Rebecca Black is not just a musical sensation, she’s an internet legend. Dropping a debut studio album, Let Her Burn, on Feb. 9, Black told Passionfruit in an interview that multiple songs on the album were inspired by lessons learned as a creator throughout her many eras online.
Beyond her “Friday” backstory, Black is truly a conqueror of internet culture. Aside from her original music, she became a successful YouTuber with over a million followers—posting vlogs, Q&As, and stripped-back song covers in her early days. She then quickly climbed the ladders of TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram, amassing millions of followers who tune in for her latest takes on trends.
“I’ve definitely had many different worlds and lives and eras when it comes to my relationship with being online,” Black said. “Social media and the internet have always been a way that I’ve expressed myself, even before ‘Friday’ existed.”
When Black was 13, she became meme-ified for her ghost-written 2011 song “Friday.” The song blew up and received millions of views within days of its release, being mocked in the news and on social media. As a result, Black suffered from harassment and death threats online.
“The biggest challenge for me has, at times, been burnout,” Black said. “As a kid and as a teenager, that’s a time where you’re really trying to figure yourself out. … I was really just trying to get to the bottom of who I was. And I think that’s one thing that as a creator—or, at least, as a musician—if you lack that, you lack everything.”
Black told Passionfruit the finale song of her new album, Performer, touches on her personal, emotional, and relational struggles stemming from performing her identity online throughout the years.
The song’s lyrics read: “No one really knows me. Is my independence coming back to bite me? Do you really like me, or are we pretending? I’m a performer. That’s what I know how to do, but is it stopping me getting close to you? … Multiple versions of the same person, all of them hurting, don’t think the performance is working.”
Black said another song, Destroy Me, stems from a mix of “hopelessness” and “insecurities” that partially originated from being online.
“We are all—no matter how many, or how little followers we have—in this strange performance,” Black said. “This relationship I have to the person that I feel like I become for protection over myself, even though in reality it has nothing to do with who I am.”
Virality and meme-ification can be difficult to escape when building a public-facing identity online. Still, many creators dream for a moment to propel themselves into the spotlight, and when they get it, they wonder how to turn it into a sustainable, desirable career.
“The biggest priority I have for myself is repositioning, and how do I position myself as an artist and as somebody to be taken seriously, who also has this really intimate connection with her audience through the internet,” Black said.
After quietly releasing music for a handful of years after “Friday,” Black quite literally rewrote and reclaimed her past. Marking a new era, Black dropped a “Friday” remix on Feb. 10, 2021, a decade after the song’s initial release. Working with musical icons 100 Gecs, Dorian Electra, Big Freedia, and 3OH!3, the hyperpop remix took YouTube and TikTok by storm, receiving millions of views and listens.
Black’s first EP project, Rebecca Black Was Here, as well as collaborations with other iconic, internet-savvy artists like Slayyyter, MØ, and bbno$ soon followed. Black said she looks up to artists like Doja Cat and Lil Nas X, who are able to harness social media virality and rigorous posting in their favor.
On the other hand, she also cited Frank Ocean as an inspiration because he knew when to step back from social media and use silence intentionally to craft a “vibe and brand.”
“My current relationship with social media is constantly playing around with that, and finding the tone that feels right and the content that feels right,” Black said. “But at the same time, I find myself holding back for better or for worse, as a way to, you know, not completely lose that veil.”
While “authenticity” and lo-fi videos have been trending for creators on apps like TikTok and Instagram, for creators working in the music, fashion, and art worlds, mystery and “edge” remain important factors in sustaining a reputation online.
“How do we actually do it in a way that is legitimate and do it in a way that’s exciting and can stand out but also at the same time not sacrifice 100% of its mystery and add edge and personality, you know?” Black said. “That pressure to make something to be marketable and to be strategic in that way is, like, the death of creation.”
It’s clear Black defied the creativity-stifling marketing pressures of the internet landscape. She’s managed to mold virality to establish long-term success as a music, fashion, and queer art icon.
Black said the number one piece of advice she would give creators is to own what they create as much as possible. She said as people grow in the creative world, they will likely face pressures to give ownership up—especially when they are just starting out.
“That will always be one of the most valuable assets that you can have,” Black said. “People will make it really delicious sounding to give that up, … especially when you’re young, you’re new, you don’t really know the standards of how everything works, it can feel really confusing. So if something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably because it isn’t.”
Black has been through the wringer herself with ownership disputes as a young aspiring artist. Black’s mother paid record label Ark Music Factory $4,000 to write and produce “Friday.” However, shortly after it blew up online, Black’s family then entered a dispute with the label over its ownership.
Black urged creators to never sign a contract or agree to anything without seeking legal assistance.
“Too often, I’ve seen young content creators—fuck, I’ve been there myself—who have, you know, put themselves in compromising positions, because they just simply were eager to sign and didn’t know any better. And that’s not your fault,” Black said.
Black is an inspiration for young people looking to make a mark on the world through their art. Specifically, Black has been an outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ community online since coming out in 2020, partnering with organizations like Ad Council, GLAAD, and Best Buddies, and appearing in Pride festivals in cities like Los Angeles and Chicago.
This summer, Black will be touring the United States. A creative force to be reckoned with across multiple industries, Black has proven herself to be one of the most adaptable creators out there today, with a titanic stamp on the internet and pop culture.