Nine years ago, a 13-year-old Rebecca Black — who just discovered her love for theater in music in middle school — asked her mom for permission to tap into that passion by recording a song. So the pair paid Los Angeles-based (and now-defunct) ARK Music Factory for studio time and video production. The end result? “Friday.”
Later released in March 2011, the track was corny and bizarre, and drowning in Auto-Tune, a try-hard attempt in coming across as a teen party anthem. Black didn’t think much of it at the time, as she fulfilled her singing dream. Yet once social media got hold of it, “Friday” exploded in a wild and often nasty phenomenon that took over pop culture. After being branded as “the worst song ever,” Black was met with an onslaught of cyberbullying that was paired with nonstop parodies and commentary about the song.
“[The backlash] certainly affected me growing up, in positive and negative ways, as to who I am and the insecurities I had as a teenager,” Black tells Billboard. “Now I have people that go, ‘Oh my god, I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m so sorry I said those things about you because I didn’t think about the fact that you were a person.'”
Now 22 years old, she is ready to move on from a moment that she never planned to have defined her career in such a negative light. The singer has been growing her YouTube channel over the past six years, along with independently releasing a colorful stream of breezy pop tunes. Her latest, “Sweetheart,” (released on Oct. 25) is an unapologetic insight as just how much she’s matured.
Below, Rebecca Black speaks to Billboard about how she surpassed the “Friday” craze, her musical and personal growth, and the inspiration behind her new singles.
Let’s go back to 2011 when “Friday” first dropped. It was such a massive pop culture moment!
The internet was in such a different place and YouTube was not even a quarter of what it is now. People were still testing it out at that time; it was very much a meme hub. The song was this innocent thing that wasn’t made to go viral. It was something that happened and people found it.
I’m curious, did you actually think it was a good song?
I would love to say that I knew what a good song was at that time, but I didn’t. I was 13 and definitely hadn’t found my world in music at all. I was a huge Justin Bieber fan — I had a shrine in my room. My mom grounded me with a lot of latin pop, and with my dad it was everything from The Eagles to Earth, Wind & Fire. As a teenager, I just listened to what were the top songs at the time. So I didn’t really care if “Friday” was a good song or not, it was more like, “This is mine!”
What is something you wished people knew about you back then?
Everyone has moments that go bad or good, and that’s totally fine. But beneath all of that, there’s a person. I was a kid. [The backlash] certainly affected me growing up, in positive and negative ways, as to who I am and the insecurities I had as a teenager. Now I have people that go, “Oh my god, I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m so sorry I said those things about you because I didn’t think about the fact that you were a person.”
Social media has grown to be even more toxic since then. Have you developed a tough skin?
It’s been a really weird journey. It’s definitely not been an easy, feel-good story. I’ve gone through really deep downs where I was walking into studios a few years ago and thinking, “Why am I here? People think I’m a joke. They’re not going to take any moment to respect me.” I got turned down at every session.
But in the last couple of years, I had no other choice for myself than to start really working hard on the artist I want to become. I’m writing things that I love and I’m being honest about my experience. “Anyway” and “Do You” are authentic, where people are now going, “Woah what’s happening here?” People who I’ve been dying to work with are now writing emails to my managers. So that’s been rewarding, to feel like people actually have my back and not for the sake of “here’s this crazy-weird phenomenon.”
With this new music you’re making now, it’s pushing the “Friday” moment even more to the wayside as you become your own artist.
Well thanks, that’s really cool to hear! I mean, holy s–t, I’d never thought I’d be having these kinds of conversations at this point. I don’t know if I’ll ever know what kind of artist I want to be. I’m trying to not walk in [the path of] “I’m the ‘Friday’ girl so I need to prove this person wrong” kind of mindset. I have things to say, I have experiences with anxiety and feeling depressed and those can be heard in these songs. And just like any 22-year-old, I can talk about my experiences with sex and love. Hopefully that’s something people can relate to, along with everything in between. I like to be someone who isn’t afraid to be different.
How would you describe your current sound?
There’s definitely a warm darkness that’s started to come through. There’s this tone of strength as a woman, but not every song is going to be a feminist banger. I tend to go towards warmth than aggression, but that doesn’t mean I’m not afraid to get moody or weird.
The song that made me realize you were making music again was “Anyway,” which you dropped in February. It has such a dreamy L.A. vibe.
I’m always inspired by the ’80s, because I grew up with it, and it’s still some of my favorite music that exists. I worked with this kid Justin Muncy, who’s new to production. It was something fun, which was different for me at the time. It’s another world that I love and feel connected to.
“Do You?” is very atmospheric, almost as if it could be part of a teen romance soundtrack.
I worked with Cazz Brindis on this, who also produced “Sweetheart” with me. I tried to go into sessions sometimes thinking “I need to write an upbeat song” because I haven’t been doing that. This was one of those days. We just started on a beautiful piano melody with these indie chords that were even weirder than what’s in the song now. At the time I was figuring out my relationship and feeling really used and taken advantage of. I love songs that actually feel like the feeling, whether your heart is pumping or you’re feeling confused.
I love sassy pop tunes, so “Sweetheart” is way up my alley!
Same for me! I mean, it’s Hot Girl Summer. [editor’s note: this conversation took place in August] I love seeing women, especially in pop, be so unafraid to say what’s on their minds and share the experiences they’ve been going through. Obviously this has been happening throughout our whole entertainment industry.
But I have definitely felt this newer sense of empowerment. One thing that I have just always felt [overwhelmed by] is having to be sweet and kind and strong and nice and pretty. Being every opposite thing to be this perfect girl to whoever it is. And “Sweetheart” is me saying “No, I’m done with that.” I’m not who I was anymore and I’ll never be that. It’s got this jazzy “la la” line that I came up with in the car on my way to the studio, and that made what “Sweetheart” is now.
I know you’re independent, but do you have any plans to go mainstream with a label?
I would love the support of a label. I’ve been independent for the past few years and I do enjoy the freedom to put things out right now. But there’s so many elements to releasing projects that require support. I would so love to find the right team and someone who really believes in the music. I’d love to do an album one day, but right now putting songs out as they’re ready for my fans is what I’m up to now.
Who are some people you’d like to collaborate with?
I mean, everyone loves Lizzo. But I loved her since “Truth Hurts” first came out in 2017. There’s also Charli XCX and Finneas, who’s a good friend of mine and of course Billie Eilish’s brother. We did a song together called “Satellite.” We connected through someone who knew a lot of young producers. This was around the time “Ocean Eyes” was doing its thing. I went over to his little place in Highland Park and we just tried something out. And now he’s worked on just about everything! So I’d love to work with him again. There’s a reason he’s the No. 1 songwriter right now.
If you could go back to 8 years ago when “Friday” was first released, is there anything you’d change?
I really don’t know how I feel about it. I try to live without too many regrets, and I definitely wouldn’t consider that song or experience a regret. Knowing the 13-year-old musical theater-obsessed girl I was, I did it out of trying to be creative and have fun. I don’t know if I’d change anything, just for that reason. I probably wouldn’t be in this conversation now without “Friday.”
We’re entering a new decade soon, what else do you have to accomplish?
One thing that has been a struggle through my music journey has been the social media aspect of it. I’m not 13 anymore, I don’t have to live by 13-year-old rules. I’m grown, I can do what I want! It’s weird, every two years TMZ will be like “Oh my god, Rebecca Black has boobs now!” It’s this whole big thing, which is interesting.