In a couple of weeks, a wave of teenagers (and a few strangely reinvigorated adults) will relocate to a new city to begin their life as a first year university student. As part of the pre-roll for higher-education, these prospective freshers have completed a few things already: UCAS forms, exams, the family trip to IKEA for tupperware and rudimentary utensils. Yet aside from the necessary grades and obsolete kitchenware, it’s likely the students will have also spent the last year concentrating on one minute task: the erasing of their online social media profiles, until each one resembles a clean and uniform looking template, wherein it is unlikely to offend an admissions officer or put off a romantic prospect.
Ever since Mark Zuckerberg opened up “The Facebook”, millennials have had it drilled into their head that their online presence is important. In the case of “social media influencers” or the wise and vapid teens who started vlogging three years ago, the realm of hearts and likes can open a door to riches. Largely though, it’s the negative aspect of social media that catches the most attention, potentially endangering a job because no one wants to employ a 24-year-old who consistently posts about ket comedowns. Or is a racist. So it is then, to Rebecca Black, a teen who has a virtual history so infamous it has been implanted in the cerebrum of anyone with an internet connection.
As most of us know, Black released the song “Friday” in 2011. Almost overnight it became a success – and for all the wrong reasons. In retrospect the song is a natural precursor to the likes of Sophia Grace’s “Best Friends” or the PC Music back catalogue (and a stroke of pop genius), but when “Friday” was released it was designated the role of “Worst Song of All Time”. Over the next few years, Black faded into obscurity, with follow up singles and press-runs failing to make an impact. “Friday”, it seemed, would be the nail in the coffin of the career Black had yet to embark on. That is, until now. Last week Black released “The Great Divide” and, in all honesty, it is Not That Bad™. Seriously, have a listen below.
Hear that? It is the sound of Katy Perry coalescing with Ellie Goulding. It is the hint of a forgettable but straight-to-the-Spotify-viral chart anthem. It is proof of two things: that in this accelerated news cycle it is possible to overcome past failures no matter how grand they may be, and that making a successful sounding pop song has sounded like an easier and more achieveable task. In fact, the success of “The Great Divide” – which has reached 200,000 plays in less than two days – is evidence that potentially nothing matters anymore. The predominant trend in popular culture is the same recognisable sound. The most popular tracks on streaming services can all be reduced to the same "millennial whoop", EDM bridge and "Wildest Dreams" esque pre-chorus sound - all boxes that have been adequately ticked by Black's latest track.
It is clear that “The Great Divide” is a song Black holds close to her heart. In a video posted to her YouTube after the track’s release, she appears tearful, stating: “I spent so long perfecting this [track] to make it absolutely amazing and part of me wanted to do this so I could be like: ha, this is perfect, I can sing, y’all can’t say anything now. I just wanted to prove everybody wrong”. This song is Black’s retribution act; it is the moment when karma bank rolls itself and she ascends, like a phoenix from the ashes of her past, into a future where everything is brand new. It is impossible not to hear this song and to think about “Friday”, but it has also taken a tunnel boring machine to the roadblock created by that song and forged a path into a new, different realm for Black. It is both an escape rope and evidence of how – with determination, bravery, or just acting like whatever you did back in the day never existed – the permanence of the internet can be beaten, or at least coloured over, with future successes.
At the moment, it feels a little like everything matters and nothing matters, both in music and the world around us. The internet is a void; filled with content, memes, heart-moving stories, grief, trouble and joy, all of which disappear and get replaced within 24 hours. In many ways, Black’s retribution is symbolic of this concept. The success of “The Great Divide” depends on her audience moving past “Friday” to get to the point that this new track is everything and nothing at once. In the sense that it is her retribution, it is everything. But it is also nothing, in the sense that it is filling a space and to look closer, to give it the necessary time art deserves, is to see it as a track that is Not That Bad™ but is also Not That Good™. It’s within the nuanced space between these two ideals that Black and her future career potential will exist.
So, in essence, Rebecca Black is back, baby! Life goes on! May death come and take us all soon!
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