Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


In defense of Rebecca Black

At age 13, Rebecca Black is a talented young girl trapped between enormous sudden fame and instant lasting ridicule. You wouldn’t think that someone who has received 120 million views of her video on YouTube, and who recently performed her song “Friday” on “The Tonight Show,” and who has done all this without the benefit of a major label or close industry connections, needs anyone to come to her defense, but I’m going to do it anyway.

First, here’s her video. If, somehow, you haven’t already seen this, you’re going to want to watch it as a point of reference. And if you ever can’t find it again, simply go to YouTube, consistently one of the five most visited websites on the planet, and start to enter Rebecca Black’s name into the search field. Here’s how far you’ll get before YouTube suggests the correct response:  one letter. That’s right, you’ll get as far as “R” before it suggests “Rebecca Black Friday.” Before “Rihanna,” “rad,” or anything else you might think would come up first. Try the same thing with Google and you get the same result:  one letter, and it’s “Rebecca Black.” Lady Gaga is just damn glad that her name doesn’t start with “r.”

Now please take a couple of minutes and pay witness to the source of her fame. Here goes.

Now that you have watched that, it’s done to you what it did to me last week: It has nested in your head, where it will stay for days on end, no matter how you try to get it out or subsume it with other, more widely respected music. Are the lyrics “good”? No. But they don’t compare badly with those of some other songs. To wit:

A Horse With No Name

On the first part of the journey,
I was looking at all the life.
There were plants and birds and rocks and things,
There was sand and hills and rings.
The first thing I met, was a fly with a buzz,
And the sky, with no clouds.
The heat was hot, and the ground was dry,
But the air was full of sound.

I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name,
It felt good to be out of the rain.
In the desert you can remember your name,
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain.
La, la, la la la la, la la la, la, la
La, la, la la la la, la la la, la, la

I think that that compares rather unfavorably with Rebecca Black’s lyrics:

It’s Friday, Friday
Gotta get down on Friday
Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend, weekend
Friday, Friday
Gettin’ down on Friday
Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend

The 13-year-old Miss Black’s lyrics express an emotion that many of us can relate to (which I will characterize as “Hooray, it’s Friday!”), and she does so in a way we can understand. Meanwhile, the grown man who wrote America’s “A Horse With No Name” tells us that he “met a fly with a buzz” and that “the heat was hot.” I have to think that while he was in this desert, he was ingesting mescaline.

Here is another set of lyrics which you may also recognize, also written by a grown man, one who has had a rather noteworthy career:

When I’m ridin’ round the world
And I’m doin’ this and I’m signing that
And I’m tryin’ to make some girl
Who tells me baby better come back later next week
‘Cause you see I’m on a losing streak
I can’t get no, oh no, no, no
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say

Under scrutiny, I don’t think that the lyrics of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” are any better than those of Rebecca Black. It’s a short slope, after all, from “I can’t get no, oh no, no, no
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say” to “we so awesome.” Lyrics aren’t the point, as proved so unerringly by David Byrne, whose lyrics both with and without Talking Heads serve to connote a feeling (usually anxiety and alienation) rather than denote an argument. The point of a song is the song, and lyrics are just a part of that. Not convinced? Try reading pseudo-poet Jim Morrison’s scribblings in service of The Doors; divorced from the instrumentation, they are unbearable.

While my daughter, who is only a couple months separated in age from Rebecca Black, and is thus a generational peer, will have none of this, and throws her hands over her ears whenever I play this Rebecca Black song, I know the song is every bit as infectious as “The Macarena,” which I have not heard once in 15 years and which I’ve nevertheless been unable to plunge from my consciousness. “Friday” also does not seem to me far removed from Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine,” which was regarded then and now fondly, and which is no less puerile. So I have to think that what we’re looking at here is age discrimination. Part of me is just glad that, for once, it’s directed at the too-young rather than the too-old.

Will Rebecca Black last? I rather doubt it, but who knows? One measurement of success is parody. “Weird Al” may not have gone after her yet (although he’s already set his sites on the Gaga; watch for the video, coming soon), but this fellow has, and thereby further proves her credibility.

One Response to “In defense of Rebecca Black”

  1. Kip Adams Says:

    Great piece Lee!!

    I posted something on Facebook awhile back asking if “Friday” was really any worse than Loveboy’s “Working for the Weekend,” but was brutally ostracized by my former high school classmates.

    FYI: My favorite lyric of ALL TIME is the first line from Bobby Goldsboro’s 1968 #1 Billboard hit “Honey:

    “See the tree, how big it’s grown, But friend it hasn’t been too long, It wasn’t big.”

    Even as a young child, I just knew this lyric was stupid.

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