Some called it a sign of the end of the world.
Some called it the problem with America.
Some just called it “the worst song ever.”
One thing was for sure though, everyone had an opinion on 14-year-old Rebecca Black’s first step into the world of music and viral videos earlier this year. At first, “Friday” seemed to be just another internet video sensation that would be here one day and (hopefully) gone the next. However, “Friday” became an easy target for mockery, raking in millions of views and inspiring countless parodies. By the time the video went viral in March, Black had already received hosts of negative feedback even to the extent of death threats. It seemed that American culture, which has become polarized on so many issues, had finally found something to agree on.
A lot has been said about Rebecca Black’s “Friday” sensation; people have commented on everything from the ethical issues of Ark Music Factory (Black’s production studio) to the tragic cultural issues behind Black and her parents desire for fame. In fact, Christ and Pop Culture’s very own Kirk Bozeman recently mentioned the song and “jerk culture” surrounding it. But where do we as Christians fit into this picture? Some have stood up for Rebecca Black herself because after all, she is a person too, while others have joined the hate parade, claiming that bad art is as non-Christian as immoral art (this was definitely my original response).
However, since then, there’s been a substantial change in the way we’ve handled this ambitious pre-teen. On her path to legitimacy, Black has been featured on everything from Jay Leno’s Tonight Show to Katy Perry’s music video for her single “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.).” Pop stars and celebrities have come out and showed their support. Chris Brown said, “it was great” and Miley Cyrus called herself “a fan.” Even Simon Cowell, the infamous American Idol critic, praised the Black: “I love [her] and the fact that she’s gotten so much publicity. People are so upset about the song, but I think it’s hysterical. [...] the fact that it’s making people so angry is brilliant.”
Perhaps the single most legitimizing moment for Black, though, came when her song, “Friday”, was covered by the cast of Glee and included in an episode from Season 2 last Spring. Ramped up with male singers and slick production, Glee’s version of “Friday” became something of a cultural phenomenon as many people found the song to possess the celebratory silliness and production slickness that Black’s version lacked. In fact, the Glee Version of “Friday” even peaked at 34 on the US “Hot 100″ Billboard, thus confirming Rebecca Black as a legitimate piece of our popular culture. And remember: this was a cover, and not a parody.
And now, Black has finally released her anticipated followup single: “My Moment.” The song features a Rebecca Black now removed from the Ark Music Factory and trying on a new set of songwriters and producers. And while the song features many of the same laughable moments of unintended musical silliness, the song also seems to have avoided some of the face-palm worthy lyrics of “Friday” that people loved to hate. What the song features, however, is a stronger, self-empowered Rebecca Black that calls out haters and basks in the limelight. If “My Moment” is any indication, Rebecca Black is taking herself more seriously than ever before and perhaps its time we did the same. But what is the correct response?
Spoken like a piece of prophetic cultural commentary, Ryan Murphy (co-creator of Glee) explained in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that the inclusion of such a cover was as a tribute to pop culture and “love it or hate it, that song is pop culture.” There is something incredibly profound about this statement to me. There’s a certain amount of inherited responsibility behind what Murphy is saying here, as if the best thing to do from here is to just embrace the fact that “Friday” is the culture we live in. I think that there may be something behind this attitude that can clue us in to how we should respond as Christians.
First, we must understand that Rebecca Black, like all people in society, is a product of our culture. We are the products of our parents and our parents’ culture and their same desires, fears, and insecurities are often passed on to us. Should we really be that surprised that a song like “Friday” and a business like Ark Music Factory exist? Should we be surprised that we live in a culture where rich parents can pay a couple guys to write and produce a terrible pop song in hopes of seeing their child reach celebrity status someday? The direction of pop music and social media have practically paved the way for the creation of “Friday.” After all, is there that much of a difference between Rebecca Black and someone like Britney Spears musically?
Secondly, whether we are aware of it or not, we have to understand that as participants in our culture we can and do influence what kind of a culture we live in. It is time that we, as Christians, take responsibility for the culture we live in. For too long we have hid in our Christian subculture and hoped that those on the outside would become more Christ-like is. This is simply not a good way of changing our culture for the benefit of the Kingdom. Whether we like it or not, God has put us in this culture, with these pieces of music, and these ways of thinking and living. Rebecca Black and “Friday”, in fact, are very representative of the culture in which we live and the way we react is similarly telling. Like Ryan Murphy, we need to be aware of the ways in which we have participated in our culture and the mindsets, actions, and art that have encouraged these kinds of products of popular culture.
If we are tired of seeing the beauty of our art, the innocence of our children, and the honesty of our business lost into the depths of pop culture, we shouldn’t turn to shouting angrily or secluding ourselves into our Christian bubbles. After all, it’s not about our Christian culture against their non-Christian culture, it’s about identifying the inherently God-breathed characteristics of beauty, justice, and truth within our culture and fighting to keep those things alive. If my predictions are true, Rebecca Black is not going to be leaving the music scene or the public eye anytime soon (her 5-song EP comes out later this month). Therefore, although there may be disagreements over the correct Jesus-inspired way to respond, we must all agree that it must be one that is both intentional and full of grace.
Illustration courtesy of Seth T. Hahne.