A decade after the release of “Friday” — the ode to the start of the weekend that catapulted a then-13-year-old Rebecca Black to fame — the singer-songwriter finally feels like she is in control.
With her new project, “Rebecca Black Was Here,” out today, Black transforms herself from one-hit wonder to a bonafide pop star. But that’s not to say that Black sticks to just one lane; the six-track collection boomerangs from hyperpop to ’80s synthwave to sultry ballads, giving Black an experimental edge.
“I think this is the first time that I have things a little bit more under my control,” Black tells Variety of the project. “My audience has been really patient with me as I’ve tried to make this the best it can be, and a lot of things have changed over the course of the last year.”
Black’s last project, “RE/BL,” was released in September 2017, and she has spent the years since writing and “trying to understand my own point of view,” as she puts it. A big part of that, Black says, was coming out. She publicly came out as queer in April 2020 on the Dating Straight podcast, hosted by her friends Amy Ordman and Jack Dodge.
“To me, the word queer feels really nice,” Black said on the podcast. “I have dated a lot of different types of people, and I just don’t really know what the future holds. Some days, I feel a little bit more on the gay side than others.”
Coming out has certainly informed Black’s songwriting, exemplified by the first single from her new project: “Girlfriend.” Reminiscent of 2010s pop anthems by Katy Perry and Carly Rae Jepsen, the song, which is the final track on “Rebecca Black Was Here,” recalls the euphoric feeling of deciding to get back with an ex. “Girlfriend” marked the first time Black had talked about her sexuality in her songwriting, which she found extremely liberating.
“Just the fact that the way we wrote it was so unabashedly queer was important to me, and I knew it would be important to a lot of people in my audience as well, because so many of them are incredible queer people themselves,” Black says. “It felt like the right reintroduction in a lot of ways. I naturally tend to lean darker in what I write about, but for some reason when I started writing from a queer perspective, I finally felt so much freedom in being able to talk about the joys of life and that was really refreshing for me.”
Though “Girlfriend” leans more toward the cookie-cutter side of pop, the project’s three opening tracks — “Better in My Memory,” “Personal” and “NGL” — are all-out industrial hyperpop. Spurred on by the success of artists like 100 Gecs and Dorian Electra, hyperpop became one of the defining genres of the last year, shaking up the pop scene. Black befriended Electra and even released a collaborative track with them, “Edgelord,” but says her interest in experimental genres far preceded the friendship.
“I think it happened pretty naturally just as I challenged myself and challenged the other people around me to take bigger risks,” Black says. “The ‘Edgelord’ collab with Dorian came right in the middle of writing this project, and songs like ‘Personal’ already existed. I was so excited about ‘Edgelord’ and it made me even more stoked about what was already there and what would come out in the future, because it would feel like such a surprise to so many people, whereas I’ve kind of been heading into this direction in my own way.”
Black says that it took stepping outside of her comfort zone musically to finally write songs that she felt genuinely proud of.
“As a young, female pop artist, I can’t speak for everyone’s experience, but I’ve certainly heard way too many times that you have to have a hit,” Black says. “And I think as I finally broke away from that idea, I started making songs that I felt like I could really stand behind for a long, long time. It’s been so cool to see the reaction to that only emphasize how important it is to me to keep challenging myself and stepping further outside my box.”
Electra and Black collaborated once again on the iconic “Friday” remix, which came out on Feb. 10, the 10-year anniversary of the song’s original release. Produced by Dylan Brady of 100 Gecs and also featuring 3OH!3 and Big Freedia, the remix turned “Friday” on its head with bubbly synths, heavy bass and an extra dose of autotune, cementing its status in pop culture history in the process. The release and its accompanying futuristic, meme-filled music video stunned fans and Black alike, who admits she would have never given a “Friday” remix a second thought just a few years ago.
“As I started to build on my own identity as the artist I wanted to become, I really wanted to do ‘Friday’ kind of in my own words or my own way. It brought such a sense of fun to me that it felt like I was finally taking back for myself after the harder parts of ‘Friday,'” Black says. “That was really cathartic, and I think by the time the video and everything was finished, I just felt so thrilled that it did all I hoped it would for me. And of course I was excited to see what other people would think, but I didn’t even really care what other people’s opinions would be about it. It was just finally something that I felt like was for me.”
Indeed, Black went through the wringer with “Friday”; with over 150 million views on YouTube came relentless online bullying and a meme insisting it was “the worst song ever made.” But now the song has achieved cult status, a phenomenon that Black has been pleasantly surprised to witness.
“It’s still so crazy to hear how people perceive that song now, and especially when people use phrases like ‘it was a cultural moment.’ It’s insane for me to even think about,” Black says. “Obviously it was a big deal in my life at the time and it changed my life in a lot of ways — but I’ve been through so many ups and downs with that song and in my own mental state.”
Now finally launching the career she wants to have with music she is truly proud of, Black admits that “Friday” taught her a few lessons that have been helpful when it comes to advocating for herself.
“I think it really forced me to learn how to fight for myself and to teach myself how to take matters into my own hands for my own life,” Black says. “It’s just taught me a lot about strength, and how important that is in your art. Because as an artist, one of the biggest parts is having your own point of view and knowing why you do it. And [‘Friday’] taught me a lot about my why.”
Black is following up the release of “Rebecca Black Was Here” with her first-ever headline tour, beginning in January in Washington, D.C. Having worked on the project all through quarantine, Black is eager to add the art of live performance to her artist persona — and to prove that she has what it takes to be a pop star.
“I think this year has really been the first time that I’ve felt like not only I can prove to myself, but to other people, that I can and really deserve to be here and compete in the main pop world,” Black says. “That’s what I’m here to do. I love music, I love what I create and I love this world so much. I love to perform so much and that is such a huge, huge part of myself.”
Though Black understands that there may be some people who will only ever associate her with “Friday,” she hopes that fans will get a better sense of who she is as an artist with “Rebecca Black Was Here.”
“I hope that they feel like they can get to know not only myself, but feel heard in some of these songs. It’s a lot of music about queer love and experiences in that world, and I just feel so proud to be able to share that,” Black says. “In regards to other people, I’ve made so much peace with knowing that there is probably forever going to be a group of people that always sees me as the ‘Friday’ girl and nothing else. And that’s OK. I have redefined that for myself.”