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Rebecca Black Dazed 23
Photography Chester McKee

Rebecca Black: from meme to internet queen

Celebrating the release of her debut album Let Her Burn, we catch up with the pop star at the Tower of London to talk all things internet culture, from online communities to being cringe

It’s a sunny Friday morning and Rebecca Black is standing at the foot of Traitor’s Gate. Historically, the entrance was used by the Tudors to escort prisoners into the Tower of London, but today we’re here on a Dazed Day Out. As we make our way through the fortress, our tour guide informs us that Anne Boleyn entered through Traitor’s Gate in the days leading up to her beheading. We gawk at the site and shuffle onwards into the tower; the irony of a woman wrongly convicted of a bogus crime isn’t lost on us.

As one of the earliest examples of a viral moment with her ridiculed internet hit “Friday” (the infamous Kony campaign came out the following year), Black is the poster child for someone who’s endured the wringer of internet trolling, and come out the other side. At 13 years old, she became a target for online bullying; a prototype for manufactured celebrity and an example of how the internet exploits young people. “I felt like somebody that had been outcast by the internet or who was exiled from the internet in some way or capacity,” she confides. “But, the reality is, I’m of the generation that grew up with the internet, and I love the internet. I found so much of myself on the internet as a kid before ‘Friday’ ever existed.”

Over a decade on from her first foray into music, the 25-year-old has not only grown up, but grown into herself. Aside from working as an anti-bullying advocate, she publicly came out as queer in 2020, and with the help of Extremely Online artists like Dorian Electra and 100 gecs, found friendship in the hyperpop community – her 2021 anniversary remix of “Friday”, produced by 100 gecs’ Dylan Brady, featured the likes of Big Freedia, Dorian Electra, and bro-tronica duo 3OH!3. Simultaneously, internet culture, which was still in its infancy ten years ago, has matured too, and we’ve all become hyper-aware of the IRL impact of online spaces. “It’s an interesting thing to watch the way that this whole side of the world or the internet has changed their tune over time, because it definitely felt like it happened in these interesting little tiny increments,” she expands. 

On her debut album Let Her Burn, Black has reemerged as a bonafide internet icon – and an alt popstar keen to set the record straight. Following on from a string of singles, including the reclamatory “Rebecca Black Was Here” and euphorically queer anthem “Girlfriend”, the album name is a reference to leaving behind past selves, and embracing new beginnings: “Let the versions of myself that have held me back, let the people in my life that never allowed me to be who I really wanted to be, let all of those burn and also let this new version of myself really burn brightly.” With stories of break-ups and bad romances rendered in chaotic 808s and confessional pop songs, the album is sexier than past releases, with Black flexing her pop chops across a string of leftfield music videos such as the 80s-inspired “Sick To My Stomach” and the Cronenberg-esque “Crumbs”.

During our time together, Black is characteristically cheerful. We’re on a tight schedule – she’s performing at Heaven later that night for her sold-out album launch party – but our guide tells us the Crown Jewels is a must-see, so we dutifully comply. “It’s like that scene in the Minions when the yellow guys break into the tower,” her manager remarks, and we all laugh, stepping onto the indoor conveyor belt that takes us on a mechanical tour through royalties past and present. “This album would have never existed if I didn’t do the work on myself and for a long time, I watched the internet grapple with my story. A lot of people come to terms with the differences in the ways that they viewed what happened to me now versus then, but none of that would have mattered if I didn’t also do that work on myself,” Black says. “The thing that wrapped it up for me was the moment where I finally felt like I had let go of so many of the things that I felt had limited me from people I knew, from this previous version of myself that didn’t know how to go out and explore and experiment and create and try. Being a young woman in the face of the internet, people are always going to try to take that from you and this was the first time that I was really harnessing that on my own terms.”

‘Being a young woman in the face of the internet, people are always going to try to take that from you and this was the first time that I was really harnessing that on my own terms‘ – Rebecca Black

One of the biggest changes to Black’s career saw her cultivate a hyper-dedicated online fanbase in the hyperpop community that flourished during the pandemic, and then hurled her into the mainstream through TikTok videos and Spotify playlists. Pulling on the frenzied pace of internet culture, the underground artists within this community made disruptive and maximalist pop, spicing up typically ‘cringe’ sounds such as Eurodance and happy hardcore, and reimagining them in a fresh and subversive new context. “That is a natural course of the way that these internet subcultures will hopefully continuously take these things that we all experience and recontextualise them in their own way,” says Black. It was around this time that she received a DM from PC Music’s umru, who told her about an entire scene of internet outsiders and weirdos playing her songs completely unironically in DJ sets. “Whether or not they had knowingly taught it to me or not, I feel like getting to know them really started to unlock those pieces of myself that I'm starting to be in now,” she says.

In an accompanying statement to Let Her Burn, Black builds on this hyperpop ethos, stating that she’s ready to make pop “that fucking pushes boundaries and lives outside of what someone would think pop would be”. When asked what she means by this, she responds: “With pop, there is no actual sound to it as there would be for metal or folk and that allows every pop artist for so much freedom into what you can and and could want to do and a way to really honour different aspects of music that become what like this thing that pop is.” She wants to keep reinventing herself, keep blurring expectations.

That night Black performs to a packed-out room of adoring fans. It’s her biggest headline show to date, and she bursts into tears. “Six years ago, I couldn’t sell eight tickets to a show,” she tells the crowd. “Thank you for sticking by me, even when it was uncool.” Admittedly, Black‘s journey isn‘t your average pop star pipeline, but there’s something about her warts-and-all journey from viral meme to legitimate artist is undeniably inspiring – and, as a fellow internet freak – I can‘t help but feel a quiet respect for what she‘s endured, and subsequently achieved. “We all learn from this previous version of ourselves and this previous version of the internet,” she concludes, as we exit through the gift shop and make our way through the grounds. “I just hope that with my music I can bring in references that I don't feel like I've ever heard before in the type of music that I do.”

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