I was actually a little proud at how long I went before I broke down and watched the video. For weeks all I heard were horrible, derogatory things about it. Just a few bars of the chorus sung by one of my youth seemed to drive the others into fits of anger and frustration. Frankly, I was a little appalled at how so many people could be so harsh on what, based on the few bars my youth kept singing to each other, sounded like a catchy little song. I mean, how bad could Rebecca Black’s song “Friday” and its music video actually be?
If you aren’t familiar, Rebecca Black is a fourteen year old aspiring singer who recorded a single entitled “Friday”. The video was uploaded to YouTube and has since had over 130 million hits. Unfortunately, the general response has been far from positive. I’ll be honest. Watching the music video made it clear why some were calling it the worst song ever. This catchy tune’s lyrics are repetitive, overly simplistic, and at times confusing. Her voice is autotuned to near distortion. Yet, even with all of this, the song managed to climb to 58 on the Billboard Top 100 songs.
After the video went viral, Black rose to internet stardom, and slowly, important layers to the story behind “Friday” came out. Her parents had paid $4000 for a company called Ark Music Factory to write and produce the song and its video. Black would own the rights to the song and would be able to choose if she wanted Ark or another record label to sign her as an artist. Black was given the choice between two songs, a serious love song or “Friday”. She decided on “Friday” simply because she though the love song was too mature for her, and proceeded to do exactly what the people at Ark Music Factory told her to do. Little did she know the kind of response it would get.
If Rebecca Black were looking for fame, she’s got it. But at what cost? The comments, notes, and letters Black has received have been beyond harsh. Many sent her hurtful comments, some included encouragement for her to have an eating disorder, injure, or even kill herself. People suggested her song be used for torture. Recently the backlash against Black went so far that threats were made against her life. The threats were so serious that the police were called in to investigate. Luckily, she says her family has been supportive in helping her take such horrible comments in stride.
Rebecca Black’s “Friday” reminds us that the internet is an unforgiving place, where mistakes endure and criticism feels no remorse. Our youth are living and will continue to live their lives connected to the internet, and they must learn skills to navigate that connection. If left unguided, teens are apt to become the receiver or the giver of undeserved, unrelenting abuse.
We can all agree teens are prone to mistakes, and it is a safe bet that some of those misjudgments are eventually going to end up on the internet. They are going to embarrass themselves, and a friend will post the pictures. They will post a Facebook status that hurts someone else’s feelings or maybe just makes them look uneducated. They will post to YouTube the video of themselves and their best friends throwing a dance party that looked awesome at two in the morning but that looks ridiculous in the light of day. Just like in the rest of life, teens don’t always make the best decisions.
For some of the more serious missteps, perhaps there needs to be confession and forgiveness. For some of the sillier ones, there may need to be correction and guidance. In all those cases, teens have to remember that what they put onto the internet is put there in permanent ink so nothing should be posted lightly. We must learn to provide grace for teens when they do make their mistakes, reminding them that even if the internet is unforgiving, God is not.
While the death threats against Rebecca Black were not common, the ridicule she received in many ways is not uncommon for teens on the internet. It is easy to say incredibly hurtful things to someone you can’t see. For me it is easy to tire of reminding them, but as they grow, we must continually encourage them that if what they are typing isn’t God-pleasing or something they would say out loud to someone’s face then it isn’t something they should be posting. They have to remember there is a person at the other end of that profile picture, someone who has feelings just like them.
Everytime my teens playfully mock this song, I ask them to stop and consider how they would feel if they were in Rebecca Black’s shoes. Rebecca Black’s name is now forever associated with this one song, this one decision to try and make it as a singer. I certainly wouldn’t want my performance in the Jr. High play posted on the internet today. We all make decisions as teenagers, and even adults, that we wish we could take back or change. One of the consequences of living lives so steeped in the internet is that our mistakes, well-intentioned or not, are permanently out there for the whole world to see. We could all use a little more grace for ourselves and the people connected to us through the World Wide Web.