Rebecca Black: “The lyrics are fucking gay because they’re about women”
The viral pop sensation's latest project 'Rebecca Black Was Here' is an exploration into her queer identity.
Photography Carianne Older
“It was sweaty, it was gross, it was naked bodies everywhere,” Rebecca Black says. “That was exactly what I wanted it to be. It felt like a big, hot yoga class.”
She’s talking about her surprise DJ set at one of New York City’s most sought-after parties, Ty Sunderland’s Pride Playground in the backyard of Bushwick’s 3 Dollar Bill. The 24-year-old musician floated up and down the stage in a frilly white Coach dress and colossal black boots, hyping up the crowd as a tangle of bodies jumped all around. The rager also marked Rebecca’s first live performance of her new song “NGL” from her independent project Rebecca Black Was Here, which dropped on June 16.
The six-track collection serves as something of an introduction to where the musician is currently at, both as an artist and a person. It lies somewhere between pop and hyperpop, embracing weirdness and the super harsh instead of contorting her sound into something more mainstream. Elements of glitchcore and metal find themselves sprinkled throughout the music, unafraid to push the limits of where pop has been heading in recent years. As for the project’s subject material, it pulls from Rebecca’s exploration of her own queer identity, having just come out publicly a few years ago.
“The lyrics are fucking gay because they’re about women,” she says over a plate of vegan nachos and ceviche. It’s the day after her Pride gig and we’re sitting in a booth at Jajaja in the Lower East Side, Rebecca expanding a bit on how queerness has found its way into her music. “It’s allowed me to be a lot more free in the way that I create. It also empowered me to take control — to find my unique voice versus following anybody else's. I don't know if I would have found that without really honing in on who I am and my own unique experience with queerness… I'm not really concerned with sounding like anybody else, and I think that individualism is really lent to by my queer experience.”
By wading into the waters of writing about queer love, Rebecca explains that not every emotion is straightforward. There are flurries of longing, anger, bitterness and passion that come with the territory; nuances present throughout her lyrics. The feelings of harboured resentment after a broken-off relationship come through on “Personal”, and the musician ups the emotional ante on the stand-out break-up track “NGL.” Here, she takes the blame, admitting “I was the bad guy”, and straight up tells the other person that they can tell their friends they were the one that did the dumping if it makes them feel better.
Perhaps we’ve reached the point in this story to address the viral-sized elephant in the room. Rebecca Black is of course the Rebecca Black who was catapulted to the front page of the internet at age 13 with her auto-tuned 2011 anthem, “Friday”. In interviews and posts from the past couple of years, she’s been candid about the social media harassment and blowback she faced. While there were plenty of fans of the song, both ironic and genuine, the trolls and bullies were loud and terrifying. Yet Rebecca’s still kicking. Finally with some distance from her viral bop, she came out with an even more amped-up remix of “Friday” earlier this year, featuring Big Freedia, 3OH!3 and Dorian Electra. When she blasted it during her Sunday set, the person next to me uttered, “Wait, that’s Rebecca Black?!”
Rebecca admits there was a point in her life where she considered releasing music under a pseudonym. At age 18, wanting to create something that resonated with her but feeling lost and clueless about it all, using a different name seemed like a fresh start. Taking meetings with those interested in working with her and hearing the thought come out of another person’s mouth was “bizarre”, but also a moment of realisation.
“I think the reality is that I would have considered it but there was just never anything that… this sounds so stupid, but nothing felt as much like me as my own name,” Rebecca says. “I dealt with enough shame from that song, I didn’t need to add on to that. There was this feeling of like, ‘Oh, am I trying to hide myself by doing this?’ If anything, what has benefitted me the most is being honest and open with my story.”
Along with growing into her own voice and vision as a musician, Rebecca has revamped her aesthetic as well. She’s diving into campiness and horror, as marked by the cover art for Rebecca Black Was Here. In the photo, Rebecca — with two-toned hair and giant crystal earrings — grins ear-to-ear while a dark ooze dribbles out of her mouth. She prefers to steer clear from portraying something flawless, and explore the beauty in the uglier, more raw side of things. In other words, Rebecca Black Was Here takes the box that she tried to fit in for so long, one that many young women in the music industry are told they need to ascribe to, and bursts it open, letting her authentic self stream out.
This fully-formed popstar confidence hasn’t come easy, and Rebecca says that feeling comfortable in her own body has been a journey. As a young woman, there were people in her life who made it difficult for her to feel good in her own skin, by telling her to cover up or wear certain outfits. It’s only in recent years that Rebecca’s been able to celebrate the way she looks, experiment with different styles and play around with her image.
“I found that — especially when I'm in like my element, like the whole Rebecca Black thing, I feel fucking good in latex,” she says. “I feel fucking good in no clothes. I feel good.”
Another aspect of Rebecca’s identity that gets to pour out now that the box is bust open is her Hispanic heritage. While discussing what we’re going to order, she says that her mom is from Mexico City and that Mexican food is her favourite (“Write that down!” she croons). When she’s back home in LA, there are three places that hit the spot: a hole-in-the wall on the west side that’s a 30-minute drive but has what she describes as “the best breakfast burrito that exists” (she gets it with ham), the food-and-drinks vibes of Mercado (she swears by the al pastor cauliflower) and her mom’s house. Earlier in life, Rebecca had a hard time embracing her culture and sometimes felt surrounded by racism. Now, she’s loved being able to connect with that part of her identity.
The viral fame of “Friday” might just be the least interesting thing about Rebecca Black. That’s not to say that it isn’t interesting, it is undoubtedly part of her origin story and she’s selling “Friday” thongs as merch now, but there are just so many other things to be glamoured by. How she’s helping redefine what it means to be a pop artist in today’s world. The way she has become so proud of her queerness that it is an explicit part of her art. Her tenacity like latex, snapping back from an internet dogpile at age 13 that threatened to have her never return to the often toxic world of social media.
“Rebecca Black Was Here is very relationship heavy, and I do still love to write about love and that's obviously a huge part of my life, but I've been getting a lot more into my relationship with myself,” she says. “Not only my own specific experience as a young queer woman, [but just as] a young person. What those feelings are like and living online and how the internet can really mess with and impact the way that you feel about yourself. I've been really enjoying doing that.”
Rebecca’s latest project is just a taste of what’s in store, including a six-city tour that starts in January 2022. After what feels like a lifetime of just seeing her through the internet, fans will finally get to see her bring the Rebecca Black fantasy to life on stage. Beyond touring, she has plenty of material she’s ready to play with for a potential first album, but like many artists, she knows that debut moment is a major one and so she wants to keep refining and pushing it until each track matches her vision. Until that day, we know one thing’s for certain: Rebecca Black was here, but she’s here to stay.