On Thursay February 10, 2011, some unknown worker bee at Ark Music Factory first uploaded the video for "Friday," a for-pay song written and produced by Ark Music factory for a Californian teenager named Rebecca Black. It got about a dozen views that first day.
A few months before, Black's mom had signed a contract with Ark, buying one song and one music video for her daughter for $4,000. The song was finished in late December; in January, Ark shot the exteriors for the video at her dad's house, with her actual friends kickin' in the front seat, sittin' in the back seat. As she told the O.C. Register, she had to shoot the "7 a.m., waking up in the morning" line probably "30 times."
The video skulked around YouTube quietly, finishing out February with just over 1,000 views.
And there it maybe would have stayed, if it weren't for Shawn.
Shawn submitted the video to The Daily What on March 11th, with a comment to the effect of "makes Justin Bieber sound like Shakespeare." No one knows who Shawn is. Neetzan Zimmerman, editor of The Daily What and a guy who reads most of the internet each day, realized he'd struck internet gold:
I listened to it and immediately realized this was no ordinary horrible song. This was the MOST horrible song. I didn't think it needed much of a caption, so I went with something straightforward. I figured the horribleness would sing for itself. When something is this horrible, people take notice.
His post was quickly picked up by the Tosh.0 blog, BuzzFeed and every internet filter and aggregation site, major or minor. Before Zimmerman posted it, the video had something south of 10,000 views. A few days later, it had over 2 million.
According to YouTube Trends manager Kevin Allocca, "The total view count for Friday (across the original and the new one) is 190 million views." This would put it at number 27 on YouTube's All-Time Most Viewed list, between Pitbull's "I Know You Want Me" [Ed. note: Who knew people liked Pitbull that much?] and "Evolution of Dance."
And, says Allocca, "Rebecca Black" searches still spike every Friday.
What was your reaction to first time you saw "Friday"? I don't know you that well, but I'm willing to guess it was something like confusion followed by the shocking realization you'd never heard something quite so awful followed by a thin layer of actual, you know, enjoyment, followed almost immediately with the strong need to tell other people about what you were seeing, an urge to witness, yell, tweet, email, add to Facebook, IM or publish a link on your website, however it is you express your feelings.
The specialness of "Friday" is hard to pin down. Matthew Perpetua, writing for Rolling Stone, said:
But there's something else going on here, something that makes "Friday" uniquely compelling. After all, there's no shortage of insipid failed pop music out there, and Ark Music Factory is responsible for many other music videos by young unknowns that are just as cringe-inducing, if not much worse. When you see this video, you immediately notice everything that it does "wrong," but it actually gets a lot of things about pop music right, if just by accident.
That it was an accident seems obvious -- it's not like Ark has been able to repeat the success of "Friday," though it has put out quite a collection of tries. For the most part, they're like Lexi St. George's "Dancing To The Rhythm" -- which is just sort of fine. She's a little too talented, too polished, to be special, and the song's too generic to be memorable. (St. George is actually the next closest thing to Black Ark has ever launched: She participated in some "making of the next viral star" thing on Good Morning America, and her song was used in an ad for headphones.) But "Dancing To The Rhythm," and Ark's other attempts, are all, weirdly, too good. The production's a tad too seamless, and there's no magical lyrical stupidity that quite touches the finer moments of "Friday":
Fun, fun, think about fun
You know what it is
But then "Friday" isn't just straight up awful. YouTube's channels are full of really, truly supbar music videos that fail to get much love.
To be truly bad, it must almost, kinda, nearly be good. But also awful. Behold, the Uncanny Valley of Songs...
Similar to the sharp drop of The Uncanny Valley, songs which are the worst are the ones which in some way mirror things that are actually good in music.
"Friday" started going viral on a Thursday. The next day, the Tōhoku Earthquake struck Japan. "Friday" got 1.3 million views that day. There's probably no relationship between the two, but if there were, maybe it'd be something along the lines of the fact that the news of the quake squeezed everything else out of the news cycle, and we all needed something to distract us, and something specific to be angry at. For all of the pondering over lyrics and production values, about high culture mixing with low, I think the thing that made "Friday" popular was kind of dark and sad: We wanted see someone seemingly that vapid and that un-self aware, and we wanted to hate them for just a little bit.
It’s Friday, Friday
Gotta get down on Friday
Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend, weekend
Gettin’ down on Friday
Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend
Partyin’, partyin’ (Yeah)
Partyin’, partyin’ (Yeah)
Fun, fun, fun, fun
Lookin’ forward to the weekend