Rebecca Black: iTunes hit, YouTube whipping girl

One of the most talked about phenomenons online this week is Rebecca Black, a 13-year-old who was dubbed on YouTube as the worst (Auto-Tuned) singer in the world and yet broke into the iTunes Top 100.

13-year-old Rebecca Black must be wondering about the deeper machinations of the human mind this weekend. Especially the human mind as it reveals itself online.

Black, in case you have recently been arrested for grand larceny, has become one of the most talked about and railed upon individuals online in mere days.

All she did was get a couple of thousand dollars from her parents in order to make a music video. The words of the song--called "Friday"--are so banal they're almost wonderful.

Here's my favorite sample: "Partyin', partyin' (Yeah), Partyin', partyin' (Yeah), Fun, fun, fun, fun, Lookin' forward to the weekend." Please don't tell me you didn't sing (or even write) something equally florid when you were 13.

For reasons beyond any analysis Wittgenstein could muster, Black's music video has enjoyed more than 22 million YouTube views. Black told ABC's "Good Morning America" that she knew it could be big when it went from 4,000 views to 70,000 in one evening.

But perhaps she couldn't have imagined just what kind of irrationalities would be flung her way, once the video gained YouTube traction. She described some of them to GMA: "'I hate her voice. It's going to be in my head for the rest of my life.'"

Or the even more charming: "'I hope you cut yourself and I hope you get an eating disorder so you'll look pretty.'"

Some might take it for granted that the Web displays every spectrum of humanity. Emotion's every gamut is there, so why be surprised if some people express hate?

And yet in Black's case, the specifically Web-based phenomena of cyberbullying and instant stardom seem to come together in a truly disturbing pas de deux.

It's hard to understand why so many members of the WebMob seem to loathe Black. Her song isn't the worst in the world by any means. Some seem to be appalled that she has been Auto-Tuned, as if this must be hiding her incompetence. But in her ABC interview she sings a little of the National Anthem far better than many performers you have heard at ballgames--and I am not merely referring to Roseanna Barr's elegant version.

Black doesn't seem to have a vast child-brat ego either. When asked by ABC if she thought she was a great singer, she offered a very sanguine answer for a 13-year-old: "I think I have talent on some level."

Indeed, she seems to be taking this sudden and quite insane level of fame with decent equanimity. Assisted by "American Idol"'s Ryan Seacrest, she now has a Twitter feed, which again doesn't reveal anything sinister or loathe-worthy.

It was left to her mother, Georgina, to admit to ABC that, when she read what had been written about her daughter: "In all honesty I could have killed a few people."

But YouTube isn't the only place Black has attracted attention. When it comes to iTunes, her song has reached as high as No. 19 in the Top 100.

Are people buying it just to laugh at it--splendidly twisted behavior? Or might this be one of those songs that people don't want to admit publicly they like, but that privately makes them feel a little better when they're jogging, working, or robbing a bank?

It's hard not to reach the conclusion that, through its behavior online with respect to Black, a large swathe of humanity has, for no obvious or fathomable reason, decided to display not its hate for Black, but its loathing of itself.

 

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