Since gaining attention last week, the video for aspiring singer Rebecca Black's "Friday" has gone super-viral. It currently has 33 million views (10 million more than Lady Gaga's latest music video). The video is about 6 weeks old, but didn't go viral until sites like Buzzfeed and Reddit posted it last week. And when it was posted, it was posted as "the worst song ever." That's right, Rebecca Black's teen-pop anthem "Friday" has gone viral to the tune of 33 million views solely because people are making fun of her.
Before we go any further, it might be helpful to watch the video--assuming you haven't already seen it or that you can handle seeing it a second time:
Popular Media Reactions
There are currently two popular angles for the media covering this story:
1. It's so wrong for the Internet to make fun of people like this.
I agree with this argument. But I also agree that people are free to say whatever they want. I also agree that uploading a public video to a public website generally means you're not allowed to get upset if someone doesn't like it.
But I hear you, gentle readers. I feel bad for Rebecca Black too (I'm not sure I want to live in a world where we hold 13-year-old amateurs to the same standards as millionaire recording artists). She's been mocked and ridiculed for more than a week now, and all she did was the same thing 13-year-old kids have been doing since the invention of video cameras. Like most kids, she dreams of being a pop star. Recording the song and making the video wasn't her mistake... allowing it to go online was. And for that, I think we can probably blame her parents more than her.
Despite my genuine sorrow at the humiliation Black must be feeling, I can't condemn the Internet for mocking her. Whether it was her decision alone, or the decision of her parents (with some likely pressure from the music company)... the video was shared with the world. You can't turn around then and blame the world for not liking it.
2. Rebecca Black is having the last laugh.
Seems the song, now that it's ironically popular for all the wrong reasons, has rocketed up the iTunes charts. As of this writing, the song is #33 overall on the iTunes charts.
Using some of that sketchy YouTube-speculation math, Forbes says Rebecca stands to make over $1 Million between the iTunes sales and ads on her YouTube video.
Good for her--whatever profit she makes off this. She seems to have a pretty good attitude about it and is even planning to release more songs in the very near future.
My Reaction - Something Doesn't Add Up
We're all being trolled so hard. I'm surprised there aren't more skeptics out there among you. We've been set up and manipulated--played like a second-hand guitar.
Not by Black, mind you--I remain fairly convinced that she's just a normal 13-year-old. I think the real puppet master here is Ark Music Factory. Ark Music Factory is the company that produced the video, and I think they made this whole thing happen. To be clear: I think they knew the song was bad... I think they uploaded it anyway... and I think they set about using social bookmarking and social media sites to specifically gain the video some views based on its poor quality.
I'll go ahead and tell you I don't have any proof... obviously. But I do have plenty of red flags and circumstantial evidence. Let's take a look at my logic:
The video is on Ark Music Factory's channel, not Rebecca Black's. That's a little suspect to me right off the bat. The reported story is that Black's parents paid $2,000 to Ark to have the video produced. And maybe part of the $2,000 goes to cover basic distribution--placing the video on Ark's channel. But you would think the finished video would be something given to Black, to do with as she pleases. Instead, it's loaded on the video company's channel.
How was this video picked by the Internet as the one video we were all going to mock last week? I check aggregation sites like Buzzfeed, Reddit, Devour, and more on a daily basis. I do it because I enjoy good content, but I also do it to find videos worth talking about here at ReelSEO. And I saw this video pop up on virtually all my usual content-discovery sites on the same freaking day. Granted, it's possible that a video could spread that fast, but it's pretty rare. Usually I'll see something on Reddit one day, and on Buzzfeed the next--or vice versa. But all on the same day... within hours of each other? Almost never.
Do you have any idea how many awful songs by teenagers there are on YouTube? What are the odds that this one song would be picked up by so many curating sites in such a short span of time? I've recently talked about how long the odds are that any specific video even gets a shot at finding an audience.
Ark's website has banner ads to buy their artists' songs on iTunes. Why? Could it be because Ark is the one actually making the bulk of the money off the downloads? There are more ads to buy Ark artists' songs than there is legitimate content on the site.
From their entirely-too-busy website, it's not clear what services the company provides. We know they create video productions for singers, but are they also a record label? They certainly talk frequently about "our artists." But there's also a loose social-networking component that gives it a MySpace feel (there's a link to "sign up," and all the "artists" on the roster are listed under the "site members" section).
The singers are referred to as "exclusive artists," which suggests Ark is handling all aspects of their career. And Ark's website goes a long way toward trying to make you think they're legit--check out the photo gallery, where a bunch of people you've never seen before stand in front of an Ark banner wearing fancy clothes and we're supposed to believe this is some major premiere or celebrity event that Us Magazine and the paparazzi showed up for.
Know what I don't see on their website? A street address. Or even a city, state, or country. Always a good sign.
They even have a new video promoting some big announcement on Friday (March 25th), and they sure don't seem shy about leveraging the negative attention "Friday" has received for promotional purposes:
Talent and respect no longer required for riches or fame. Paris Hilton proved it first--everyone now seems to forget that her claim to fame is starring in a homemade sex tape and appearing on a reality show about how dumb she is... and yet, the media and fans at home now treat her like any other celebrity that earned their keep.
Ditto Kim Kardashian, who, as far as I can tell, hasn't done a single thing at all to warrant fame and money aside from being born into it. Don't forget the cast of The Jersey Shore--each of whom now makes millions a year.
How about Charlie Sheen? He seems to--on some level--know that he's the butt of the joke... but he doesn't care, because he's already sold out his upcoming stage show. He's incredibly popular... and it doesn't matter to him if you tune in to see an implosion or because you genuinely love him, because he makes money either way. CBS is even talking about bringing him back to Two & A Half Men now--which is as sure a sign as there is that there's money to be made behind Sheen's antics.
Why should the Internet be any different? It no longer matters if the person becoming famous is being praised or mocked. It doesn't matter if the audience finds them disgusting or appealing--so long as people are watching.
What if Ark Music Factory knows this... and decided to use it to their advantage? Is it so far fetched? No, I don't think it is.
People Game Curated Sites For Marketing Purposes. I know that users don't like to believe this, but companies game sites like Reddit and Buzzfeed for marketing purposes all the time. You can plug your ears and live in denial all you want, but to blindly assume that every submission hitting the home page is innocent and harmless is just stupid.
One of the most famous users accused of gaming Digg back in that site's heyday was MrBabyMan, who is now a top editor at BuzzFeed. Please be clear: I'm not saying MrBabyMan is paid to promote marketing content... I'm just saying it's naive to believe all editors and users at sites like Buzzfeed are unbiased. The marketing firms are clearly going to go after them... offer them money... and if you believe all editors turn that down out of some noble duty to fairness, then I have a handful of bridges to sell you.
It's no shame, really. You shouldn't feel too bad. We get gamed all the time, and it's not always a bad thing--Thinkmodo's building a pretty nice reputation on creating clever "faked" videos for major brands.
But let's stop pretending that one man somewhere stumbled onto the "Friday" video and it spread organically from there. Because that is basically impossible.
So who's making all the money here, Black or Ark? Who really started this whole thing off... some random user who found an obscure video and posted it online for friends to mock... or the company that created the video? If it was Ark that pushed this thing viral with a bit of guerrilla marketing, then they're geniuses.
The adage that "there's no such thing as bad publicity" has never been more true than it is today. If it weren't true, then Charlie Sheen and Rebecca Black would both be broke and without prospect. If you think marketing companies aren't savvy enough to know that and attempt to capitalize on it--even to the point of mocking the thing they're charged with promoting--then you're pretty naive.