Harsh Judgement

by Dr. Norman Stanfield ~ May 9th, 2011. Filed under: Pop Music Studies.

Is there anybody who hasn’t seen and heard Friday sung by Rebecca Black?

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130 million hits! Her very own Wikipedia entry. How could this happen? I suspect that when her music video first went viral, a number of people believed it was an actual commercial release. It fulfils many of the requirements of a pop hit – catchy hooks, infectious lyrics, stress-free ambiance. Contrast The Suburbs by Arcade Fire, a song that explores the same cultural roots, albeit from the vantage of Indie Rock. Even Rolling Stone online magazine captured the ambivalence of the song’s reception.

Eventually the truth came out. The music video production was a gift to Rebecca from loving parents with deep pockets. Only in California can you find a company (Ark Music Factory) that makes music videos on demand, in the style of vanity publishing. In a later YouTube video, we see that in fact, Ms. Ford can sing, despite accusations of Autotune hanky-panky.

And yet, the song has become spectacularly successful. And in a surprising turn of events, the singer has garnered enormous criticism, even death threats, allegedly for inflicting the song on the gullible general public. Why?

I suspect that after the video came to wide public attention, a number of rock critic gate-keepers went ballistic, seeing new lows from a buying public that continued its descent into banality after embracing Justin Beiber. Of course, there is always a valid market for singers that satisfy the needs of tweenies, but when the video views crept past one million, there had to be more buyers than the Saturday afternoon mall crowd. The critics worst fears were coming true — the lowest common denominator of musical taste in the world had plummeted to new depths. And further, echoing their derision became popular.

Or is the song a welcome relief from the pretensions of recent rock music? Regardless of personal opinion, the amazing fact is that the song has gone way beyond its original self-indulgence, into the vast landscape of public taste and popular culture as a singular icon.

My students in M403J (mid-June to end-of-July) will be investigating this cultural oddity in week 7 when we look at “high and low” in Western Art Music and Popular Music.

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