Before the Damn Daniels, Alex From Targets, and Danielle Bregolis (the face of the “Cash Me Ousside” meme) of the internet existed, there was Rebecca Black.
When Black’s mother first bought the pop song “Friday” — which has now racked up over 107 million views — from Ark Music Factory as part of a $2,000 package for her 13-year-old daughter, the accompanying music video was supposed to be a fun project, meant to be shared between family and friends. Instead, the AutoTune-heavy video — featuring awkward dance moves and cheesy lyrics lip-synched by Black and her friends while cruising around town in a convertible — was picked up by Comedy Central’s Daniel Tosh. “Friday” instantly went viral and the Orange County, California, teen was catapulted into social media stardom, making her a special target for ridicule and death threats. The teasing became so bad that Black eventually withdrew from school and was homeschooled by her mother.
That was six years ago. Today, the 19-year-old is living in Los Angeles, where she’s grown her YouTube channel to over 1 million subscribers with the help of song covers (her rendition of Katy Perry’s “Chained to the Rhythm” has nearly 2 million views), makeup tutorials, and Q&A-style videos. L.A. is also the place where she’s pursuing a singing career (her song “The Great Divide” broke into Billboard’s top Dance Club songs) and just released a new single, titled “Foolish,” last Friday.
Coming down from last weekend’s Coachella high, MTV News chatted with Black on the phone about her “sexy” new single, dating in L.A., the advice that Katy Perry gave her, and why, despite the haters, she still “fucking love[s]” that song “Friday.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
MTV News: First things first, how was Coachella? Who did you go with and which were your favorite performances?
Rebecca Black: Coachella was so much fun. This is my fourth year going and at this point, I will cancel every other vacation just so I can make it to Coachella. I have the excuse: This is my weekend.
I went with a bunch of friends I’ve gone with before. I don’t know if you know Lauren Elizabeth — she’s also a YouTuber and we’ve gone like three years in a row now and we have new friends [that we’ve gone with as well]. Lorde was incredible. Phantogram was really good. There were so many. I could go on forever.
Your new single, “Foolish,” comes out this Friday. What’s the inspiration behind the song?
Black: So “Foolish” definitely is something different. I’ve never released anything like it before. That’s because it talks about love and — you know, it’s kind of a sexy song. It’s a really sexy song, honestly. I’ve yet to put out anything like that before or really talk about it at all — things like boys. I was sort of a late bloomer in that world. [Growing up], I was always focused on YouTube or school. I never gave myself the opportunity until this last year to get out there [and start] dating. I was always very scared of dating, because while it’s obviously so much fun and it’s awesome, at the same time, you have to get really vulnerable and let your emotions out. That was something I was always very scared of.
“Foolish” was written by myself and Shari Short, Greg Ogan, and Spence Neezy when I was entering my first real, serious relationship. We were just talking about it in the studio and Shari helped me start to write from that place. This song was the first of its kind. Now, a year later, I’m so much more comfortable and I’ve started to get myself out there and dating. I’m only 19 and I’m living in L.A. — and you’ll soon find out that dating in L.A. is really weird.
It’s so weird. People always ask me if dating in L.A. is different than dating in New York, and it’s ... the same? It’s the same terrible people. There’s just more people who are in the “industry.”
Black: Exactly [ laughs]. Trying to get out there and do my thing and date — it’s been a great thing, but it’s also been weird and scary. That’s what "Foolish" is about. It’s about being anywhere. Whether you’re in a big city or a super small town, dating is never easy.
What kind of music are you listening to these days? Who are your musical influences at the moment?
I listen to so much stuff. I like things that are a little quirky. I like when someone does something new and fresh that no one’s done before. I really love Glass Animals right now. Also, this girl — we have some mutual friends — her name is Njomza. She just dropped her debut EP and it’s phenomenal. It’s much more on the electronic, hip side of things. I love my bands and I love my electronic stuff. Those types of influences helped with the music I’m making now.
A lot has happened between now and your viral moment six years ago. In what ways have you changed as a person, and in what ways have you stayed the same?
Black: That’s a really good question. As far as change, anyone from the age of 13 to 19, you become a whole new person because you grow up. There was so much that I didn’t know or that I thought I knew because obviously I was a 13-year-old at the time who thought I knew everything. But I realized very quickly that, no, there’s so much about everything — about myself, about the people around me, about the world — that I don’t. So what I’ve at least tried to do is accept that I don’t know everything. Life is so much more fun that way. And it’s easier. But a lot of teenagers go through that whole “Well, I can conquer the world” — and I still have that feeling. But it comes from a different place and I’ve just been trying to learn, [rather] than to pretend that I’m perfect.
As far as how I’ve stayed the same ... I don’t know if I’ve ever been asked that before. If anything, my core morals and values and really what I love has stayed the same. My passion for music, art, visuals, and sound — that is all the same, if not even bigger and more powerful than when I was 13.
You were cyberbullied and received a lot of hate for “Friday.” As one of the first teens to go viral, how did you handle the backlash and what kind of impact did it have on you?
Black: I don’t think any 13-year-old — or anyone, no matter how old you are — knows how to deal with something like that. All you can do is try your hardest. Something that I did to cope during that time was just to pretend that it didn’t bother me and that I was fine. In one ear and out the other. Every now and then I come across an old interview and I can’t even watch them because I was lying to myself.
So many people out there — whether they’re in public and dealing with a viral video or even if you’re just in school dealing with a bully — you feel like you have to pretend, “Oh, it doesn’t bother me. I’m fine, I’m fine.” But the reality is, it bothers everybody, and someday, you’re gonna have to deal with it. And it’ll wait for you. It’ll wait until the day you die.
[The backlash] did stay with me. Honestly, songwriting helped me with this because you have no choice but to be honest and real and open or else you’re not gonna write great songs or you’re gonna write songs that don’t feel real. So it was in that that I finally just gave myself the opportunity to cry for myself, and then I could start really healing. Now, I can look back and say, “I fucking love that song.” I love that song. It’s a part of my life, but it’s not all of me. I’ll never let that song define the rest of my life.
Do you sometimes feel like you’ve been placed into this box as “Rebecca Black: The girl from ‘Friday’”? If so, do you feel like you’ve had to prove yourself more because of that?
Black: I definitely have had a lot of that pressure. That pressure is what hindered me from being who I really wanted to be. When I was younger, and before “Friday” was even in existence, I was the kid who did whatever it took to make my dreams comes true. That’s what “Friday” was. It was “I’m gonna do a little extra project over the summer and then I can put it on my résumé and then it’ll look really good when I go to college.” But after that, I got so scared. I had no idea how much it ended up blocking off my creativity because everyone in this industry has an opinion about what you should and shouldn’t be. When you’re just a kid — especially when your family is a family of veterinarians with nothing to do with the entertainment industry — there’s no lesson you can take to teach you how to deal with it.
Anyone in the public eye deals with some kind of pressure to either act like you’re OK or act like you know what you’re doing, when in reality, I’ve realized that no one has their shit together. Nobody. We’re all just figuring it out. I just try to keep that in mind as much as I can. It’s the truth, and if we could all realize that about each other, the world would be much more forgiving.
Since “Friday,” you’re not the only teenager who has experienced a massive viral moment. What advice do you have to other teens who have put something on the internet and watched it spiral out of control?
Black: Going off of what I said [earlier], you don’t have to be strong. The best thing you can do is be nice to yourself. Especially when you get on the internet, you have opened yourself up to everybody’s opinion, and not everybody’s going to be nice. And if you can at least be nice to yourself, that’ll help you so much — though it’s easier said than done.
I actually just posted something about this last night. The second you start caring about somebody else’s opinions of yourself, you have totally sacrificed your own self-credibility. So as much as you should be able to take constructive criticism and things like that, your opinion and your belief in yourself is what’s gonna take you far or take you to where you want to be to make you happy. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.
During “Friday,” were you able to talk to anybody who maybe had experienced viral fame about what was going on in your life? Did anyone give you any good advice on how to handle things?
Black: There weren’t many viral things at the time. I am very, very, very lucky and I will always be so grateful for Katy Perry. [She had me in her] “Last Friday Night” music video, and then a few months later, she invited me onstage during one of her shows in L.A. I will never forget — I believe it was before the concert — she pulled me aside and just said, “Hey. Stay grounded. Remember where you came from, because everyone out there is going to try and rip you apart. But if you can just stick to yourself and your roots, you’ll be OK.” She was so kind and so generous to me.
Is Katy’s career one that you’d like to emulate for yourself? What kind of career do you see yourself having?
Black: I think about it a lot. What I do love about Katy is that she’s doing this “purposeful” kind of pop music. I love music with a message.
I don’t know if there’s any one career that I could pick to emulate because then it wouldn’t feel like my career. It would feel like someone else’s. Obviously, I love to make music, and if I could do this [forever] I’d be happy for the rest of my life. But to take it even further than that, if I can help any other kid out there — whether it’s a kid, a teenager, an adult, anyone — and show them that “hey, life throws weird stuff at you all the time. It’s OK to get down, but it’s bringing yourself back from that that’s really going to make you who you are,” if I can help anyone out there feel a little bit less alone or make them feel like their voice is being heard through me or my music, that is the goal. I know how hard it is to feel understood.
After “Friday,” you got your high school diploma, moved to L.A., and started working on songwriting. How do you like living in L.A. and what does your day-to-day look like?
Black: Living in L.A. is one of those cities where it’s what you make of it. I’ve begun to find my spot as far as finding a neighborhood that I love, that’s nice, and that I feel comfortable in. I have a group of friends that I feel like I can just be myself around. That’s so hard anywhere, especially in a city, to be able to find a group of people where you don’t feel like you have to put on a front.
It was definitely a risk moving out so young, but I learned so much about music, business, about myself, about how life works, about production. I think everything happens for a reason, and it’s working out well. Every day, I’m just trying to figure it out as much as any other person is. Some days are really awesome and great and I feel amazing, and other days really suck. But that’s just life.
If you could go back in time and give your 13-year-old self one piece of advice, what would you tell her?
Black: I would tell her that it’s all gonna be OK, but it’s not going to be easy. And to not be scared by that, but that in the end, everything’s gonna be OK.
Last question: Will you be heading back to Coachella this weekend?
[ Laughs] Oh my … I did that last year and was dead for two months. No way.
Listen to ‘Foolish’ on Spotify: