Rebecca Black Means The (Internet) Fame Game Has Changed

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“In this day and age, though, you’ve got to know that putting your daughter’s music video on YouTube may result in it going viral.” – sammyshah

The video for Rebecca Black’s “Friday” now has more YouTube views than Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” at around 26 million versus 22 million for Gaga. For those of you that haven’t been playing along with the meme, Rebecca Black is a 13-year-old aspiring singer whose parents paid $2,000 to have a “professional” music video made by a YouTube popstar factory called, appropriately enough, ARK Factory.

The video then went viral after gaining traction for all the wrong reasons on music blogs, tech blogs (yeah we’ll cover anything these days), Reddit and 4Chan, turning its star into both a meme and into fodder for mainstream media outlets like ABC.

So why all the media attention? In part because Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black are two sides of the same Internet fame coin: Black is like the anti-Justin Bieber, her “Friday” video has all the trappings of pop star gloss, with none of the talent.

Bieber on the other hand, had the talent, and enthralled fans with that despite the rawness of his homemade YouTube music videos (nice Simpsons poster Justin), which he posted before putting out a more polished album and becoming the online and mainstream fame tornado that he is today.

Bieber and Black, like the Artic Monkeys and Lilly Allen before them, are a sign of the power of alternative distribution channels in our time. But Black is a tipping point, as her video was engineered to go viral (And it did! If not exactly in the way she intended …).

To give you a micro-example of how much becoming a YouTube celebrity is now considered a viable, respectable way of  gaining traction in the music industry, even for those beyond their teen years; Earlier today I had lunch with a musician friend who was lamenting the trouble her band was having booking shows in San Francisco. When I asked her how she planned on getting the word out she said, “Get a publicist, or have a video go viral.” Then she mentioned something about Twitter followers.

“Basically the content doesn’t matter at all. Only the fact that other people are sharing it,” Gawker’s Adrian Chen, who has followed the Rebecca Black story and is pretty much an expert on how people become Internet-famous, explained to me over Skype. “I don’t know if it’s a tipping point. But more like the most extreme example of something that’s already happening in music and entertainment stuff.”

Indeed the focus of Rebecca Black’s ABC/Good Morning America interview was the extreme negativity of the comments (“I hope you get an eating disorder so you’ll look pretty. I hope you go cut and die”). In an age of readily available tools for discussion, the value of our pop-stars is now in the extent to which we can use them as topics for social media blathering (Rebecca Black is trending on Twitter, of course) whether or not that blathering is positive.

The most fascinating part of the Black story is that she’s actually famous now, which was exactly the reason her parents gave $2,000 to ARK Music Factory in the first place. From Black herself on her unlikely fame, “I think that’s an accomplishment you know, even a person who doesn’t like it, it’s going to be stuck in their head. So that’s the point of it, it’s a catchy song.” Exactly.

Get used to this kind of stuff. As society advances technologically, culture becomes a parody of itself, and we enjoy the parody, intentional or not, more than anything sincere. But what becomes of the Antoine Dobsons and the Rebecca Blacks, our Internet culture folk heroes?

Says Chen, “From an industry standpoint. I think if you’re an Internet phenomenon you get put in this meme box, which means you can only do certain meme things, like put out merchandise related to your meme, or appear on talk shows joking about your meme. The mainstream industry kind of picks them up gingerly, with slight disgust, and throws them into stuff until they’re sick of them.”

The pop culture ringer hasn’t got sick of Bieber quite yet, and we’ll just have to wait for Black to put out her next song to gage her expiration date. Best case scenario: It’s a duet, with Bieber himself.

Thanks: @hoverbird