Rebecca Black is all grown up and now a charming, world touring, gay pop star

The former YouTube phenom of the much-derided hit ‘Friday’ hits the Rickshaw Stop on Thursday

By Tom Lanham

Special to The Examiner

In many ways, Rebecca Black still views the world with the same childlike wonder that befits her tender age of 24. For instance, when she phoned last week while visiting Washington, D.C., with her mother, Georgina Kelly, the Los Angeles-based artist was awestruck by the Capitol sights.

“I’ve never been here before, and it’s really cool,” she reported from directly beneath the Washington Monument. “I’ve heard this my whole life, that it’s a lot bigger than you think, and it is quite big. But everything is really big here, and it’s so amazing to finally be here for the first time.”

Black was in the nation’s capital to kick off her world tour, supporting her effervescent hyperpop release “Rebecca Black Was Here” and her total reinvention as (or logical growth into) a serious singer-songwriter. She hits S.F.’s Rickshaw Stop Thursday night.

In soul-crushing showbiz years, Black might as well be Methuselah.

“I do feel like I’ve been doing this for a very long time, really almost half my life,” sighs the Irvine-born performer, who 10 years ago stirred up a controversial hornet’s nest with the simple online posting of a carefully Auto-Tuned single called “Friday” and its low-budget video, filmed by her father in the family driveway and featuring a dozen of her eighth-grade, car-cruising chums.

It was the era of crossover Disney Channel pop stars, and Black’s mom paid a nominal $4,000 to a young company called Ark Music Factory for production of awkward lyrics like “Kickin’ in the front seat/ Kickin’ in the back seat/ Gotta make my mind up — Which seat do I choose?”

In those pre-TikTok times, word was if your YouTube video caught on and surpassed 100,000 views, kids could actually get paid for their effort. Black soon defined what it meant for a tune to go viral, amassing over 1.7 hateful dislikes along the way, with many dismissing “Friday” as the Worst Song Ever.

Don’t even get Black started on the hurtful online slurs, cyberbullying, even death threats, which she received as an early YouTube trailblazer. She was bravely traversing unknown territory, she says in retrospect.

“But to have the entire internet against you when you’re that young?” she asks, rhetorically. “It was definitely not a very good or exciting feeling.”

Older artists swiftly came to her defense. Katy Perry kindly featured her in her party-themed “Last Friday Night” video. The then-popular TV show “Glee” wrapped an entire episode around the maligned number. And the Funny or Die humor website morphed 2011’s April Fool’s Day into a Black-honoring “Friday or Die” fest.

Now, the kid has had the last laugh — “Friday” was just certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for over 500,000 U.S. copies sold, and Black allowed producer Dylan Brady of 100 Gecs to remix it — and even tweak her original vocals to a chipmunk-high chitter — alongside cameos from 3OH!3, Big Freedia and Dorian Electra. The video boasts a PVC-suited, ponytailed Black racing a much faster “Aeon Flux”-speedy roadster than the clunky original in “Friday.”

Black’s latest music feels just as fast and futuristic. No need for Auto-Tune correction — she can rattle the rafters now, sans tinkering, in hook-happy autobiographical thumpers like “Personal” and “Girlfriend,” which underscore her coming out in 2020 on the podcast “Dating Straight,” followed by her almost immediate adoption by pride culture. (“I’m getting back with my girlfriend — I don’t care what they say ‘cause I’m not listening,” she declares in the chorus.)

Gone is the wide-eyed “Friday” naif; in her new videos, she’s been toying with brassy vintage-film-star imagery, sporting glamorous gold-lame pantsuits and velvet evening gowns, as well as hairstyles that morph from blue to a blonde-magenta/punk-spy-girl look.

“I’m a young person, finding out what I like,” Black says about her playful new fashion sense. “And I can tell you that I’ll probably change it up a million more times. And that’s one of the best parts about being able to create and work with people who encourage whatever I’m feeling inclined to or drawn to, creatively. It’s also one of my favorite things about my audience — they’re also here for that ever-evolving vibe that I’m giving off.”

Her fans’ honesty with her online helped give her the courage to get personal with them in her lyrics, she adds. Now she trusts her gut instincts, a skill she had to carefully learn over the past tumultuous decade.

“I’ve been growing up, finding my own sense of self for the first time, and really trusting that what I had to say was worth saying and then building on that,” she says.

Black spent the early part of the pandemic at her parents’ house, the rest in her own LA digs with her beloved pet rescue dog, Milo. She also put a lot of hours into perfecting the exotic production details of her first headlining tour, and she promises not only an omicron-conscious safe concert, but “one of the biggest shows you’ve ever seen in the size of venue that we’re playing.”

What tips would this social media pioneer offer the new TikTok-monetized generation? She thinks about it for a minute.

“I think the advice I would give is more to the adults around them,” she decides. “And that’s to protect them as a kid, first and foremost. And it doesn’t mean that you have to have this crazy surveillance culture over their lives because kids also deserve freedom. But — especially with everything going viral now and they’re able to provide for themselves financially in ways they haven’t ben able to do before — it’s important to treat children as children. So I just hope that the people around them will be the responsible ones.”

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