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Rebecca Black leaves the meme in the rear view

Rebecca Black, whose debut album <em>Let Her Burn</em> is out Feb. 9.
Sarah Pardini
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Courtesy of the artist
Rebecca Black, whose debut album Let Her Burn is out Feb. 9.

Tomorrow will mark 12 years since Rebecca Black, back then a California teen with an interest in music, released the video for the song "Friday," a strange pop song that she did not write the lyrics to, nor pen the melody of. Or produce. Or direct the video for. She was, after all, 13 years old. You may remember what happened next — Black became one of the earliest prototypes for teenaged internet celebrity, and commensurate with that job description, a target for bullying.

Now 25, Black has left her meme (far) behind, focusing in the years since on coming to terms with the experience and with herself, while working toward the dream of pop stardom on her own terms. Black's debut album, Let Her Burn, is out today.


This interview has been edited and condensed. To hear the broadcast version of this conversation, use the audio player at the top of this page.

A Martínez, Morning Edition: Alright. So, Rebecca, 12 years since "Friday?" It was Feb. 10th, 2011 when the song hit YouTube.

Rebecca Black: Yeah. That's almost exactly half my life ago, strangely.

Oh, my gosh. So you're 25 and you were, what, 13? So what happened in between?

What happened? I mean... I had to become a fully realized person. I was a teenager when that song came out, and that song was one of those strange, weird experiences that I got to have, that somehow I convinced my parents to do ... then that became this obviously much bigger moment than any of us anticipated. So it felt almost like working backwards to this moment that I'm in right now.

I had to really decide, is this something that I want to do forever? And if so, what do I do with it? And what do I have to say?

A lot of people loved "Friday." A lot of people hated it. So I think for you, it seemed to be the thing that was going to define you for a long time. At some point, did you get to the stage in your head where you're like, "I've got to shed that?" Or did you always think, "Well, it's the thing that put me on the map?"

It's been a layered experience for me. I mean, trying to understand what happened to me when I was a 13-year-old, and then how the relationship I had with that experience changed as I got older, has been the thing that has probably defined me more than the experience itself. Going through that as a teenager – when the internet was in a completely different place – I mean, I was just trying to cope with the experience of having a completely different version of my life, growing up in Orange County, going to middle school, having my friends, loving musical theater. And then this happened.

Millions of people having awareness that you exist as a teenager is really complicated, and something I didn't really understand. And probably still don't understand now. I've struggled a lot, as somebody who's grown into who I am now. Now I'm 25, with this experience of feeling like I had been defined by something that I never really set out to be defined by, especially as a kid.

Were you shielded at all? Or did you hear and feel every bit of the hatred that was coming your way?

I mean, my parents definitely tried to do everything that they could – but not having any experience in the industry, there were so many things that they didn't know. Also, being a 13-year-old in 2011, I had Twitter, I had YouTube, I had Facebook. I had everything.

Did it take a toll? Or were you too young to realize that this was awful?

It took a toll. Yeah. I mean, having so much intake of information when you're a child – and having not even a semblance of self, really, to bounce that off of. Everything passes through it – there is no filter that you have built within yourself to able to say, like, "I don't know if I agree with that." If somebody says "you don't belong here, you're bad at this, you're a disgrace for even trying to do something like this," those words have such a different intensity when you're a child because you just believe them.

What was the best part? Aside from all the horrible things, was there anything that was really great about it? Because when you turned up in the Katy Perry's video for "Last Friday Night," which was just a few months after your song "Friday" came out. I thought, "Okay, she must be riding this incredible wave right now."

Oh, it was such a crazy time of incredible highs and incredible lows. Like, I would spend the morning reading everything that was being said about me on the internet, and then I would get picked up and driven to somewhere in the Valley to shoot the Katy Perry music video. Or win a Teen Choice Award, which as a 13-year-old is, like, the biggest achievement.

You barely qualify! You're barely 13.

And I've already won the award right now!

I think that the actual best thing that came out of it was it put me to the place that I am now. I guess I don't know if I would be the same person – I definitely wouldn't be the same person I am now if that had never happened to me.

I think about today - how many digital child stars are there? They're making content for TikTok, for YouTube, for just about every possible social media site out there. And it seems like you were the first, almost, to put yourself out there like that. I'm wondering if anybody ever looks at your story as some kind of road map: let's try to make sure that this child doesn't have to deal with some of the things that you had to deal with.

Yeah... I mean, I would hope so. And that was something that I remember talking to my mom about quite a lot, a couple of years after the fact. My mom just wished that she had some sort of a handbook to look at to try to steer me through that. Or someone she could talk to. I hope that exists now.

Fast forward to now: the album Let Her Burn. I know you have been releasing singles, in between "Friday" and now. What was going on that you couldn't put out a full album? Was there anything that was not allowing you to? Or were you just trying to just work on yourself as an artist?

For sure. I mean, 12 years from a debut to a debut album is a long time. There were a number of reasons.

I know looking back that, as an 18-year-old, as a 16-year-old, as a 23-year-old, I was desperate to put out a full-length album. Especially as somebody who enjoys music and is so interested in music culture as I am, I have always died to express myself in that way ... but as an independent artist for a long time, it was hard to convince anybody that it was even worth it for me to do that. Of course, I guess I could have just put out something on SoundCloud and called it a day. But I knew that I wanted to do something that was bigger than that.

So as much as I would have loved to say I was ready to do this, the last few years have been the most important creative years of my life. Because I finally believed that I could do it, and knew what I had to say.

So I put out singles: In 2021, I put out an EP called Rebecca Black Was Here, and that was where I finally felt like I had something ... I finally felt like I'd found the voice, [and] I'd found an audience that I connected with and [who] connected with me and would hear what I had to create. Not only take the time to listen to it, but would really take in what I had to say as a pop artist, as my own unique story.

One of the songs on Let Her Burn is "Destroy Me," and one of the lines is: "Watch me while I crash and burn again and again / Go ahead, destroy me." I mean, it sounds like it's about being judged by other people's standards.

Totally, totally. The song has a lot to do with my own relationship with myself and the ways in which I speak to myself, and those relationships I've had — oh, it's so exciting to get to talk about this!

When I wrote that song, I was really struggling with how I viewed myself. That song is really about the insecurity that you have with yourself, about giving permission for other people to come in and destroy you or kind of shake up your own view of yourself.

You mentioned a girlfriend – what does she think of who you were, and who you are now?

Well, we've been dating for about a year, and she's a producer. We didn't work together on this.

Music producer?

Yeah.

Oh! So she can judge your work!

If there was one person I was afraid to share the album with, it was her! But she had really – luckily – positive things to say about it.

She's a couple of years older than me, and she was living abroad when the song came out. So she is like, "Yeah, I definitely kinda knew the name..."

So someone that didn't know who you were?!

Yeah. I've also dated people who were, like, very aware of it.

Did you feel like you had to explain that to her?

There was a day where I was like, "You've never seen the video? For some reason, I feel like you have to watch it." I kind of made her do it.

And what did she think?

She was like, "That's cute. You were a kid. Adorable."

The reason why your story interests me so much is because there are a lot of times, in this day and age, where you get defined by something – whether it's good or bad – and that turns out to be the only prism that people have of you. And it takes some luck and hard work to get over that, or at least to get people to see someone different. I think this seems to be your moment, so that the word Friday isn't the first thing that people think about when they think of you, right?

Yeah. I mean, that's definitely a piece of it. That's also part of the reason why maybe this moment took so long to get to. I wanted to show people that I deserve to not just be some sort of a redemption, or a comeback story.

This album is just as good as everything else that's out there right now. This album can compete. And I as a performer can compete with all the other pop stars that are in this realm. That was really important for me. I feel that way about myself and where I'm at now. And whether or not other people agree or disagree will be up to them.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Ziad Buchh