If you were converting oxygen into carbon dioxide in 2011 (that is to say, if you were alive), then there is no limit to the number of times you probably saw Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” One of the biggest YouTube hits of all time, Black’s paean to the glories of the fifth day of the week went massively viral, racking up 167 million views in a three-month period — even though Black herself never expected the video to be seen by even her friends, much less a global audience. Nearly 10 years later, “Friday” is still regarded as a cultural touchstone in internet history and a prime example of digital schadenfreude, with trolls piling on the then-13-year-old Black and mocking its inane lyrics and mind-numbingly awkward music video, which became subject to countless memes. But what if “Friday” was simply misunderstood? What if it’s not as bad as we thought?
This is the central question in the latest episode of Decoder Ring, a podcast hosted by Slate’s Willa Paskin devoted to unlocking cultural mysteries. Featuring interviews with Black herself as well as producer Patrice Wilson, the mastermind behind “Friday,” Paskin traces the genesis of the track and how a 13-year-old girl, who’d recorded the song as a way to bolster her high school extracurriculars resume, ended up becoming an internet laughingstock.
Paskin affords considerable sensitivity to Black, probing into what it’s like to become a global cyberbullying victim at the age of 13. “I was a kid of the internet. I saw things like this happen. I had, in my own small world, dealt with bullying,” Black recalls on the podcast, of her decision to keep the video up on YouTube after it was picked up by Tosh.0. “[I] think this was my last straw of being put down and being made fun of and something told me, ‘If you do that, then all of a sudden everybody else wins.” Black is currently focused on building her own musical career from the ashes of “Friday,” and judging by the snippets of her tracks played on Decoder Ring, she’s evolved considerably from the days of trying to decide whether to take the front or back seat on the school bus.
Decoder Ring also focuses considerable attention on the musical roots of “Friday,” with Switched on Podcast host and musicologist Nate Sloan weighing in on what, precisely, made it such an ear worm. As Sloan explains it, “Friday” uses a common chord progression used in pop music, from Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” to Taylor Swift’s “Me!”,” which helped it become embedded in the popular imagination. “Anyone who thinks that this song only caught on because it was, I guess, so musically offensive, I think is completely misguided,” Sloan says.