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What happens when you go viral by accident at 13

Rebecca Black’s music video ‘Friday’ became a viral sensation when she was just a teenager – we spoke to her about the aftermath and the future

When nearly the entire pop culture-observing internet turned against a 13-year-old girl in 2011, we entered a new era of trolling with impunity. Rebecca Black, whose song “Friday” became an overnight viral sensation and has by now amassed more than 270 million views cumilatively, faced the wrath of a faceless mob with an at the time nearly unrivalled digital ferocity.

“Friday” was, essentially, a parent’s gift to their child. Produced by the ARK Factory, it was an embodiment of many children’s wildest dream – the opportunity to have your own song and star in your own music video. It was never intended to make Black famous, or be received as a piece of art for criticism. From the catchy tune to the cheesy lyrics and awkward dancing with her friends, it was just meant to make her feel good.

Having already faced the harsh judgement of the world, Black has an air of self-awareness that she swaddles in a blanket of relentless dreaming. “I basically had to grow up when I was 13,” she tells me over the phone. “I had to forget all the teenage problems, at least for a little bit, and learn business. And I started paying taxes, and I started doing all these things that 13 and 14-year-olds don’t do.”

Black is realistic, but sweet. She’s working really, really hard. And she certainly isn’t about to let the shit you gave her when “Friday” came out deter her from being whatever and whoever she wants to be. Since “Friday”, she hasn’t slowed down, parlaying the good feedback she got from her 15 minutes of fame into a YouTube channel with over 1.2 million followers to make sweet lemonade. Her short videos talk about everything from her likes and dislikes, teenage life, music and makeup. And now, with new music about to drop, Rebecca Black is more confident – and more determined – than ever. I talked to her about being an internet phenomenon aged 13, going back to high school, finding herself, and moving forward.

I guess we can’t really talk to you without talking about ‘Friday’. As a teenage girl, how were you able to see past the criticism?

Rebecca Black: It’s difficult because it was something I didn’t even expect with the song. That wasn’t the intention, to even really go out there. All of a sudden it kind of blew up, and I had to go with it. Of course being that I was so young, it was hard – I can’t lie and say it was easy. But the thing is, my dream has always been to perform, and do music, and be on stage, so I just had to see it as a glitch in the road and I had to, one way or another, get through it, because I wouldn’t let that stop me from being where I wanted to be.

Was there anything in particular – like friends or family – that helped you have that perspective?

Rebecca Black: I’m lucky to have such supportive parents. My life at home was very much normal. My mum always helped me – she lives by the saying that ‘everything happens for a really good reason’, so keeping that in my head throughout the whole thing made it better. Sure, there was backlash and criticism, but I got to do some things that anyone my age has dreamed of doing.

Being put in that situation at such a young age, was there something in particular that you learned?

Rebecca Black: It definitely gave me a lot of life experience and I got to mature a bit from it, but asides from all of that, I’d say the most important thing was learning just how to manage your working life in this industry and your personal life. Sometimes it’s really hard, especially when you’re growing up and just trying to figure yourself out. It was really just growing up.

“(Life after ‘Friday’) was hard – I can’t lie and say it was easy” – Rebecca Black

Your personal life really has stayed out of the media though, despite you being in the media so much. I haven’t heard about who you’re dating for instance, which is something you generally hear the media focus on.

Rebecca Black: I think it’s because I’ve never really done anything to put it out there, and I don’t think there’s anything in my personal life or my family life that needs to be put out there. I’m pretty lucky to have a solid home base.

You’ve managed to use everything that happened around ‘Friday’ for your YouTube channel. What motivated you to start that?

Rebecca Black: I was 16 when I started it. I wanted to do something new and different, and I found myself surrounded by other people who were doing YouTube, and all of my friends constantly said, ‘Oh my God you would love it, it would be so much fun, we could do it together’, so I just tried it out. I got myself a camera and some lighting and I filmed and put it up. I liked it and kept doing it. It was fun for me. I was homeschooled at the time and just about to go back into regular high school. I wanted people to get to know me, because I hadn’t done too much of that. I wanted people to see a little bit about me. A lot of people only really knew me from ‘Friday’, so I thought I might as well take the opportunity and change that.

As a female performer, do you think it’s more important for young women than it is for men to show themselves as dynamic personalities with different interests, given the amount of scrutiny they’re put under?

Rebecca Black: I mean, I can only really speak for myself. I do know that there is an obvious pressure to be this certain person, or look a certain way, or act a certain way. What’s important is maintaining your own individuality. I think it’s important to feel free to explore that. And being a teenager, you’re supposed to try out the different things – I don’t know, dye your hair pink, or do whatever feels right at the moment. I know there can be some pressure to not do that just because it’s not trendy. That’s the one thing I hope girls like myself don’t lose, and it’s the one thing I’ve fought to keep strong within myself. Don’t be afraid to try out what you want and be your own individual person.

So what’s next then? There’s new music?

Rebecca Black: The last year I’ve spent writing – well, the last four years – and trying to figure out who I was as an artist. I have a few songs now, and one that’s coming out soon.

So you’ve been writing the music yourself?

Rebecca Black: Yes. I’ve been writing and co-writing and working with different producers as well and just exploring, because I was kept from that for a while and I ventured off into other things right after ‘Friday’. But it was something that I really wanted to develop and learn from. I have a song coming out very soon which is really exciting because it took a long time to find something and create something that felt so genuine and authentic to myself. Now that I’m putting this out I can say that ‘Yes, this is me, this is me in a song.’ I have five or six other songs I’m also getting ready to release that I know are also so ‘me’.

So you’re taking more control.

Rebecca Black: Yeah! I think especially being so young at first it was really hard and I was very intimidated by writing and by this whole career path and industry, and now that I’ve been able to grow up and give myself a bit of credibility and own myself, it’s easier to walk into a room and feel the ability to take charge and know that this is my work, and my stuff, and my songs, and my music, and this is who I am.

“It was weird walking into a class and realizing everyone knows you but you don’t know anybody” – Rebecca Black

What does the music sound like, and where does that come from in you?

Rebecca Black: It’s most definitely different from anything I’ve ever done. I’m inspired by the artists I listen to. I listen to a lot of indie and alternative music, electronic music. I love Broods, The Black Keys. I love Disclosure. It was sort of whatever I was feeling that day or that week. I’d say I want to try something like this and see if it works. Sometimes it did and sometimes it didn’t. I wrote probably 35 songs in the past six months to try new things and see what works. As far as where it comes from, I really just walk in the studio and – especially when I’m co-writing – they say ‘What are you feeling, open up, what’s going on in your life?’ So each song was inspired by real, current things happening to me as I was growing up, or whatever was happening just that week, whether it was dealing with a boy or maybe having to feel more inspired by myself. I wanted it to reflect my real life.

But what was your ‘real life’?

Rebecca Black: I was homeschooled for a bit then when I turned 15, I went back to public high school. It was weird, but it wasn’t all that different to normal high school experience.

Did everyone know you when you went back?

Rebecca Black: There were definitely some people who had preconceived ideas. I only knew maybe two people personally when I went into my school, and it definitely was a talking point amongst everyone.

How did you get past that?

Rebecca Black: It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t something I can say I just breezed right through. I didn’t know anybody, and it was weird walking into a class and realizing everyone knows you but you don’t know anybody. But I did also meet some amazing people that stuck by my side that I can still call friends today, and who will be friends for the rest of my life. I didn’t go to prom, but I did go to dances. I went to football games. I just wanted that high school life, because I’d missed it for a couple of years before.