If you don't yet know who Rebecca Black is, count yourself lucky. "Friday," the 13-year-old's "song," has gotten 9.5 million views since Feb. 10 after it was pronounced the "worst video ever" by comedian Michael J. Nelson on Twitter. The media is cringing but the views are real: A video can't gather that type of audience merely by being slightly bad (which "Friday" is). Black has every chance of becoming the new Miley Cyrus. Do not play this video unless you want the chorus of "Friday" stuck in your head for the next 24 hours:
More importantly, Black is the ne plus ultra of modern music marketing. It's not news that the web destroyed the music business and that bands and labels now rely on iTunes and YouTube to promote their songs. But Black's label, Ark Music Factory, has taken this to its logical and depressing conclusion: Ark is literally a factory -- it signs up seemingly random tweens (whose parents pay their studio fees), makes cheapo videos with virtually no thought behind them, and throws them out there en masse to see if any go viral.
Check out Ark's artist roster. It's technically "safe" for work, but don't click on it unless you're comfortable explaining to your colleagues why you're examining a web page devoted to pretty 11 to 13 year olds with varying levels of talent.
Most of Ark's singers have some sort of YouTube video out there, ranging from 10-year-old Madison Bray's dismal rap "Girl Swag On" to the almost passable Alana Lee's "Butterflies," which has had half a million looks since last October. Ark's other standout appears to be Jenna Rose & Baby Triggy's "My Jeans," which is just ... soul destroyingly embarrassing.
Their videos and songs are all similar in that the least possible amount of thought and production have gone into them. They show the stars lip-synching literal interpretations of their lyrics as they gush about school, clothes and crushes in their bedrooms and classrooms. Somewhere in the middle of each video a creepy rapper old enough to be the singer's father shows up to deliver some street cred. The lyrics appear to have been written by someone who was paid by the word. Here's a sample from "Friday":
Yesterday was ThursdayShe's absolutely right: Sunday does indeed come after Saturday. I checked.
Today it is Friday
We so excited, we so excited,
We're gonna have a ball today
Tomorrow is Saturday
And Sunday comes afterwards
In days of yore, music marketing was a skill: It required proper advertising and a series of relationships with DJs, promoters and record chains. The resources required were considerable, so labels tried not waste them on artists they felt might not make it. There was, therefore, some kind of quality benchmark to be met before a band was allowed into a studio.
Not anymore. YouTube has reduced music marketing costs to zero, allowing labels to spit out even the most questionable talent, only needing one of them to make it big. It's yet another example of the commodification of creativity.
Not all of Ark's girls are going to make it. Most will get thrown under the bus as soon as it becomes clear no one wants to download their songs. I hope their parents explained that to them before they were allowed onto Ark's child-labor assembly line.