Internet

Ridiculed YouTube Singer Rebecca Black Grabs A Mountain Of Bull By The Horns

[UPDATE: You know, after I read the Jezebel piece that referenced Rebecca's Twitter feed, and after I read it and saw how relatively normal and relatively non-attention-seeking it was, it honestly never occurred to me that it would be a fake (why would you set up a fake Twitter account to make someone seem normal and kind of calm?), and the attitude in it was so similar to her attitude in the Daily Beast interview that I honestly didn't even think to double-check it, which is 100 percent my fault (perhaps less obvious, but absolutely the same screw-up, that I just watched unfold with the fake Jon Cryer account a couple of weeks ago, so I don't know where my normally aggressive skepticism was). Rebecca, however, went on Ryan Seacrest's show today and he is real, and he says that this is her official Twitter account that he helped her set up. Thus: While I still believe absolutely all the same stuff about her, I am pulling the references to the Twitter feed, with my sincere and profound apologies for the screw-up.]

You can bet your sweet patootie that 13-year-old Rebecca Black didn't think that hooking up with a little-known teen-pop factory to make a video of a song about hanging out with her friends would land her on Good Morning America — as it did this morning — so that she could discuss whether she thinks she's put out the worst song in history.

If you don't know Rebecca's story, here it is in a nutshell: Her mom says she paid a company called Ark Music Factory to produce a video of Rebecca singing a song called "Friday," which the Ark folks had written. Ark Music Factory is apparently in the business of making slick, dumb music videos starring kids (mostly girls, based on a look at their web site) between the ages of 13 and 17, which their parents pony up money to have made. In other words, it seems to have a lot in common with a vanity press, where you pay to have your book published instead of the other way around.

It's absolutely true that this is a terrible, appalling song. The lyrics (that she didn't write) are laughable, the audio production (that she didn't work on) is atrocious, and the video (that she didn't shoot) is incredibly weird. And the whole thing taken together, which is genuinely and painfully funny for all these reasons, made great fodder for The Daily What, and then the blog at Tosh.0, the Comedy Central show that's in charge of skewering the Internet.

Interestingly, the Tosh.0 post was called "Songwriting Isn't For Everyone," and it focused on how bad the song was. Right move! But then it went on from there, and since picking on songwriters isn't very much fun and picking on pretty, privileged young women is internet catnip, pretty soon, Rebecca — despite pretty emphatically not being the real problem with this video — became the person associated with it.

And, inevitably, instead of being about the song, a lot of the criticism was about her. Black said on Good Morning America that the worst comment she read once the Internet found this video on YouTube was this: "I hope you cut yourself, and I hope you get an eating disorder so you'll look pretty. And I hope you go cut and die." Cut and die. I have absolutely no problem believing that happened. It took about 30 seconds to find this comment on the Tosh.0 blog entry: "She has that awful Stepford Wives look on her face the whole time." And this one: "Can't sing bitch." And this one: "Rebecca Black is a whore." And those are at a Comedy Central blog. You don't even want to know what YouTube comments are like.

Quick reminders: Thirteen years old. "Whore." "Bitch." "Cut and die."

And so it was that she began to appear on Slate and Gawker (multiple times) and Yahoo! and Time and just about everywhere else, and her official video has now been viewed — say it with me — almost 16 million times.

Black pretty much kept her head down until yesterday, while being analyzed at places like Jezebel, which surmised that she only cared about attention, whether positive or negative, based on a tweet she made about how it was all "fun fun fun."

But then an interview with her showed up in The Daily Beast which placed some context around that "fun fun fun" comment. In the interview, she acknowledges that "At times, it feels like I'm being cyberbullied." (Presumably, these are the moments when, for instance, she is encouraged to commit suicide and develop eating disorders.) She says Ark offered her the chance to take down the video once she became such a target, but she didn't, because she didn't want to give "haters" the satisfaction of seeing her buckle. This, I also have no trouble believing. It's pretty obvious to me that tweeting "fun fun fun" had a lot to do with not giving anybody the satisfaction of seeing her complain.

She points out that she didn't write the song, and that she chose it because her other choice was a love song she didn't think was appropriate for her at 13 years old. Perfectly fair points, no? And her mother says she didn't think at times that the lyrics made any sense, but she chose not to stand over the producer's shoulder and manage that process.

[Please see the update at the top of the post regarding why a section here citing a Twitter account that seems not to have actually been hers was deleted.]

I cannot tell a lie: I kind of love Rebecca.

I try to think about what would have happened if the embarrassing, humiliating, heart-strangling, victim-of-my-own-bad-judgment things that happened to me when I was 13 had been available on YouTube, and had become fodder for Yahoo! and Time magazine. I'm not entirely exaggerating when I say I wonder whether I would have survived it.

Yes, this is an overindulgent-parent thing to do. Yes, it probably indicates that too many parents think they can make their kids stars overnight. Yes, they'll probably all think better of it. But again, I find my mind drifting back to when I was in high school — I was a senior, much older than Rebecca is — when my class took our senior trip to some little recreational area or another where they had one of those booths where you could go in and basically do karaoke and they'd record you and give you a tape. My friend Inga and I ducked into a booth and sang "Under The Boardwalk," and if memory serves, a bunch of my other friends sang "Love Shack." I kept that recording for a long time. It wasn't because I thought we were stars; it was just for fun. It was fun to hear yourself, tape yourself, critique yourself. And we didn't put it on YouTube, but I think we probably would have.

Yes, she was trying to get discovered, whatever. She's a kid. She sometimes dreams, as a 13-year-old, about being famous. She sang a song, and it was a horrible song.

But the real Rebecca Black story, for me, is what she decided to do about it. She doesn't consider herself a great singer, particularly, as she told Good Morning America. She didn't ask for this, at least not this way. But now that it's here, she's sort of rolling with it. She'll do a few interviews, she'll sell her song on iTunes for a while, and then she'll probably go away, maybe with some money for college. But she will indeed head out with the knowledge that she didn't give in, and ten years from now, that may feel pretty good.

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