This is the 65th post in a weekly series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song is posted each Monday. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
In 2010, middle schooler Rebecca Black learned of Ark Music Factory, an L.A. company that would audition young musicians and help them record music. For $2,000 to $4,000, the aspiring musicians would get a song written by Ark founder Patrice Wilson, studio time with an engineer, a photo shoot, a music video, image consulting, and promotion. Black’s friend had used Ark’s services, and she suggested to her mother that she would be interested in checking out the company.
Black’s mother, Georgina Kelly, reportedly paid $2,000 to Ark for a song and video. After Black initially met with Ark, she was given two song options: one in which a woman sang about her relationship with a guy, and “Friday,” a song about the the anticipation and excitement that comes at the end of a school week. Black, who was barely a teenager at the time, thought the relationship-based song might was incompatible with what she had (and had not) experienced so far in her 13 years. She picked “Friday.”
The song was recorded and the video was shot. By early 2011, she learned the video had was finished being edited, and she shared it to Facebook. She expected, at most, that friends and family would see it, and that she’d use it as a portfolio clip for later in her career.
But on March 11 of that year, she learned from a friend that comedian Daniel Tosh had shared the video on his blog. Black saw the number of views on her video skyrocket into the thousands in just one afternoon. By that evening, the video had reached 100,000 views.
And that, of course, was just the first night. The song continued to go viral, with its video quickly surpassing 1 million views on YouTube. By summer, that number had swollen to more than 160 million views. A single version was released on iTunes, performing well on the sales charts.
For all the attention the song got, though, very little of it was good. The song was unavoidable for much of that year, but it was panned by critics and Internet commenters. Within the first few hours of the video going viral, Black had experienced some of the negative pushback. As she told The Orange County Register’s Peter Larsen:
I really thought, ‘Should I have not done this? This is my fault, I should have gone with the other song.’ I haven’t ever gotten that much hate. I thought the world is going to hate me. My self-confidence had dropped down to the ground. I thought I’d get made fun of at school.
She got made fun of all over the Internet. When it came to why, there were no shortages of reasons, chief among them being the AutoTuned vocals, the simplicity of the concept, the rap interlude, and, well, those lyrics:
It’s Friday, Friday
Gotta get down on Friday
Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend, weekend
Gettin’ down on Friday
Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend
Partyin’, partyin’ (Yeah)
Partyin’, partyin’ (Yeah)
Fun, fun, fun, fun
Lookin’ forward to the weekend
For his part, Ark’s Wilson felt a need to defend the song — and Black — from the vitriol of the trolls attacking “Friday.” As he told The Los Angeles Times:
I remember writing ‘Friday.’ It was on a Thursday night, but I finished it on Friday morning. And I knew it was silly, you know?
‘Tomorrow is Saturday, and Sunday comes afterwards.’ I mean, everybody knows that, obviously, but I wanted the song to be simple and kind of sweet. People talk so much about how silly or stupid the lyrics are, but pop songs, they’re meant to be catchy and to tell things in a simple kind of way. I feel bad that Rebecca has been getting so many people criticizing the song. Because it was me that wrote it.
And while it was simple and silly, it was indeed catchy. It had a simple chord progression that got stuck in your head, and that helps explain why the absurd song was so ripe for covers.
Within a few days of Black’s video going viral, a YouTube user named Mike Bauer posted a version of the song done in the style of Bob Dylan. But he shared it under the premise that it was a “lost recording from Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes.” That — and the fact that Bauer’s Dylan impression was so spot on — convinced some people that Dylan not only performed “Friday,” but that Black’s version was a cover of Dylan’s original.
You can hear the Dylan-esque flourishes, right? It’s easy to see how it might confuse someone not playing close attention.
That same week, musician and comedian Matt Mulholland recast “Friday” as a dark piano ballad. The slowed-down tempo and the thunder sounds helped sell it, but what made it was the falsetto.
According to its Facebook page, the band Crash City “began as an idea in the Summer of 2010 and has continued to evolve throughout the past years. That idea is to conglomerate all the various genres that make up modern music and put it together into a unified voice.” That’s a fair description, alright: Within a week of Tosh sharing Black’s video, Crash City had recorded a version of “Friday” that started as folky pop and went to emo rock before ending at rap rock.
Stephen Colbert appeared on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” to perform “Friday” with Fallon and The Roots on April 1, 2011. And it was epic: Colbert started of slow, in some sort of faux-country voice, before The Roots joined him. The performance got even more layered (and non sequitur) when Taylor Hicks joined, and within a few seconds of that, The New York Knicks City Dancers showed up, too. As one does.
Fallon later included “Friday” on his 2012 Warner Records album, “Blow Your Pants Off.”
An all-male version of the song appeared on May 2011 episode of “Glee.” It was, like most songs performed on the show, catchy and poppy. Facing pushback, “Glee” co-creator Ryan Murphy defended using the song by explaining that the glee club had been “hired to perform songs for the prom and they were told by the principal to please do popular songs that the kids know.” And that they would.
Richard Cheese has made a name for himself performing tongue-in-cheek lounge covers of popular songs. His cover of “Friday” continues in that vibe, but it felt more subdued, because, how do you cheese up an already cheesy song? In his previous covers, he camped up songs to make them even more ridiculous, but it’s hard to camp up what’s already silly.
Additionally, other artists have performed bits of “Friday” in concert, including Nick Jonas…
…and Katy Perry…
…and Todd Rundgren, who sang the song in concert at least twice: once, in an upbeat performance…
…and another time, only slightly less exubertant.
What’s fun about these performances is that Jonas’ and Perry’s were snippets, but we got to see Rundgren do most of the song. Twice. And he loved it.
What’s remarkable is that in each of those versions, the audience joined in. How could they not? That song was everywhere during the spring of 2011. The only way to not know the words would be to not know the song. And to accomplish that, well, you probably weren’t using social media then. Or you were maybe my parents. (Hi Mom! Hi Dad!)
Social media not only played a role in “Friday” going viral, but also in sharing the subsequent covers of the song. Most of the covers came out within weeks — if not days — of the original video going viral. That speaks to the video’s ubiquitousness and popularity, of course, but also showcases how easy it is to record a cover in the age of DIY videos. A good number of these covers (along with versions I didn’t include) were YouTube videos uploaded by folks who might not have name recognition but have a cult following. That “Friday” had its 15 minutes of fame during the YouTube era was fortuitous; the myriad response videos likely extended the song’s moment.
The covers are fun because of the original. I don’t think any of these versions would be nearly as enjoyable to listen to without Black’s version. OK, maybe Mulholland’s version would hold up as a neat piece of performance art.
But even the so-so covers are enjoyable, because as hated as “Friday” was (and remains), Wilson wrote a catchy song. You might hear it and groan, but you’d be tapping your foot to it and probably singing along by the end. That’s how we learned the lyrics, and that’s why we still know them. Which is why Rundgren could play it on more than a year after it came out.
I imagine that someone could probably play it at a concert today and elicit a similar reaction, because “Friday” became such a goofy part of collective consciousness. In defending his decision to use “Friday” on “Glee,” Murphy explained, “The show pays tribute to pop culture and, love it or hate it, that song is pop culture.”