Saturday 25 November 2017

Rise of a new internet star

Niall Byrne

Forget Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Willow Smith, there's only one tween star you need to know about right now. The story of 13-year-old Californian Rebecca Black is a uniquely modern one. Black posted her song Friday and its video on YouTube in February and within weeks it has surpassed 60 million views.

Rebecca Black may now be an internet star, but what's notable is that most of the chatter online about the song is concerned about how bad it is. It's been called "the worst pop song of all time" and it's not hard to see why. In contrast, Simon Cowell (perhaps with dollar signs in his eyes) has called the song "genius".

Black's song Friday is an inane and catchy ode to weekend teenage partying. Drenched in Auto-Tune, it contains a number of nonsensical lyrics concerned with eating cereal, trying to decide which seat to take in the car and checking the order of the days of the week: "Tomorrow is Saturday/and Sunday comes afterwards."

As well as racking up YouTube plays, iTunes sales, trending on Twitter (above Japan and Charlie Sheen), Black has appeared on Good Morning America, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and has received encouragement from Lady Gaga and Chris Brown.

The Rebecca Black phenomenon is fascinating from a pop culture and social media perspective, but the real story of the singer's success lies with Ark Music Factory, a vanity label based in Los Angeles run by Clarence Jey and Patrice Wilson. Ark Music Factory specialises in producing music and entertainment for the tween and teenager market. It is Jey and Wilson who are responsible for writing Friday for the 13-year-old.

Ark works by charging parents of hopeful tween stars a fee for the production of a song and music video. Black's parents paid Ark $2,000 for the Friday multimedia package following Black's attendance an Ark casting call and was invited to record the song.

After a quick look at Ark Music Factory's output, it becomes obvious it's all as cringe-inducing as Friday. There are dozens of formulaic tween pop songs with slick super-saturated videos from young hopefuls who haves names such as CJ Fam, Alana Lee, Danika and Kaya. All of the songs have the same faux Europop synthesised backing track and vocals Auto-Tuned beyond human recognition.

Ark Music Factory's musical output appears to be made by a person whose entire musical knowledge is a Ke$ha studio outtake and therein lies the problem. While Rebecca Black can be held up as a prime example of the democratisation of pop culture thanks to social media, that doesn't mean it's worthy of attention. It's the bad art aspect of Friday that has garnered it viral status, while helping a happy-go-lucky 13-year-old to her deserved 15 minutes of fame.

"The concept seems to have crossed a lot of boundaries, for better or worse, " admitted Ark's Clarence Jey rather tellingly.

Watch the video --

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