Time to step out of the local fishbowl that is virtual worlds and into the wider sea of the internet (my environment) to comment on a current meme and memes in general:
"A meme is a unit of social information. It is a relatively newly coined term and identifies ideas or beliefs that are transmitted from one person or group of people to another. The concept comes from an analogy: as genes transmit biological information, memes can be said to transmit idea and belief information.
A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes, in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures."
You may be familiar with the "All your base are belong to us" meme, which is quite old. You may also know "Fucking magnets, how do they work?" or "You can't explain that;" both are very current and prevalent memes making their way around the social net scene that deserve mockery. I'd like to examine another:
Rebecca Black - Friday
I first heard about this song as "the most awful song in the world" and was prepared to join the mockery, as I have strong feelings about the roboticisation of pop music, the formulaic tripe that is passed off now as product and the promotion of no-talent vases (in Chinese and Japanese films, a 'vase' is a girl stuck into the film with no character meaning; just to look at; eyecandy) by song factories. But then I took a look at the video itself as opposed to the press about it.
Yes, it's formulaic. It's also obviously a cheap production; the producers used family and friends as extras. The song itself is pure bubblegum, appropriate to the tween age group it is targeted at. It is also heavily autotuned, which isn't surprising as most pop records now use this studio trick in varying levels. Much of the mockery comes from the heavy use of autotune, but also includes the banal lyrics and some truly awful ones. But as far as the "worst song in the world"? Hardly.
Friday - The Meme
This song probably would have sunk without much of a ripple, except that it was taken up by the net and tossed from spear to spear like a bloody rag doll. It began with a mass of "dislike" comments on You Tube, well over 30,000 in just a few days; perhaps from classmates or peers of this 13-year-old girl. Then the supposed "adult press" got wind of it (they depend on kids to keep them well-fed) and suddenly Rebecca Black was all over... being called "the worst singer in the world" and "completely frightening"... lashed for the lyrics and the autotune... dragged through the public square in stocks, target of rotten vegetables by the same merry crowd that attends public hangings for entertainment.
As I started to dig further into this meme, I came up with some interesting information:
1. Rebecca's parents paid $2000USD (or 4k, depending on who you read) for this video/recording.
2. Rebecca wrote neither the lyrics that are being savaged nor chose the Autotune option.
3. During the recording, she was bothered and had questions about the most-mocked lyric section ("Yesterday was Thursday; today it is Friday; tomorrow is Saturday, and Sunday comes afterwards"), saying "Wait... this is just the days of the week... I'm supposed to sing this?" So even a 13-yr-old has some lyrical sense.
But hey, her parents had sunk $2k into thier child's dream and she tried to live up to that expectation. Laugh all you want... but my parents never did anything remotely as supportive as this, particularly with money. My parents prefered my dreams to die, so I could settle down and become something sensible and grey, like a bookkeeper.
Ark Music Factory (at least their name is honest) looks like one of those "tween modeling agencies" that are fairly repulsive. All their clients are 11/13-yr-old girls; all of them paying money for these videos. In every single one of the videos, there is a cut scene of an older male "rapper" ... who is actually Patrice Wilson - the co-founder of Ark. Go to their website; watch some of the videos. No one seems to be commenting much on this aspect... except these people.
This caught my eye, as it caught many eyes in the Friday video. It's such a non sequitur; a bunch of 13-yr-olds singing merrily away... then this well-out-of-teenhood rapper busts in for a verse. I suppose this is to give the videos "street cred" but ... it surely looks like this guy is using these tweens to get his own face promoted everywhere. Kinda... slimy, yes?
It looks like bare exploitation. It looks like they are trying to ride on the backs of tween girls; inserting themselves into every video they make, getting their screen time and having these girls pay for that.
What Ark is doing is just a low-budget (and badly-handled) version of what many other companies already do; what American Idol does; what Japanese pop music hit factories have been doing for years.
Friday - The Song
As I mentioned, the song is rather shallow... but it's for the tween market! What do you expect, Proust? One of the most-mocked (by the adult press) lyric sections is:
"Kickin' in the front seat
Sitting in the back seat
Gotta make my mind up
Which seat can I take?"
erm... I guess most of these Bigs can't get a metaphor; I can clearly see and remember the tween-teen angst about trying to emerge from a cocoon; to step out in your own strength or to remain part of the crowd/herd. Isn't this metaphor saturated into every coming-of-age film, novel and song throughout history?
I've already discussed the really-weak lyric section (days of the week). How about Autotune?
Unless you have really numb ears, you've been hearing Autotune on almost every pop song for the last few years. In this case it was used pretty grossly and with no talent, making the audio artifacts jump out... but in most cases, Autotune is regularly used to smooth over single bad notes in a vocal performance; most of the time it is very subtle and unnoticeable unless you have good ears and are really concentrating on the song (and have a much better engineer than Ark's).
And frankly, this song scared me a lot less than when Cher went Borg. It also scares me less than Lady GaGa, as it does not pretend to any deep meaning. It's a bubblegum pop song for Bobsakes!
I guess the supposed adult press never enjoyed tapping their feet to "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Cherry Pie," "Illegal Alien," "The Rockafeller Skank" or "MMMbop." Maybe they were among the same people who attacked Tammy Wynette for having fun and playing with the KLF on "Justified & Ancient"? Perhaps they spend their days with furrowed brows and Meerschaum pipes, pouring over the lyrics of Pete Sinfield looking for clues to the meaning of life. Pitiful, eh? Poor dried-up husks; forgot what it's like to be free in summer, "Top Down, Radio On" [The Charms]. Got old.
Imagine being 13 years old, having yourself mocked throughout the internet not only by your peers (who can truly forget the savagery of childhood?) but by the adult press. Suggestions of "you should cut yourself" to "you should just die" and "the worst singer in the world" were passed gleefully from pen-to-pen... by (supposed) adults.
Then imagine the courage it took to appear on ABC's Good Morning America and sing an "unplugged" version of Friday, having spent a week in Hell. Go ahead, watch that video. Try to ignore the flat notes; watch Rebecca. This girl is performing under tremendous pressure - live, unplugged - in front of millions of people with absolutely no studio or in-mic post-processing. Tell me when Stevie Nicks did that (she of the famous billy-goat, flat-noted voice) or Cher, or Lady Gaga.
Grace under pressure, the hallmark of courage. I have been on stage, but nothing to compare to this kind of pressure, and not at that age. If it would have been me, my knees would not have held out. In show biz, this is called "being a trooper" and Rebecca Black showed this quality in a sterling way. Watching that video, my heart went out to her.
There have also been some voices of rationality and sense in this. Steven Colbert & Jimmy Fallon came by Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to cover Friday as the payoff for a bet made with Fallon earlier in the week to raise $26,000USD for DonorsChoose.org (they met that goal) - so already this young singer has had a realworld, monetary effect on some good causes. A nice article on CNN by Doug Gross appeared; Ryan Seacrest from KissFM got involved with her; Simon Cowell, he of American Idol known for his scathing and unbuffered remarks to singers has said "I think it's genius" and has shown sympathy for Becca. I am also informed that Lady Gaga has come out in support of Becca.
From my perspective of working in the music biz from retail through Contracts and live performance for many years, Friday is surely cheesy production, silly lyrics and ultimately bubblegum pop. So what? I like bubblegum pop occasionally, as a break from pondering Psychic TV, Cabaret Voltaire, Virgin Prunes, Stockhausen and Bartok [You Tube links]. I happen to have a well-rounded appreciation of music from indigenous tribal to pop to post-modern noise and audio, and sometimes I just want to enjoy being mindless and in joy for good weather, for summertime... or for Friday, the end of the work week.
So... just a post about memes, the verbal or visual viruses of the internet; how you can catch these infective agents and succumb to them in a lazy way without a closer look into the semantic process. Some memes like the Bill O'Reilly or ICP ones deserve mockery, as did the bad translation in AYB. But the Friday/Rebecca Black meme disturbed me. The closer I looked at this story the more bothered I got.
The internet is my home, my environment. As a world, a universe, I pay attention to the weather; to the currents that drift and eddy throughout; to the transmission of information/disinformation that blows through the net like shoals of fish. Immersing in this environment, like diving in open ocean, requires some thought, some attention to surroundings, some knowledge of indigenous lifeforms benign and hostile.
I am merrily and happily contributing to the "You Can't Explain That" and "Magnets" memes because I believe them to be legitimate satire and commentary. I do not feel this Friday meme is legitimate. So I wrote this post for Becca; for her courage on Good Morning America and her rather brutal introduction to the modern pop music industry and as a response to the "adult" press who surely should have been shining a spotlight on the music producers and their exploitation of young girls' dreams, not some poor 13-yr-old dreamer. But I guess it's easier to mindlessly grunt the chant of 'Kill the pig! Bash him in!" than do their ostensible job.
If you are inworld, send me a notecard and I'll send you a Becca Luv Box with gestures, posters and clips.