Rebecca Black Dreams of Whiteness
Pop culture has officially reached its critical mass of stupid. As the video for Rebecca Black’s “Friday” hurtles toward 14 million views, the outrage multiplies. “This must be a joke!” yell some commenters. “If this is where American culture is heading, we’re doomed!” cry others. While this inane crap might be news to those who don’t obsessively follow the development of oppression through pop culture, it seems like just a particularly bad example to those of us who do.
Kiddie-Pop relies on a formula that, when poorly executed, reveals the farce and leads to the level of disgust we’ve seen in response to Rebecca Black. Most criticism focuses on one hideous component of the formula. Sometimes we hear about the insane love of consumer culture promoted by these videos, other times the objectification/sexualization of youth, yet others the “fame culture” trapping those too young to consent. We gloss over the mismanagement of class and racial politics because they’re difficult to deal with and often occur in very subtle ways.
You can apply the formula used in this video to nearly any kiddie-pop (and some grown-up-pop, if you must).
The Fantasy of White Privilege
Rebecca Black’s biggest problem this Friday is that she has to wake up and have breakfast, before catching the bus. This establishes the fantasy of middle-class, white privilege almost as seriously as her pink alarm clock and notes about her “Big Test!” and “Music Class”. Her life walks the Sex in the City fantasy-reality line in which your family can decorate your room with fuzzy or plastic crap, but we never see them going to Walmart. Adult fantasies of white, middle-class childhood direct the kiddie-pop videos.
We’re Like Totally Adults
Much of the commentary surrounding Rebecca Black’s video concerns the 12-year-olds’ questionable ability to drive (there’s even a Facebook group devoted to “The 12 year old who stole a convertible to pick up Rebecca Black on Friday”). Part of the fantasy these videos present to children is grown-up privileges without grown-up responsibilities; an adult would get sent to real jail for stealing a convertible. This image of adulthood only becomes weird when adult romantic relationships are included. In an interview, Rebecca Black defends her choice to make a video for “Friday” by saying her other option was a song “about adult love—I haven’t experienced that yet.”
AAVE and a Black Person to Lend Legitimacy
Every night is open mic night on the Internet.
The “rap” interlude of the song exposes a particularly revolting part of the formula. Some commenters joke about the “token black person” who “looks like Usher’s dad.” As one friend notes, “it looks like he was hired to be black, not to rap.” A quick skim through the rest of the “Ark Music Factory’s” work (and Justin Bieber’s videos) shows that nearly every video includes a “rap interlude” which tangentially relates to the main song. The black man in this video seems ridiculous because why would a grown man be buddies with a teenage girl? He signifies a black person seal of approval, rather than an individual artist (much in the same way Rebecca’s “friends” in the video fill a teenager role, with unfortunate implications). I suspect he’s there to lend legitimacy to her robotic chant of the “we we we so excited” which is out of place in suburban fantasy land, and put the stamp of cool on an otherwise lame song.
While 11 repetitions of this song (see how I suffer for you?) make it slightly more bearable, the inane lyrics alone are enough to launch it to its infamous status. The writers over at “Ark Music Factory” forgot the most essential part of the formula: RHYME. With proper rhyme, we might never have noticed just how terrible this whole mess is.
Really, it’s not that much worse in music or in content than the majority of the kiddie-pop genre, just more painfully manu”factured”. The inadequate performance points us to our own inadequate performances of whiteness, blackness, brownness, class, and gender.
Do you think the song is that bad or is it worth it for how funny it is? Did it get stuck in your head? What do you think it says about American culture? Does it provide a new perspective on media for children? Is there any part of this article you’d like to hear more about?