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Posted at 04:41 PM ET, 03/14/2011

Rebecca Black, “Friday,” laughter and tragedy

Are we allowed to laugh yet?

Rebecca Black’s “Friday” is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma inside some horrifying auto-tuned vocals. Black is a 13-year-old singer with big dreams, no lyrics, and insufficient facial cleanser. Her song is magic.

Is it the lack of self-awareness? Is it the lyrics that inform us that Today is Friday, Yesterday Was Thursday, Tomorrow is Saturday, and Sunday Comes Afterwards?

Whichever it is, the song has captured the Internet’s attention. It’s already spurred covers. I don’t think parody is possible, but some people are attempting it.

The lyrics beggar description. Well, to be more accurate, they take description into an alleyway and beat it senseless. They are an assault on the English language on par with the decision to include “sexting” in the OED. They don’t rhyme. They don’t make sense. People I see at Barnes and Noble reading “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Ke$ha Symbolism” upside-down still find these lyrics offensive to their intelligence.

They include phrases like,“Fun, fun, think about fun/You know what it is./I got this, you got this/My friend is by my right.” It sounds like Black has forgotten the lyrics to a mildly better song and is just randomly singing things that come to mind. People have done less cruel things to the English language in the introductory sequences of adult films.

The song moves from the ridiculous to the sublimely ridiculous with its bridge, which dutifully explains the order of the days of the week: “ Yesterday was Thursday, Thursday/Today i-is Friday, Friday…Tomorrow is Saturday/And Sunday comes after...wards.”

No one in the video looks happy to be there. The people to the left and right of Rebecca Black as she whooshes through some hole in the Space-Time Continuum from Day to Night in the middle of the video look as though they grasped the inevitability of death and loss a few moments before the camera was turned on.

It’s so bad it’s sublime. It’s hilarious. But it’s strange to watch this gloriously, unrestrainedly, unabashedly bad video rise up the Talked About charts alongside the tragedy in Japan.

The efforts of some people to combine the two has led to some slightly uncomfortable leads, which I will roughly paraphrase as: “One of these things was a horrifying and gruesome disaster that destroyed thousands of lives. The other was what just happened in Japan.” It’s the same painful clumsiness that led someone to introduce a piece on Michael Vick statistics by saying that “Michael Vick once fought and electrocuted dogs. Now, as the Eagles’ starting quarterback, he is the most electric player in the National Football League.”

These are particularly hamfisted choices. But is it wrong to write about Rebecca Black when so many worse things are happening?

I hope not.

Some people see the dignified hush that follows tragedy as merely another opportunity for their voices to be heard. For instance, 50 Cent, with his tweeted jokes about airlifting out his hoes – a garden implement I didn’t realize he cared so much about.

The allure of too-soonism is that this is the one subject where you can be sure that everyone will know what you’re talking about. Common knowledge is less and less common. In the Middle Ages, there was less to learn, and most of it was about Ancient Rhetoric or Inaccurate Thoughts About Planets, so you learned all of it; now, everyone scatters into oddly specific fields. It’s a small price to pay for electric lighting and the sense that someone out there has a good grasp on relativity, but it can put a bit of a damper on the common conversation. Get Oprah, an art historian, and a sociologist together, and they’ll be able to talk about O, tempera, or mores but never at the same time. Instead, the tragedies that everyone witnesses together are quickly becoming our only shared base of reference, with the possible exception of Charlie Sheen and the Harry Potter series.

But there’s a difference between laughing at and laughing near. Everything’s near, these days. Technology has collapsed distances, thrusting images of war, tragedy, and terror into our faces on the screens of our cell phones. After we text Red Cross to donate, are we permitted to drift away to Rebecca Black? Our world sometimes has the general ambience of a picnic on the edge of a battlefield. As long as we aren’t laughing at the battle, is it a crime to laugh?

Life has no sense of timing. Everything happens at once in an undignified jumble, the sublime and the ridiculous sit next to each other on the subway, the tragic and the comic bump into each other in the airport. And the world goes on. Rebecca Black climbs up the ironic charts.

It’s one thing to fiddle while Rome burns if you’re Nero. It’s another to fiddle while Rome burns if you’re an actual fiddler. By all means, pass the hat for Rome, but don’t stop making music.

Unless you’re Rebecca Black.

By  |  04:41 PM ET, 03/14/2011

 
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