In 2011, Rebecca Black became one of the first teen YouTube sensations when she went viral with the video for “Friday,” her ode to the freedom of childhood weekends. Backlash arrived just as quickly as her newfound fame, and even though she was 13 years old, she wasn’t spared harsh criticism. As Dan Whitworth at the BBC reported, “Friday” was widely derided as “the worst song ever,” and Black has never lived it down.
On the second Friday of May, Black will take the stage at Bottom Lounge as a full-fledged adult who’s been forged by the Internet’s fire. It’s a theme that runs in the background of her debut full-length, February’s Let Her Burn. Writing for Pitchfork, Shaad D’Souza called the album “a desperate, bald-faced attempt to pull together whichever cultural signifiers seem likely to resonate with online fanbases.” Um, yes, that’s exactly what she’s doing—and why shouldn’t she?
Let Her Burn is 31 minutes of hyperpop that reveals someone grappling with the desire to say something sincere after being a notorious online punching bag for more than a decade. Can anyone blame Black for not taking bigger risks? What the album lacks in ambition and ingenuity, it makes up for with self-awareness. Black is a lesbian creating music for a hyper-online audience that includes as many camp-obsessed homos as it does people who first met her as a doe-eyed teen on social media. That’s why songs that seem perfunctory can also work.
Take “Doe Eyed.” A la Miley Cyrus after Hannah Montana, she reminds listeners she’s not the kid they once knew: “Got a little kitty with a big dream / Come and lick it up like it’s strawberry cream.” But unlike the former child actor, Black has never adopted a persona that leans hard on the hypersexual. In fact, she’s fairly restrained by pop-icon standards; when she wants to go for grit, she’ll get there with camp flourishes or a push-pull of imagery or style that volleys between gentle and violent like a typical social media feed. Let Her Burn is a studied survey of Internet trends from someone who’s very publicly had to learn what to volunteer and what to withhold in her creative work. Despite it all, Black remains committed to the painful task of making pop songs. Haters would love to see her reduced to ash. And yet? Her flame persists.
Rebecca Black Mazie opens. Fri 5/12, 7 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, sold out, all ages