Grade : 3.0/5.0
In the decade since the release of her infamous and often derided debut single, “Friday,” Rebecca Black has occupied an inescapably exposed sphere of the internet. Just 13 years old when “Friday” was released, Black has come of age during the formation of the social media attention economy — a daunting task in and of itself — but one made all the more brutal by the immense online scrutiny that emerged in the wake of the song’s release. Though occasionally prone to uninspired lyricism and production, Black’s debut EP, Rebecca Black Was Here, is a refreshingly earnest and vulnerable rumination on heartbreak, warped perceptions and the parasocial relationships bred by the social media age.
In recent years, Black’s discography has been increasingly influenced by hyperpop — a genre characterized by subversive digital aesthetics and postmodern maximalism. One of the most prominent artists within the genre is singer Dorian Electra, with whom Black collaborated in 2020 on the track “Edgelord.” Like Black herself, hyperpop is inextricably linked to the digital age, with many “genre-defining” tracks and artists finding acclaim on platforms such as TikTok. This connection to TikTok, coupled with the genre’s popularity within the LGBTQ+ community, renders it a uniquely Gen Z phenomenon. Similarly, Rebecca Black Was Here feels like a distinctly Gen Z narrative, with its navigation of a queer relationship and lyrics such as, “Gotta be careful with all that shit I’m manifesting” and “In your bed listening to Sky Ferreira/ Know you’re gonna cry, mess up your mascara.”
Other themes Black explores in the EP are more universal. The connecting thread between the six tracks featured is Black’s own dealings with loss of love and heartbreak, which she notably examines through a warped lens that distorts her perceptions of reality. This idea of distended realities is especially prominent in the first half of the EP. The opening track, “Better in My Memory,” sees Black acknowledging this tendency. “Reprogramming our history so it’s perfect in my mind / Changing the way it ended so you never see me cry.” It’s not just Black’s lyrics that reflect this distorted reality — the first half of the EP’s subtle hyperpop sound also underscores Black’s delusion. The track “NGL” signals the end of the first half of the EP and marks Black’s beginning to come to terms with reality, specifically her past mistakes within the relationship she references. “I’m not gonna lie / I was the bad guy,” Black repeatedly sings over a heavy bass instrumental.
The second half of the EP opens with “Blue,” the only ballad featured on the record. The cinematic production of “Blue” is the clear standout quality of the track, whose lyrics often feel cliche. Trite writing such as, “There’s gonna be a storm / An avalanche waiting” and “If the only way to save us / Means I’m losing you” ultimately undermines the overall emotional impact of the track and does a disservice to Black’s undeniably skilled vocal performance. By contrast, the record’s lead single, “Worth it for the Feeling,” is arguably its strongest track, providing an introspective and lyrically nuanced anthem articulating Black’s experiences with trying to remold her identity. “Gotta be honest, I’m scared to lose myself/ After all the drama, I felt like someone else/ But I’m stuck inside this dream, got trouble sleeping ’til we fix this” Black reflects on the track’s second verse.
Black spends much of the record in a state of relatable confusion, whether it’s about who she really is as an individual whose self-actualization has been stunted by an external perception of her or confusion surrounding a seemingly failed relationship. Though Black seems to gain some clarity in the final few tracks of the EP, even proclaiming in the final track “Girlfriend” that she is reuniting with her former partner, the listener remains unsure of whether or not this is a good thing, given the previous obfuscation of their relationship.
Rebecca Black Was Here, a flawed yet earnest debut that at its core, is a heartfelt expression of Black’s unwavering commitment to finally create art on her own terms.
Contact Emma Murphree at [email protected].