Rebecca Black’s rise to internet fame back in 2011, when she was just 13 years old, was dizzying to witness: seemingly overnight, her song “Friday” became synonymous with everything everyone hated about pop music—banal, vapid, and omnipresent. A decade later, Black has become a figure of semi-ironic adoration in the pop sphere, emerging every now and again with a one-off single or EP. But it wasn’t until this year that things finally started to click for her musically. Now, she’s ready to take control of her narrative.
“Over the past 10 years, I’ve obviously had a lot of time to understand myself and what I want, and that love for performing and music has never, ever gone away. Even though it’s been a difficult path, it’s really difficult for me to give up on things, for better or for worse,” Black tells me over Zoom, her bright red hair glimmering in the light of the window in front of her. “It was a lot of emotional work, trying to rebuild my confidence. It’s definitely been worth it, I guess I can say now.”
Black created her forthcoming project, Rebecca Black Was Here, almost entirely from her Los Angeles home as she reeled from tragedies both personal and international. The result—a kitschier, more complex ride than any of her previous offerings—is a six-track sapphic pop adventure awash with bracing, carbonated sounds and viscous imagery, whirling us through the six stages of grief with each track. “It’s about different phases of a whole relationship, how every phase feels so different in the moment,” Black tells me. “I technically started writing before the pandemic, but I really got into it over the first lockdown. I was doing so many Zoom sessions, trying to figure the process out, and it was an important way to deal with this year,” she adds. “The things that were already sticking out as sore spots—things to deal with, or move away from, or go towards—stuck out even further. Coming out [as queer] had a lot to do with it, too. I was able to find a lot of clarity in my alone time.”
Though she credits the pandemic slowdown for this project’s existence, the genesis of Rebecca Black Was Here came far before she’d ever envisioned her new direction. After “Friday,” Black needed time to focus on healing and existential questioning, to clarify for herself who she was, and what made listening to her music worthwhile. “I couldn’t have made this project without having experienced ‘Friday,’” she says, referring to the maelstrom that followed her first song’s release. “Ironically, it’s a huge part of the reason I still do what I do.”
Though Black may not have been intending to set off a domino-effect of pop culture at thirteen years old, the origins of hyperpop, one of the prevailing sounds of the moment, can be traced back to her and the now-defunct ARK Music Factory, which produced “Friday” and a handful of other internet-infamous tracks. The producer A.G. Cook, a pioneering force of some of the 2010s most exuberant pop joyrides, has credited ARK as an influence in his early music and the formation of his own record label, PC Music—the primordial soup that spawned hyperpop as we know it—and which then, in turn, inspired the now 24-year-old Black’s current sound. In some ways, Black and her teenaged counterparts were responsible for where pop music has migrated, and she herself has evolved to reap the benefits of what she had sown.
The video for “Friday (Remix),” released in February and featuring Big Freedia, 3oh!3 and Dorian Electra, is a cheeky nod to some of the earliest facets of 2010s internet culture that once cast a dark shadow over her life. “I’ve always been really infatuated with the way music has shifted over the years and the things people get really excited about. Hyperpop and the PC Music world was something I fell in love with a few years ago,” Black says, smiling. “The bond I built with the music that got me through the ‘Friday’ period was stronger than anything else, and I wanted the remix to be this really fun, iconic, kitschy, campy moment for the song that it had accidentally turned into. Only this time, I wanted to put that in intentionally.”
Her newfound embrace of that era is partially a result of the recent conversations she has had about what “Friday” still means to people. “Over the last few years, I really started to shift my perspective around the song, as I’d seen the narrative shift around the way people would talk to me about it,” she says, the mid-morning sun casting a glow behind her. “It was so much less of the elephant in the room and a lot more of this, ‘Oh my God, this was such a crazy thing that happened back then.’ It felt like I heard people start talking about it in this nostalgic, sweet, almost celebratory way, as this thing we all collectively remembered.”
Some of that nostalgia comes through in this new batch of music: “Better In My Memory,” is reminiscent of something produced by the late SOPHIE, and “NGL” (the Internet-slang acronym for “not gonna lie”) is an ebullient pop number distorted to perfection. At the other end of the spectrum, “Blue” is soft and sweet, carrying a level of vulnerability that Black feels she’s never really expressed in her music. The project’s accompanying visuals explore a myriad of darker themes, from the blood-red color scheme in “Worth It For The Feeling”, to the unhinged “Personal” video in which Black transforms from a high-femme character into a Patrick-Bateman-inspired, bedazzled-chainsaw-wielder. “Visuals are so important to me and this project overall—as a fan, as a girl who loves shows, and as someone who is now going to explore this world for the first time as a headliner,” she says.
When I ask Black if she has a favorite line from the project, she recites a lyric from “NGL:” “‘I bet you think I changed on purpose // Took a picture of who you loved and burned it // It’ll break your heart for certain // That someone you loved is a different person.’ That was the last song that we wrote for this project,” she says. “It capped off in the way that I found closure for myself—really understanding that in the end, the other person is going to have their idea of how things went and that’s fair for them, and I’m going to have my idea. I just have to feel good about how I felt about how things went, and try to promise myself that I am changing for the better.”