‘I Was Ashamed And Afraid’: Nine Years On, Rebecca Black Reflects On Viral Hit Friday

She was one of the first victims of global social-media trolling; now she's making new music.

Rebecca Black

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

It was the tweet that brought hundreds of thousands of people down to earth: Rebecca Black, aged 22, opening up about the grave and long-lasting impact of the reaction to her viral song, Friday. Back in 2011, aged just 13, Black released the song thinking no one would care about it. Little did she know, 166 million views later, it would top the ranks of the most disliked YouTube video and lead to the the teenager experiencing global mocking and abuse.

‘I wish I could go back and talk to my 13-year-old self who was terribly ashamed of herself and afraid of the world,’ Black tweeted last week. ‘To my 15-year-old self who felt like she had nobody to talk to about the depression she faced. To my 17-year old self who would get to school only to get food thrown at her and her friends. To my 19-year old self who had almost every producer or songwriter tell me they’d never work with me. Hell, to myself a few days ago who felt disgusting when she looked in the mirror.’

Her words quickly amassed thousands of responses, with the tweet receiving nearly 500,000 likes. People have been professing their guilt for criticising her online back then, apologising for their words and most importantly, taking stock of how one negative tweet can have grave consequences, especially when it sits among so many others.

‘It made me afraid of what I was going to do,’ Black tells me over the phone from her Los Angeles home. ‘Being only 13, I had the entire rest of my life to live and it felt like my world was collapsing. Before I had even really got started on something, I was deemed never to do it again.’

Listening to Black reflect on that time in her life, she sounds markedly wiser than her years. She talks about it with a lightness that tells you she has dedicated a lot of time and energy to accepting and growing through pain. It’s that sentiment that she touches on in her tweet (‘every day is a new opportunity to shift your reality and lift your spirit’) and it has seemingly ensured she hasn’t given up on music.

Her new single, Sweetheart, is the latest in a string of catchy pop songs that saw her work with the likes of Finneas, the five-time Grammy award winning producer known for his success on sister Billie Eilish’s debut album. ‘He was one of the first people to ever really take a chance on me,’ she says. ‘That’s something I’ll always be appreciative of, he wasn’t afraid [of the potential backlash].’ Their song, Satellite, was released in 2017 but she teased new music with him in November last year.

You can see then, that her rebirth has been in the works for a while. Frankly, I imagine she’s sick of talking about Friday. Especially since, while its release had huge consequences for her career, it was never meant to be her breakout moment as a singer.

‘I wasn't trying to do a music video and get famous, that was truly nowhere near on the cards for me,’ she says. ‘I was just a kid trying to have fun with something new. By the time the song was finished, before it went online, I had kind of forgot about it.’

And yet, upon its upload to YouTube and after comedian Michael J. Nelson referenced it on his blog – which subsequently led to it going viral - Black received comments telling her to kill herself and to ‘get an eating disorder so one day you’ll be pretty’. She was sent phone and email death threats so severe they were investigated by police.

‘To be demonised as a person for something that, really, there is nothing all that wrong with in terms of it being offensive or anything like that, people just took it so far and for no good reason,’ she reflects. ‘Maybe if they saw what was to come with the internet they would have reconsidered. I just don't think people at that point really understood that the things you say online have weight.’

Rebecca Black
©Photographer: Molly Pan, Makeup: Lauren Urasek, Hair: Vanessa Castle

It concerns her now then, that viral videos are a lucrative cultural currency online – that people actually seek the kind of attention she got as a teen.

On the internet now, there's this huge need to grab people's attention

‘With the internet growing in the way that it is, attention is so scarce,’ she says. ‘I think people get way too caught up in like “Oh, I need to have this moment whether it be good or bad, just so that people see it”.'

She’s thankful then, that her experience was essentially a ‘freak accident’ rather than a carefully concocted plan to attract views. Being too wrapped up in that world, she says, whether it be YouTubers building an audience or families ‘seeing an opportunity for their kid’, is ‘where things go wrong for a lot of people’ and is ‘a much harder emotional thing to fix than even my experience’.

It’s concerning that - given how the reaction to Friday impacted Black’s mental and emotional health - it is used almost as a blueprint for success online.

‘You do see [success stories] like the Mason Ramsay's of the world who was the little yodelling kid in Walmart,’ Black points out. ‘It was the tiniest clip of video and then suddenly he’s on the biggest song of the year last year with [Lil Nas X’s] Old Town Road.’

Rebecca Black
©Getty Images

Perhaps that’s what the draw is: you never know whether the video you upload will get a Friday reaction or a Walmart yodelling kid reaction. But that precarious risk to reward ratio isn’t something Black is willing to bet on. Instead, she’ll just continue making music more authentic to her tastes.

All she can do is hope the reaction to her new music is less severe. But more importantly, that the reaction to the next kid like her is less severe. ‘I don't necessarily want people to feel terribly guilty for things that they've done [to me],’ she says. ‘I just think it's worth learning from your actions and then taking different steps forward so that the next kid that this happens to - because it will happen again - gets a little bit less of a rough time.’

Read More:

Why Are People So Mean Online?

The Surprising Amount Of Women Behind Misogynistic Trolling

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