Pop Music

Becky Black’s “Friday”: Pap Music’s Weak End

March 30, 2011

Multiple Pages
Becky Black’s “Friday”: Pap Music’s Weak End

As an aficionado of the atrocious, I thought I’d sneak a peek at Rebecca Black’s song “Friday.” For those too engrossed in such small matters as Libya to notice, the song has been almost universally derided by “negative Nancies” as “the worst song ever made,” “hilariously dreadful,” and “inept.” Even TIME shook its grizzled locks in disbelief.

The 13-year-old Californian chanteuse has been the target of innumerable scornful, bitchy, and even threatening messages from the music-loving mob. The song has gone viral with over 63 million YouTube views as of March 29, and despite all the criticism Becky doubtless has a career ahead. (She and the company have already earned some $1 million.) She has defiantly told critics she will not “give the haters the satisfaction that they got me so bad I gave up.” Nevertheless obviously stung, she performed an acoustic version to show she doesn’t rely entirely on Auto-Tune and has said she will donate some of her earnings to charity.

The song is thin, adenoidal, and accompanied by—what else?—“the worst video ever.” But at least the lyrics contain chronological insights:

Gettin’ down on Friday…
We-we-we so excited
We so excited
We gonna have a ball today
Tomorrow is Saturday
And Sunday comes afterwards

But life is not all partyin’. Important choices await we-we-we:

Kickin’ in the front seat
Sittin’ in the back seat
Gotta make my mind up
Which seat can I take?

And even before that dilemma, urgent tasks must be performed:

Gotta be fresh, gotta go downstairs
Gotta have my bowl, gotta have cereal

Thin gruel though “Friday” is, it is as good as thousands of other songs released every year. Had it not been for the hyperbole, I wouldn’t have paid it any attention—except to switch off the radio hastily if it took me unawares. The tune is catchy, Rebecca has a pleasant smile, her hedonism seems harmless, and the lyrics are at least as good as those of a lot of bands people idolize. “Friday” is certainly more meaningful than the much-vaunted U2’s “Elevation”:

“But even while we-we-we endure she-she-she, we should remember that it could have been even worse-worse-worse.”

I’ve lost all self control
Been living like a mole
Now going down, excavation
I and I in the sky
You make me feel like I can fly
So high….

To return briefly to cereal, the well-known Pop-Tart Madonna also lowered the lyric bar in “I Love New York”:

I don’t like cities, but I like New York
Other places make me feel like a dork

Only feel like? But then Ms. Ciccone doesn’t care what people think of her lyrics, and she trills feelingly:

If you don’t like my attitude, then you can ‘F’ off

Madonna is not the only performer-philosopher. In “Spice Up Your Life,” the Spice Girls point out sagely:

Yellow man in Timbucktoo [sic]
Color for both me and you
Kung Fu fighting dancing queen
Tribal spaceman and all that’s in between

Speaking of spacemen, what vision does REM’s cerebral Michael Stipe adumbrate in “Man on the Moon”?

Mott the Hoople and the Game of Life. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Andy Kaufman in the wrestling match. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Monopoly, twenty-one, checkers, and chess. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Mister Fred Blassie in a breakfast mess. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

That is almost certainly the best song ever written about Fred Blassie.

Lists such as these could be extended indefinitely and would include most famous performers. Pop music is intended to be sold to as many people as possible, and therefore it mostly converges in transatlantic sameness. Rebecca is different only in degree from Rihanna, Britney, or Kylie—and maybe she too will become so famous that people barely bother to learn her surname.

Even when popsters write about more fibrous subjects than cereal, they oftentimes err. Here I must confess that I was the ‘singer’ of a band called Quasar and cowrote a ‘song’ called “Megalomania.” Most of the words have faded into kindly obscurity, but one of the verses ended:

The pigs in government, they got no guts
They’re all a pack of stupid f***s

So perhaps it ill behooves me to criticize others’ efforts, but in my defense, M’Lud, I was 16 and spent a lot of time reading and ingesting assorted intoxicants.

Punk-to-funk philosopher Paul Weller was older and probably not ingesting when he piped plaintively to a doomed generation just as they turned into Thatcher’s children. He was a prime mover of Red Wedge, a grimly earnest collective of ‘alternative’ pop-ulists launched with much razzmatazz in 1985. Their joyless output included The Communards’ daring attack on the Church of England’s mad mullahs:

It ain’t necessarily so
The things that you’re liable
To read in the Bible
It ain’t necessarily so.

Paul’s own “Walls Come Tumbling Down” was equally thoughtful:

Governments crack and systems fail
’Cause unity is powerful….
The competition is a color TV
We’re on still pause with the video machine….
Are you gonna realize
The class war’s real and not mythologized?

These explications struck such a chord with the public that Red Wedge itself came tumbling down in 1990.

The folk singer William “Billy” Bragg shared similar ‘radical’ views, but “All You Fascists” was more specific about what he wanted to see:

People of every color marching side by side
Marching across the fields where a million fascists died

This democratic enthusiasm is in marked contrast to Billy’s gentler “The Milkman of Human Kindness,” in which he combined a useful working-class job with an unexpected interest in diseases of the genitourinary tract:

I am the milkman of human kindness
I will leave an extra pint.…
If your bed is wet, I will dry your tears

Perhaps it was even Bill’s Bilious Bottle that left the milk to garnish Becky’s Bowl. What is certain is that PC plectrum-wielders are somehow seen as gurus of the grooves (and geist), while a cheesy, cheery 13-year-old who has never said anything nearly so stupid is cyber-savaged by the supercilious. Rebecca Black’s forthcoming track—yes, I’m afraid so—is provisionally called “LOL”—yes, I’m afraid so. But even while we-we-we endure she-she-she, we should remember that it could have been even worse-worse-worse.

 

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