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Sophomoric Superimposition of Meaning on Rebecca Black’s “Friday”

Derided as the ultimate example of artificial, substance-less music in the modern era, Rebecca Black’s “Friday” has received extravagant backlash for what, in reality, is the shrouded outcry of a young, vulnerable girl living under the shackles of a coerced identity. From her treatise on the regimented, inescapable onslaught of days to the forced pitches of the song’s Auto-Tuning, Black’s Rousseauean social angst permeates every facet of her musical debut. Tragically, the exuberance she must assume to fulfill cultural expectations likely masks her endeavor to be heard. In this analysis, “Friday”‘s true artistic intentions shall be revealed through an examination of the fatalistic themes suggested by the song’s title, its lyrics, the music video’s blatantly artificial construction, and the automated behavior of the actors in the video.

Some background will help to illuminate the puppeteering behind the creation of “Friday”. Rebecca Black’s mother paid a a hefty $4,000 to ARK Music Factory for a song and video, effectively strongarming 13 year-old Black into a position of celebrity. She was offered several pre-written songs to choose from, only one of which– “Friday”– did not pertain to romantic love, a sensation Black had yet to experience. As such, given her innocence, “Friday” was Black’s only choice.

Focus on Friday alludes to the cultural significance of the day itself. In traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic theology, Friday is the sixth day of the week upon which Elohim/God/Allah created human beings and commanded them to “be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it”. Wielding a directive as his first interaction with human beings, Elohim/God/Allah sets a precedent for behavioral submission to certain expectations. Human beings are effectively prohibited from making choices, a transgression which is punished with exile from the Garden of Eden. This social despotism carries over to human beings themselves, who create their own social institutions for control of one another. Within this model, Friday represents the day upon which social coercion was invented and human choice, criminalized. Similar to Rebecca Black having only the illusion of choice for which song to perform, human beings have only the illusion of choice in life. They must abide the constraints of innocence or suffer the ignominy of a self-driven, choice-based life.

The repetition used throughout “Friday” suggests the toll of regimented obligations, as seen in the passage, “Gotta be fresh, gotta go downstairs / Gotta have my bowl, gotta have cereal”. These anaphoric segments reiterate forced duties through usage of a conventional dialect contraction of “Got to”, a phrase which implies necessity. It is, by extension, necessary that one “be fresh… have [one’s] bowl, etc.”. From a purely survivalistic perspective, having one’s bowl seems trite. Portrayal of such trivial elements of life as mandatory highlights the influence of a binding convention of behavior, requiring that people, or at least teenage girls named Rebecca Black, be fresh and have their bowls.

What, then, is the punishment for defying these mandates? Specifically, what would happen if Rebecca Black were not to have her bowl after becoming fresh and going downstairs? Presumably, the pillars upon which her strict schedule (as indicated by flashes of her weekday obligations at the beginning of the music video) would crumble. Every part of her existence, even minute elements like having her bowl, is necessary to support the delicate construct of her lifestyle. Her lifestyle, in turn must be equally mandated; pursuing another route would result in undesirable social consequences steep enough to preclude any such miss-stepping, a contemporary equivalent to expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

In many ways, this modern Garden of Eden represents, for Black, the social expectations imposed upon adolescents. They are expected to have hormones which encourage sexual pursuits. They are expected to maintain appearances that enable these pursuits. Such expectations necessitate abiding social conventions that define these appearances: namely, physical fitness and attractive countenance. In this case, the maintenance of one’s countenance is implied in when the lyric “Gotta be fresh” is coupled in the music video with a transformation of Black’s bed hair into sleek, straightened hair. This cosmetic routine along with having breakfast cereal (likely part of a personal regimen devoted to a fitness-promoting diet) are likely measures taken to assure sexual success and social acceptance.

The binding nature of the phrase “Gotta [socially mandated action]” appears once again in the refrain, as seen in the lyric, “Gotta get down on Friday”. By implying obligation in reference to fun experiences (“getting down”),  the same social necessity attributed to having one’s bowl is so attributed to having fun. As such, even hedonistic pursuits are framed as forceful impositions of the ruling social convention. This notion is reinforced when one examines the mechanical behavior of those partaking in the so-called “fun”; both in scenes where Black is presented in the car with her friends as well as in the subsequent party, all the kids present behave mechanically–as though they are merely going through the motions. This surreal, mechanical behavior could be due to the low-budget nature of the acting in the music video’s production, but in deference to authorial intent, the automated nature of the kids’ motions coupled with monotonous repetitions of “Fun, fun, fun” as well as “Partyin’, partyin'” suggests routine, not enjoyment. In the same way that the oppressive school-related weekdays shown in the beginning of the music video imply regimented obligations like homework and exams, the weekend, similarly sequenced in “Tomorrow is Saturday / And Sunday comes after … wards”, implies that mandated fun is equally oppressive.

Subtle confessionals of the weekend’s dark associations can be gleaned from lines like “Gotta get down on Friday”. “Getting down” ambiguously suggests either engaging in pleasurable acts, particularly dancing, or becoming depressed. In the context of the model presented here, engaging in pleasurable acts like dancing fulfills social expectations without regard for individual interests. The mandated nature of these expectations may, in fact, render such acts intrinsically unpleasant, or a source of depression. This negative attitude towards weekend fun represents an inversion of traditional TGIF tropes, replacing such positive outlooks with “Oh no, it’s Friday” (ONIF). Equally oppressive is the repeated time motif seen in lines like “The time is goin’ / Tickin’ on and on, everybody’s rushin'”, “Makes tick tock, tick tock, wanna scream”, and “I want time to fly”. Of all physical laws, time is the most exigent: slowing when one wants it to speed up, fast when one needs more of it. To boot, time is harshly unidirectional and consistent, with the conventions that define it (like days of the week) creating inescapable cycles of repetition.

The obsolescence of choice recurs in the lyrics “Kickin’ in the front seat / Sittin’ in the back seat / Gotta make my mind up / Which seat can I take?”. Already, socializing with friends who ride in a convertible–very conventionally “cool”–takes priority over riding the bus to school. When a social outlet presents itself, other options cease to be relevant. When Black contrivedly ponders what seat to sit in, it becomes obvious that this choice, too, is nonexistent. The express phrasing of her pondering “Which seat can I take?” does not suggest desirable options so much as feasible ones. Notice that she does not say, “Which seat do I want to take?”, a query would would indicate that the speaker’s actions are guided by her desires, not some binding construct. In explicitly questioning which seat she “can” take, Black accents the futility of world she lives in, but also questions the institution that imposed the futility of choice.

There can be no coincidence that Rebecca Black’s last name hearkens to establishment of Black Fridays, days upon which catastrophic events happened. The song’s superficially exultant view of Friday clashes with this institution of Friday horrors, suggesting an undercurrent of fear towards weekly times dedicated to fun. Presented above was the notion that fun, when obligatory, could turn unpleasant and ironically unfun. The prospect of engaging in such pretense could be fear-inspiring, certainly, but how might it be catastrophic, like a Black Friday? Recall that social protocols require that young teenage girls adhere to standards of physical attractiveness that, presumably, assure their sexual success as they enter adolescence. As far as “catastrophic” events go, the loss of virginity is an easy candidate, especially for young females. Various perspectives compete for dominance in the sphere of female virginity, for example: chaste puritanism, 60’s and 70’s-inspired sexual revolution, and the social climate created by peers responding to these and other perspectives–not to mention a given teenage girl’s personal sexual propensities. Internal conflicts regarding sexual rite of passage have the potential to become some of the most emotionally tumultuous experiences– in the case of “Friday”, the weekend party associations with pressured sexuality underscore a profound fear, creating a sense of social rape.

Weaving together the ideas presented above, a mosaic of helplessness in the face of social laws emerges. Imposed control, lack of choice, hijacked identity / innocence, the inevitability of what time brings, and fear of the inevitable all follow naturally. In the same way that Rebecca Black was made a slave to a song and music video she did not envision but merely identified with over unfamiliar romanti-sexual material, “Friday” represents the enslavement of the human race to their own social contracts. This system wherein social deviance is punished and obedience rewarded is reflected in the plainly artificial nature of “Friday”‘s musical form: Auto-Tune enables a song master to remove any natural deviations or “errors” from a recording, forcing conformation to an melody through technological means. The great irony is that what was once considered deviant, despite being “natural” (having a libido, for instance, is quite natural) can be mandated, thus framing prudes, straight-edgers, innocent adolescents, and other “squares” as social invalids.

If credit is due to a particular individual for conceiving “Friday”, Patrice Wilson, co-founder of ARK Music Factory and writer of “Friday”, should be the prime candidate. His system of control mirrors the themes of “Friday”, which comment on social control, something which he partakes in by co-founding a label responsible for controlling aspiring musical acts. The notion of enabling musicians by providing them with pre-written songs where they will act according to a script in a music video is the perfect meta to the theme of “Friday”, an eloquent cherry on top of a social rape cake. Of course, this cake presents itself as an exuberant, Friday-loving cake because it, too, must abide social conventions. To tell the truth about internal conflicts would defy social constructs. Therefore, the cake is a lie.

See, “Friday” is a pretty deep song, mmkay?

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