Monday, April 4, 2011

The Rebecca Black Phenomenon.

If you, too, have been hopping around the internet in procrastinatory fervor these past weeks—or watching the news, or breathing—chances are you've heard of the one and only "Friday" by Rebecca Black.

This single video has managed over 60 million views on YouTube, not including its near-countless spoofs & memes, & was recently the #43 most downloaded song on iTunes (beating out the likes of the Black Eyed Peas & Britney's latest exploration in dirty puns)—all while being openly & relentlessly mocked as the worst song, ever, ever, ever. As such, it provides an excellent point of study for a phenomenon I've been internally expounding upon for a while now—that is, Liking Something Because It's Terrible.

Because this song is, in fact, terrible. I mean, really, patently bad. From its monotone melody to its barfed out lyrics—including up to 8 placeholder repetitions of the word "fun" & a bridge that denotatively & apathetically describes the order of the days of the week—it just might be, as millions before me have said, the one of the least artful pieces of pop debris ever produced.

Indeed, not only is the song so mindlessly constructed as to be laughable—as parodied brilliantly by two preteen boys (which, by the way, is when you know you're in trouble: when what you've done can be sent up by those with a comic sensibility that still giggles at the word "penis")—but in its middle-of-the-road, Please-Be-a-Hit banality, "Friday" almost becomes its own parody of the pandering lameness of conventional pop. Desire to be "partyin' partyin'" & "lookin' forward to the weekend" are perhaps the most universalizable sentiments for the ages of 12-65—short only of "gravity exists" & "eyelids are useful"—as exemplified by the nearly inhuman amount of songs that take on this "fun fun fun fun" as their subject matter. The same goes for that James Blunt song about how "I saw your face in a crowded place": it's just denotative enough to evoke a wildly general emotion, while retaining the requisite vagueness to be played at the climax of every romantic comedy ever made.

But enough about the song—because, honestly, I'm becoming an exemplar of my own point: as Foucault (yes, I'm a pretentious college student, shut your face) once wondered why it is that we repeatedly castigate ourselves for being sexually repressed, all while doing nothing to actually alleviate that repression, I'm fascinated by a news cycle/internet culture/innumerable fraternities hosting "Friday"-themed parties that would go far out of their way to declare, loudly, creatively, in time-consuming & proto-hortatory fashion, how terrible they think something is.

The first & most obvious reason is because it's funny. There's no denying that the video itself—as well as a select few of its parodies, & even some of its covers (though far fewer, I think, than those producing said covers would like to believe)—are simply & denotatively hilarious, for reasons upon reasons. Still, I can't help but feel like there's more to this phenomenon than a "laughing at" relationship—that, by focusing so steadily on this one piece of pop ephemera, even if only to mock it, we can't help but like it—or, at the very least, give it a trajectory identical to that of something beloved.

Because the paradox is, every time you buy "Friday" on iTunes, even if your intention is to laugh at its stupidity, you're giving money to Rebecca Black (or, more accurately, to the blameworthy hucksters at Ark Music Factory)—just as everyone who tunes in to mock the drunken exploits of the cast of Jersey Shore is contributing to the show's rising ratings, its season renewals, Snooki's ever-oranging skin. If that's your aim, then so be it—but, at least in my mind, when one doesn't approve of something, fiscally & ideologically perpetuating it is often not on one's to-do list. In short: a (shamefully) large part of me wants the world to shut up about Rebecca Black, & the Jersey Shore kids, & the Kardashians, & the Real Housewives, & the Girls Next Door, etcetera-ad-infinitum, simply because I—&, I would argue, all of the people talking about/parodying/ironically celebrating them—do not, in point of fact, consider any of these people actually worthy of this much attention. So, I say, let's stop giving it—& its corequisite paycheck—to them, please.

Of course, I'm no saint—not by the longest of shots. I, too, have spent many a side-splitting evening in front of NYC Prep, The A-List, Rock of Love; the above plea is as much to myself as anyone. Moreover, there's decent part of my brain—the part that, I imagine, speaks alternately in the voices of Kate Bush & the Church Lady—that wants this love-through-hate trend to cease for slightly less snobbish reasons: because it forces these poor people to be famous for being despised. I know, I know: "there's no such thing as bad press"—I want your love & I want your revenge—better to be ripped to shreds than go anonymous—I understand the logic behind it, but fame is pernicious enough when it springs from legitimate celebration, let alone mockery & awfulness.

Having just finished an article on the London premiere of an opera about Anna Nicole Smith (which I'll cross-post here once it's published, pinky swear), I've been thinking a lot about this ever-recurring Tragic Cycle of Fame—how we tend to build celebrities up only to tear them down, then golf-clap at their rehabilitation, then fiend for stories of their relapses, on & on until the individual in question either perishes (followed by uncannily tasteless post-mortem coverage), or gets shoved out of the spotlight by some new mess, doomed to live forevermore on the dregs of what was, what was. Think Mickey Rourke or Robert Downey Jr., both trainwrecks-turned-Oscar-nominees—then think about how even these laudably reformed gents aren't getting nearly as much coverage as that blathering whackadoodle Charlie Sheen. Same goes for Britney Spears, whose news mentions seem to flare up only when she's in crisis—as satirized à la "The Lottery" by those clever boys over at South Park.

Celebrating someone for being dreadful represents essentially the same process, only truncated for the ease of the user—more hateful bang for your tabloid buck—because even when these people are on the upswing, they're still fair game to be shat upon. The pinnacle of their success is so wrapped up in their ability to be loathsome that, at all times, every American who was promised citizenship in an up-by-personal-bootstraps meritocracy can exorcise some of their frustrated ambition by clawing at the dignity of those who've made it to the magazine covers. To be famous is to succeed, but if we can somehow prove that those who are famous are deficient—are addicted or stupid or frivolous, some kind of reprehensible—then we can comfort ourselves that, press mentions aside, we are still superior. As long as we can make them look worse, we haven't failed—&, in the case of those whose notoriety is predicated on their awfulness, looking worse takes very little effort.

The real irony of the situation, though, is that soliciting this kind of public disapproval has now become desirable in & of itself—when, for example, girls are getting pregnant specifically to eligible for casting on Teen Mom, MTV's latest exercise in irresponsible programming. Because fame-through-derision has proven so profitable (see: Snooki Polizzi's paycheck per club appearance), those who were once the whetting stones for our real celebrity envy have themselves joined the canon of the enviable. Liking something ironically can often feel safer than liking it genuinely—because, if challenged, you can always pull back & insult it, unscathed—but, taken to such extremes, this faux-endorsement seems to leave us free-falling in a frustrating, almost exponential spiral, which cheapens both what it means to "like" something & the quality of what's out there to be liked.

I realize that we got a little sidetracked—&, indeed, a little heavy-handed—so let me clarify: my point is not that everyone who like-mocked "Friday" is implicated in the downfall of Western Civilization—because the song is, in fact, ridiculous, & catchy like an airborne toxin. Still, in less innocuous instances, I think our far-too-prevalent love-to-hate relationship with pop culture gets icky, & that we should (in perhaps the most literal instance of this phrase I can muster) check our divas before we wreck our divas.

In the meantime, though, let's at least let this seemingly unstemmable tide swell in the triumphant voice of Stephen Colbert:

Today's Headphone Fodder:

Anneliese's "Fun Fun Fun Fun" Playlist.

Friday On My Mind—David Bowie (Easybeats cover).

Weekend—Smith Westerns.

Hot Patootie (Whatever Happened to Saturday Night?)—The Phenomenauts (Rocky Horror cover).

Saturday Night Divas—Spice Girls.

Seven Day Weekend—The New York Dolls.

Sunday Morning—The Velvet Underground.

I Don't Like Mondays—Bob Geldof & the Boomtown Rats.

Ruby Tuesday—Franco Battaio (Rolling Stones cover).

Wednesday Week—Elvis Costello & the Attractions.


Friday, I'm In Love—The Cure.

&, last but not least, for all those acid trips you were desperately hoping to forget:

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