Rebecca Black gets the last laugh

by Dr. Norman Stanfield ~ November 7th, 2011. Filed under: Pop Music Studies.

Last summer, during the course of my class, Introduction to the Study of Popular Music (M403J,) I wrote a blog entry about Rebecca Black and her song entitled”Friday”. It was just peaking at one million hits on Youtube, and promised to go much higher. I liked it. “Friday” is catchy, devoid of inner meaning, and polished to a brilliant production shine. It had also been mercilously pounded by professional and amateur critics way out of proportion to its tweenie dreamworld. The crime? Trite lyrics, sung by an unremarkable (if surprisingly accomplished) voice, compounded by an entirely inauthentic context. The reception to the song was a wildly diverse, ranging from fan-based admiration to death threats. Essentially, it appealed to the wrath of those who see it as yet another force in the dumbing down of culture.

Now it seems that Rebecca Black has got the last laugh by receiving an affirmation from an entirely unexpected quarter, mega-pop star Katy Perry. Of course, I am using the names “Rebecca” and “Katy” with the full understanding that their names are code for vast production teams and financial interests, although I grant that Rebecca started from a much more modest place.

Katy has starred in a song and related video called, Last Friday Night, which is a responce to Rebecca’s musical and video production.

YouTube Preview Image

The song’s lyrics are as shallow as Rebecca’s piece, and incidental to the video. They are nothing more than a litany of cliches describing “the day after”. The music, on the other hand, has a great groove with its romansca-like harmonic movement channeled through  a sequencer emulating a 70s guitar amp.

The video, hands down, is excellent, with impossibly high production values to its credit. It is cast as a movie, cut from the same cloth as any teen flick from the 70s to now. The landscapes are the same “burbs” as Arcade Fire’s Suburbs , but without any pretentions towards social commentary. In fact, it is a paragon of all that is dubious in the land of North American 10 per centers.

Everything in Perry’s video is a superlative echo of Rebecca’s shallow ode to Friday. As we get into the narrative we see Katy Perry, portraying a hapless tweenie with an alarming dental appliance, ill-fitting clothes, and whiny voice, demanding entry into a crowded neighbour’s house to complain about the party noise. Who should come to the door but Rebecca Black herself. Katy is instantly welcomed by the delirious, dancing crowd and with the help and insistence of Rebecca, she transforms into one of the Gap party animals, albeit as a cheesy femme fatale. The explosion of music, dance and mayhem moves out to the back yard of the upscale suburban home,  to be greeted by one of the most reviled of soft-adult, kitsch musicians in pop music history, Kenny G (called “Uncle Kenny” in the narrative interlude). He appears on the deck high above the party-goers but instead of cranking out his usual syrup on a soprano sax, he wails a ripping great alto sax riff leading to impossible high notes. The next day, Katy Perry wakes up  in her own bed surrounded by party detritus, including the jock adonis who was the focus of her intense female gaze the night before. Naturally her parents walk in on her unexpectantly after returning too soon from a holiday, but being Valley Parents, no consequence follows. The credits roll, furthering reinforcing the ambiance of a 70s (or 90s?) teen movie.

Throughout the entire visual feast, Katy Perry never steps out of her nerdy character, despite the gamble that such a physical anomaly could present to an adoring public expecting the usual look of the “Katy Perry” brand of sexualized princess. Even when she transforms into a cartoon femme fatale, she still manages to look unattractive. Nevertheless, her singing voice maintains its signature attractiveness which is normally mirrored in her physical persona.

In short, her character, Kenny G’s appearance, Rebecca Black’s starring role, all subvert the criticisms cruelly directed to Rebecca Black by embracing them in a superlative musical and visual production.

The video is the best pop music can offer. It simultaneously offers food for thought to tweeny girls wrestling with the demands of negotiating personal identity while accommodating the role-models of a prom queen and runway models. It is also an invigorating dance track in a blaze of colour, and a vision of fun in the company of like-minded friends. Of course, a case can be made for the damage done by such a profligate representation, but I hardly doubt that Katy and Rebecca’s tweeny fans are so shallow as to mindlessly follow the lead offered by the video’s portrayal of sex, drugs, alcohol. Tweenie females are not lemmings headed en masse to the ocean cliff, partly confirmed in Gerry Bloustein’s ethnographic essay entitled ” ‘Ceci N’est Pas une Jeune Fille’: Videocams, Representation and ‘Othering’ in the Worlds of Teen-age Girls,” in Hop On Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture, edited by Henry Jenkins et al. (2002).

Not to be outdone, the punk band Woe Is Me, jumped on the wagon with an emo cover version that pushes the boundaries of subversion even further.

Last Friday Night cover by the Woe, Is Me

I give the Katy Perry music video and its follow-up mashup by Woe Is Me, two thumbs up.

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