Are You Ready To Meet The Real Rebecca Black?

Photo: courtesy of Jade DeRose.
As the bridge soars triumphantly over Rebecca Black’s visual for her new song “Personal,” the singer brandishes a diamond-encrusted chainsaw. She carries it confidently as she swaggers down a dimly-lit street. She takes a wide, staggered stance, holding it over her head like a trophy in front of a dark mansion window. She stands on a living room table, and as she lifts it up high, eyes closed, you can catch her taking a deep, grounding breath.
Throughout the past decade, you could say that 23-year-old Black has taken a diamond chainsaw to her life: hacking up expectations, her own fears, and even parts of who she once was. Ever since she accidentally went mega-viral for her song “Friday” at only 13, Black has stayed frozen in time for many as the cheruby young teen with cavity-inducing earnesty who made the autotuned bop you either hate to love, or love to hate. But 10 years later, Black has now re-emerged in a way that’s deliberately undeniable — with a dazzling, lethal confidence. 
“I really love to go to places that people wouldn't really expect me to,” Black tells Refinery29 over the phone from her Los Angeles home. These days, she says she finds the “whole meme of girl boss-ification” very interesting, so she tried to play with the absurdity of the concept in the “Personal” music video. “We keep trying to find ways to make a visual that is unexpected or not necessarily what people might think Rebecca Black would do,” she says. “That's something that I am constantly asking myself as well.” What would Rebecca Black do?
If you had asked Black at 13 what kind of pop star she imagined herself to be, would she have said a blue-haired ‘80s crooner singing about the hopeful feeling of getting back with an ex in “Girlfriend”? A leather and spikes-clad hyperpop vixen in her  “Friday (Remix)”? Or “Personal”’s campy housewife/chainsaw-wielding American Psycho, who isn’t afraid to break hearts in order to break free?
“I definitely have pictured myself with the possibility of doing crazy, amazing things. But part of why I like to go there is a result of the perspective I've had from the experience I've had,” Black says. “I don't know if without ‘Friday’ I'd be exploring such dark... or maybe not always dark, but just the things that I am now. All of the music that I make, all of the choices that I make, are not necessarily something that I had planned to do at all, but they're a result of the way that I feel just because of everything that I've been through.”
Black’s “everything” does a lot of heavy lifting,; it encompasses the relentless bullying and trauma she experienced from the public after she became a household name. In February 2020, Black wiped her Instagram feed, and replaced it with a singular photo. In the emotional caption, Black described how constant death threats, refusals from producers to work with her, and self-loathing sent her into a deep depression that she dealt with in secret during her teenage years. It wasn’t until she was 18 and out of her childhood home that she was able to take steps to finally address her mental health. “That's one of the biggest challenges about the mental health industry: It feels so hard to find resources and to find adequate help,” Black says now. “I am fortunate enough to have even been able to seek it out myself and to have people that I could work with, and learn a lot about therapy and spend years in really intensive therapeutic practices. It looks like work — It looks like a lot of really intense moments where you unravel all of these negative beliefs, and thought processes, and ideas that I had about myself and the world as a result of the slight trauma that was ‘Friday.’”
Black tends to couch her experience and put it in perspective — that it was a “slight trauma,” there are much “worse experiences that people have” than what what she went through, that a lot of “positives came out of it.” And if she had had the chance to change her past, she wouldn’t, because it taught her how to heal and move on when all your brain wants to do is to pick at your wounds. “I had to really look at the state that I was in before I could learn how to start believing the affirmations that we all like to tell ourselves, or believing that I could feel better and could change,” she says. “But the biggest thing that I've learned is who I am, and who I am as a result of being a kid who was thrust into this really vulnerable spot in her life when she was in a really vulnerable spot already, and how I handled that, and how I was able to move through that and keep doing what I'm doing today.”

It's so hard sometimes to speak your mind and it is so hard to trust your gut. That is something that has been probably one of the biggest cruxes of my life.

Rebecca black
“Personal” and her January release “Girlfriend,” which will both be part of a forthcoming project dropping in June, both see Black taking power and making her own decisions — whether that means letting someone she cared for paint her as a villain for ending their relationship, or jumping back into a potentially precarious one. The results can be painful or difficult, but at least the choices were made on her own terms. It’s a freedom she feels she didn’t have for many years, but she’s now learning how to regularly flex those muscles. 
“It's so hard sometimes to speak your mind and it is so hard to trust your gut,” she says. “That is something that has been probably one of the biggest cruxes of my life. That is what I'm still trying to figure out, but it is important to me. Every time that I'm able to do it, I have never regretted the choices that I've made or what's come from it. So, I do think it's important for every artist — every person, really — to feel they have control over their life in a healthy way. That's something that I really didn't have for a long time.”
Another way the singer has come into her own: being publicly open with her queer identity, and make it a point to write music that, as she’s said, “isn't afraid to be super queer.” Listening to artists like Christine and the Queens, King Princess, Arca, and her “Friday (Remix)” collaborator Dorian Electra unapologetically pour their entire selves into their music inspired Black to “come back to [her] own voice.” And now she’s finally started to use it — and belt. In early April, a red-haired Black donned a sunshine yellow gown to the 32nd Annual GLAAD Awards, where she performed “Girlfriend.” It was a milestone that Black called an honor, especially given the great lengths it took to get there, physically and mentally. “As much as it's important to take criticism, and as much as it's important to work within teams and take everybody's thoughts into account, there is a reason you have a guiding force,” she says. “If you don't have that, you don't have anything. When you take out the peanut gallery, things become clear. Sometimes, unfortunately, the people in your life, as much as you might love them, might be the peanut gallery. That was really, really important to helping me write [queer] music, and to essentially make every choice that I make today.”

 I have spent so much time being the person I thought people wanted me to be, and during every single moment I was undoubtedly miserable.

Back in 2011, when Black released the music video that would change her life forever, the internet was a different place. Now, due to influencer culture and the star-making power of social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, approximately 38% of kids today say they want to be famous when they grow up. As someone who’s been caught up in the viral hurricane, Black understandably has complicated emotions about hearing that stat.
“I can't speak for everybody, but I do think that since forever, everyone has wanted to be recognized,” she says. “No matter what they do — whether it's my parents in their veterinary field, or me with music — people want to be seen, they want to be heard, they want to be validated. It's just now in our faces a lot more than we would have thought. 
“I think what I hope to see — and I do see this happening, so I feel hopeful — is that in this search for validation, we do it through our individuality and the thing that makes us us rather than trying to be the person that we think people want us to be. I have spent so much time being the person I thought people wanted me to be, and during every single moment I was undoubtedly miserable. So I hope that if kids go for it, they at least do it in a way that actually makes them happy and fulfilled.”
Rebecca Black didn’t have the opportunity to heed those words of advice when she needed them most, but luckily, she’s able to do so now, as her career enters its 2.0 phase. “I feel I’ve come back to the same passion and drive that I had back at 13 when I was just a kid doing musical theater shows, trying in whatever way to get myself on stage and trying to just live out this thing that I really, really loved. I’m finally finding the fun in it again,” she says. “I constantly look at myself in the mirror and see the little girl version of myself, and ask myself what she would think if she saw me on the street, or saw me on TV, or met me. But most importantly? I know that my little self would be proud to see that I never give up.”

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