are only growing in number - with many having discovered Black’s new music free of the context of what came before. As the doors open at Heaven, there’s already a queue snaking around the block full of fans eager to get to the barrier, some of whom have travelled from across Europe just to see her live. Speaking outside, many say it’s the music she’s been releasing since 2021 project ‘Rebecca Black Was Here’ that captured their attention, alongside her openness to tell queer love stories within her songs.
“I wasn’t a stan-stan until I heard ‘Girlfriend’ on Spotify Radio and was like ‘Who is this?!’”, V tells us in the queue. “I saw it was Rebecca Black and was like, ‘It’s happening!’” Another fan, Lily, nods: “I saw her on Instagram and was totally hooked by her glow-up, and also that she came out as queer. I decided to investigate and found that she’d come into this hyper-pop queen era.” “I’ve been really excited by her new work,” Ash agrees, who recalls hearing ‘Friday’ for the first time when working on their GCSEs. “It’s really reinvigorating to see someone reinvent themselves like that.”
The last few years have seen Rebecca feel more comfortable in her creativity and her sound, and it’s reflected by the newfound respect she’s garnering from her peers and collaborators. “Once I really started making this album [‘Let Her Burn’], I was no longer working with people that not only saw me as a kid or, you know, this ‘Friday’ girl or whatever,” she explains. “So when I walked into a room where I'd come up with concepts, it was just like, ‘Well, this is what's going on in my world!’
“I’m 25, I’m embracing my own sensuality and finding myself in that world and doing it like anybody else would,” she adds. "It wasn't until maybe a couple of weeks ago, before the album was about to come out, that I was like, ‘Oh, I guess people didn't really know this.’ I get why people might be surprised, but I'm literally just living.”
And what of the Rebesties’ reactions? “It seems like the girls are giving!” she beams. “It's been really fun to see all the reactions, and to see so many different kinds of people respond to the music and hear it. I know that I've got my queens at every show that will hear a song about sex and be like, ‘Yes, obviously slay’.”
Though ‘Let Her Burn’ is never short of easily-accessible bangers, it also sees Rebecca exploring her sexuality and vulnerability across its genre-bending tracks. “I get off on getting hurt,” she sings on lead single ‘Crumbs’, while the pulsating ‘Misery Loves Company’ finds her urging: “Just wanna feel you on my body / When it’s late and I’m lonely”. The twinkling pure-pop of ‘Doe-Eyed’, meanwhile, soundtracks lyrics like, “Can you keep a secret, I’m tongue tied / But I wanna fuck you ’til sunrise”. Rebecca laughs when discussing her songwriting: “Those are all songs about sex and sensuality, and that is just as legitimate to talk about as a 25-year-old queer person as it is to talk about, you know, grappling with death. It’s there, and a piece of life, and it deserves to be talked about.”
Many online have been calling ‘Let Her Burn’ Rebecca’s “redemption” moment, and the hashtag #WeAreSupportingRebeccaBlack2023 started trending upon the album’s release. However the idea that Black has anything that she needs to redeem herself from is something that the singer doesn’t feel is true.
“I do have a complicated relationship with it, but I get it,” Rebecca says of her so-called ‘redemption arc’. “Whether it has to do specifically with me, or it becomes a bigger piece of how we look at how we behaved in internet culture and music culture, I understand it. Do I think I have redeemed myself with this album? Yes. But I think I redeemed myself a long time ago. Also, I don't know if I ever had anything to redeem myself for! But the internet is the internet, and if they want to play that game, I'll play it just as hard.”
In the twelve years that she’s now been in the industry, Rebecca has been fighting for a chance to prove herself and establish her place among the top pop girls; now, people are finally starting to believe it. “‘Friday’ shouldn’t be the only thing people choose to remember about her,” V urges in the queue outside Heaven. “She’s changed and matured and worked on herself so much since that time. I listen to ‘Friday’ nostalgically, and she’s come so far and I wish people saw that journey.”
“I want people to listen to ‘Let Her Burn’ and take it as this is not just ‘good for her’, this is a good, viable, fucking awesome, intellectual album that can stand on its own outside of my story,” Rebecca states. “I think I've struggled in the past with feeling confident because I've become so comfortable in my own self deprecation. That is probably one of my biggest goals for myself: to not only internally be able to say that I deserve to be here, but to say that on the outside too.”
‘Let Her Burn’ is out now.
Animator: Andrew Boyle @andyboylemotion
Set Design: Drip Dome – Patricia & Diana Kwiatkowski, Matt Haines @dripdome
Makeup: Ashley Simmons @makeupbyashsimmons
Hair: Rachel Lita @rachellitahair
Stylist: Branden Ruiz @branden.ruiz
Lighting Design/Videographer: Kevin Sikorski @escaperealife
Assist: Paulina Older @polderexpress
PR/Partnerships: Frazes Creative @frazescreative