It’s Friday. Instead of spending the last day of her spring break vacation on the beach or at a theme park like so many other teenagers, Rebecca Black is recording tunes at the suburban studio of Charlton Pettus, a music producer who has worked with such singers as Hilary Duff and Clay Aiken. Rebecca realizes that this is very unusual.
“I’m definitely not some normal 13-year-old girl that barely anyone knows around school anymore,” she proclaims.
“Well, you used to be,” her mother, Georgina Kelly, gently reminds her.
The self-described “musical theater geek” from Anaheim, Calif., abandoned normalcy a month ago when her independent music video “Friday” became the one of the most popular — and parodied — songs on the Internet. The cheesy video and cheerful tune, anchored by Rebecca’s nasally flat voice, was created for her by for-hire pop music producers Ark Music Factory.
While “Friday” has its fans, it has overwhelmingly more critics, and has been endlessly lampooned for its searing mediocrity. Matthew Perpetua of Rolling Stone wrote that the fascination “mainly comes down to its subpar production values, grating hooks and extraordinarily stupid lyrics,” but noted that there’s something “uniquely compelling” about it.
That’s likely why “Friday” has garnered over 118 million YouTube views and sits at No. 64 on iTunes’ single chart.
“People think I sound like a robot, and in that video, I do sound like a robot,” Rebecca acknowledges while perched on a chair next to her mother in Pettus’ backyard. “I don’t want to be known as the ‘Friday’ girl. Hopefully, I can be known as Rebecca Black and not the ‘Friday’ girl. I want to be a performing artist. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”
Rebecca contends that being picked on in school prepared her for her role as YouTube court jester and that she only shed tears once over the massive critical onslaught. (“That was the only hour of tears,” she insists.) If anything, she’s more motivated than ever to prove the millions of naysayers wrong by turning her virtual infamy into an actual music career.
“I was bullied all the time in school,” Rebecca says. “I don’t know what was so different about me that made people want to pick on me. I thank those people because if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here right now. I would probably still be sitting at home crying. I’ve dealt with that my whole life. I’ve learned to have a thick skin. I laugh at them now.”
Rebecca’s mother likens the $4,000 that she paid Ark to produce the song and video to what soccer moms spend on uniforms and shinguards. She never imagined that it would be anything more than a fun learning experience for her budding actress-singer daughter. No other ditty crafted by Ark for potential pop princesses has come close to the success of “Friday.”
Unlike a record label, which backs signed artists, Ark is a one-stop shop for wannabe Mileys and Selenas. The Los Angeles-based music manufacturer, founded last year by producers Clarence Jey and Patrice Wilson, churn out a song, music video and access to their social network for a price.
When the YouTube views for “Friday” spiraled to 80,000 in one night, Rebecca’s mother knew that her daughter’s life as an average Orange County teenager had changed forever. She is clearly not the product of Disney or Nickelodeon, nor isshe the daughter of a musician (both her parents are veterinarians). Kelly says she was totally unprepared for the attention.
“Once I realized that my daughter was going to be a celebrity, I knew this was going to be a time when I really needed to focus on completely being there for her 100 percent of the time,” says Kelly, emanating only a slight hint of stage-motherness. “I have read and seen the unfortunate stories of so many children in the spotlight who have gone sideways.”
Kelly is keen on keeping Rebecca in public school and scheduling her recording sessions and appearances around classes and homework. She’s also still making her pick up her laundry off the floor. Rebecca says she wants to splurge on an iPhone once the money starts rolling in from “Friday” sales. Her old phone quit working after she was inundated with messages.
Rebecca’s mother insists that her $4,000 entitled her daughter to total ownership of the song and video, and lawyers for both sides are now haggling over who owns the rights to everything associated with “Friday.” In the meantime, Rebecca is moving on from “Friday” collaborator Ark with an entirely new entourage that includes a publicist, lawyer and manager.
“I want to see everyone’s opinion of my actual voice,” says Rebecca, who comes across in person as a cross between Lea Michele’s character from “Glee” and Miley Cyrus. “I don’t care if they love it. I don’t care if they hate it.” She pauses for a moment before continuing. “Well, I’d like it if they loved it, but I just want to hear their opinion.”
After enlisting music manager Debra Baum to extend her 15 minutes of fame, Rebecca was paired with Pettus to produce a five-song album that will consist of a ballad, a mid-tempo song and three up-tempo tracks. Such a gamble for someone so viscously humiliated isn’t completely unprecedented. “American Idol” reject William Hung had a record deal, after all.
The first step of Baum’s plan for Rebecca is to unleash another catchy video and song, one relying less on Auto-Tune to prove that Rebecca can actually croon. One thing is certain: It won’t be called “Saturday.”
“People will be very surprised to hear her vocal capability,” Baum says of the new song. “I think it speaks to her life. I think it will be a timeless piece of music, but it will certainly have a date stamp.”
The ultimate goal is for Rebecca to secure a record deal. Baum says several labels have shown interest in working with the 13-year-old singer, but her team wants to take their time and find “the right scenario.” Erik Bradley, music director for Chicago pop music station WBBM-FM, believes Rebecca can transcend her syrupy stigma if she has the right material.
“It’s going to be monumentally challenging to overcome that, but I would not rule it out because crazier things have happened,” Bradley says. “She’s been lucky enough to have quite the springboard with ‘Friday’ but the vocals and production values of her new material need to be much better to actually be competitive with today’s contemporary hits.”
Baum, who has worked as a music supervisor on the teenage comedy films “A Cinderella Story” and “What a Girl Wants,” says she’s received hundreds of requests for Rebecca to perform “Friday” at bar mitzvahs, proms, graduations and other assorted events. However, Rebecca’s focus is strictly on creating new music before she goes on summer break from school.
“There’s no question in my mind that she will be successful,” Baum attests. “I think she has a lot of passion and commitment for a young girl. Both of her parents have kept her grounded. It seems, from spending so much time with her over the past month, that she appreciates the attention, but she’s unfazed by it. It’s an interesting thing to watch.”