If you haven’t heard about Rebecca Black yet, you should do the following things: 1) thank whichever deity you pray to, 2) tell us all how you’ve avoided the disaster thus far, and 3) read this, because her success represents a troubling new era of faux pop stars, stage parents, and child exploitation.
13-year-old Rebecca Black is a new YouTube star, famous for her video “Friday,” an auto-tuned ode to the weekend that various media sources have referred to as “a whole new level of bad,” and “like an alien attempting to pass [as] an average American girl.” The video’s garnered almost 15 million hits since last Friday, and Black has been a trending topic on Twitter for five days.
She owes her fame to the ARK Music Factory, a record label based in Los Angeles. According to ARK’s website:
Our team at ARK have [sic] certainly recognized that raw talent alone is sufficient to get noticed. However, to further advance as a professional within the music industry, it is absolutely essential for an artist to have hit singles and a well executed image—all within that marketable package.
The company has at least nine artists on its roster, all of whom are girls below the age of 17. There may even be more ARK artists, since video footage from their launch party shows even more kids, including a few boys, who aren’t on the ARK website. The ARK formula is simple: take a young girl (one of them is only ten), have her record a song with bizarre, age-inappropriate lyrics, auto-tune the hell out of the vocals, dress her up in age-inappropriate clothes and record an age-inappropriate video about partying or being famous or exacting revenge on cheating school yard boyfriends.
All of the ARK kids have only one song, and almost all of them feature an awkward interlude by an adult rapper. That’s because the guys behind the music factory—rappers Patrice Wilson and Clarence Jey—don’t want to entrust their chances at big money with just one budding starlet, and they want to make sure their face is stamped on as many of the videos as possible.
As some bloggers have already figured, the One Song Wonder syndrome is also likely based in an ARK experiment to see how much money can be squeezed out of how many parents. The Daily Beast reported yesterday on some of the specifics behind Black’s rise to fame:
Acing a casting-call audition, Black was invited to record one of two songs label heads had written for her. And, as part of a $2,000 package her mother paid for, they offered to produce an accompanying video in a bid to make a splash on YouTube.
The Internet’s been pretty cruel to Rebecca Black—and, in fairness, her song is laughably awful. But we don’t need to be criticizing middle schoolers. We need to be looking critically at the Ark Music Factory, not just for marring pop music and ruining our favorite day of the week, but for exploiting their clients. The company is exploiting the child performers for their own fame gain, and in the process turning them into oversexed adults before they’re even able to drive.
The entire story just makes me feel gross and disappointed, and it leaves me with so many questions. How can the ARK Music Factory continue promising stardom to kids when their songs are becoming famous for all the wrong reasons? Why aren’t the parents of Rebecca Black or the other ARK girls even attempting to shield their girls from international dissection by pulling the videos or cutting ties with ARK? And maybe most importantly, is it even possible to stop the madness now that it’s attracted so many not-so-adoring “fans”?