Image: Twitter/Rebecca Black

Take a scroll through Rebecca Black’s Instagram feed and you’ll hardly recognise the sassy young woman you see. Perhaps that’s not entirely surprising: the singer was only 13 years old when she shot to fame as the star of the viral video “Friday” way back in 2011. But it’s not only a slew of recent singles which have helped put her back in the picture. Black also grabbed people’s attention after opening up about something very personal to her.

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Back in 2010 Black was an ordinary California teenager with a love for music and dreams of one day becoming a star. Her mom was incredibly supportive of the teen, and she paid $4,000 for the Los Angeles record label ARK Music to write and produce a music video for her daughter. The company duly did so, and the song “Friday” was born.

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When the tune was first posted to YouTube in February 2011, it hardly a made ripple – garnering only around 1,000 views in the first month. But that was all about to change; Black was on the brink of becoming a singing – or rather, auto-tune – sensation.

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The explosion of “Friday” into a viral sensation came about after comedian Michael J. Nelson called it “the worst video ever made” on Twitter. It also drew attention after featuring on the blog of funnyman Daniel Tosh. Soon, the teen tune began to rack up online hits at a rate of knots, and by June 2011 “Friday” had clocked a staggering 166 million views.

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“Friday” may have been Black’s breakthrough song, but her single was almost universally panned. In March 2011 the music video for the track received the dubious accolade of the most disliked video on YouTube. Featuring lyrics such as, “Tomorrow is Saturday, and Sunday comes afterwards…,” the track provoked Yahoo! Music’s Lyndsey Parker to ask whether it could be “the worst song ever.”

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Black’s song and singing may have been on the receiving end of a barrage of criticism, but the worldwide fame that the tune brought certainly wasn’t without its perks. For example, in April that year the teen was chosen by MTV as the host for its inaugural O Music Awards Fan Army Party.

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It’s worth noting, too, that while Black found little favor with some music critics, she won a number of A-List fans nonetheless. Talking to the radio station Hot 99.5 about “Friday,” R&B star Chris Brown said, “Honest opinion? It was great”, and singer Miley Cyrus told E! News that she was a “fan.” Meanwhile, music mogul Simon Cowell was typically forthright, declaring to People, “I love her.”

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And one star went even further in their support of Black. Not only did pop sensation Katy Perry perform “Friday” during a number of concerts on her California Dreams Tour in 2011, she also paid homage to the song in the video for her hit track “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.).” Black had a cameo in the video, which also won the Favorite Music Video gong at the 38th People’s Choice Awards.

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Black’s ascent continued with a number of red-carpet outings, as she joined Kylie and Kendall Jenner at the premiere of Disney’s film Prom in April that year. After “Friday” was featured on the TV show Glee the following month, it was no surprise to see the teen step out once again for the premiere of Glee: The 3D Concert Movie in Los Angeles that August.

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Other opportunities quickly began cropping up for Black, too. Shortly after the video for “Friday” went viral, she and her mother appeared on the ABC TV show Good Morning America. She then later sat alongside Hollywood hunk Bradley Cooper and performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Indeed, it seemed that Black’s star was rapidly on the ascent.

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And though Black got the chance to rub shoulders with some of the world’s biggest and brightest stars, there was another darker side to her newfound fame. The then-teenager was soon subjected to a torrent of abuse – both online and in person.

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During her appearance on Good Morning America in 2011, Black spoke candidly about the merciless nature of some of the taunts directed at her online. She claimed that one person had said to her, “I hope you cut yourself and I hope you get an eating disorder so you’ll look pretty…”

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Sadly, the flood of abuse directed towards Black escalated still further. In the end, the Anaheim Police Department ended up launching an investigation after the young singer was subjected to a number of distressing death threats via phone and email. And this compelled cops to keep the teen under observation to ensure her safety.

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It wasn’t only in the virtual world, however, that Black was receiving nasty abuse. In fact, life became so difficult for the teenager that she dropped out of middle school. The singer ended up being taught from home in order to escape from the harassment and bullying that she’d had to deal with.

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Black, however, did return to high school at the age of 16. But any hopes that the bullying behavior would have died down by then were quickly dispelled. In an interview with the U.K.’s Metro newspaper in 2018, Black described how schoolmates would throw food at her locker or pour milk down it. She said, “Some people just had no concept of me being a real person…”

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Though many years have now passed since Black first shot to fame, it’s clear that the fallout from “Friday” still feels very raw for the young woman. Appearing on Good Morning America in February 2020, Black explained that after posts on the internet reminded her that it had been nine years since the release of “Friday,” she’d felt compelled to make a public comment on her experience.

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Exactly nine years to the day after the release of her first hit, Black took to Twitter to share some of her thoughts with her 1.1 million followers on the platform. In a heartfelt post, the singer opened up about her experience then and in the intervening years.

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Black didn’t shy away from speaking out about some of her darkest moments over those years. She admitted, “Above all things, I just wish I could go back and talk to my 13-year-old self who was terribly ashamed of herself and afraid of the world.”

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Now, with hindsight, Black expressed a wish that she could offer support to her younger self. The star also revealed a number of her struggles over the years. At 15, she had battled with depression; at 17, she was the subject of heartless bullying; while at 19 she was rejected by “almost every producer/songwriter.”

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Despite the considerable challenges that Black has faced, the star has nonetheless not given up. And she concluded her tweet on an uplifting and inspirational note, writing, “I’m trying to remind myself more and more that every day is a new opportunity to shift your reality and lift your spirit. You are not defined by any one choice or thing. Time heals and nothing is finite.” Black added, “It’s a process that’s never too late to begin. And so, here we go!”

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Unsurprisingly, Black’s post quickly began gathering lots of attention and she received messages of support from fans worldwide. And at the time of writing, the inspirational statement has been liked almost half a million times.

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It wasn’t only Black’s words that were to make an impact, however. The singer posted a picture of herself aged 13 in the music video for “Friday” and one from today. The two shots couldn’t be more different, or more indicative of just how far Black has come.

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In the original picture from the video for “Friday”, Black appears as a fresh-faced teenager. The star’s long, glossy tresses fall loosely around her shoulders – framing her face. And the grinning photograph is striking for its sweetness and simplicity.

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Image: Twitter/Rebecca Black

The Black of today couldn’t look more different. Gone are the singer’s signature long dark locks – replaced by a choppy black bob complete with bangs. Also in the new snap, the singer is bang on trend in a dark dress with cap sleeves which are perfectly complemented by red knee-high boots. Completing the look is a slick of bright red lipstick and, of course, a sultry pout.

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But if Black’s aesthetic today seems a million miles from her days as a fresh-faced teen, it’s nonetheless perfectly suited to the edgy star that she is today. Because despite the tough times that she’s had to face over the years, Black has never given up on her dreams.

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Being subjected to a tide of abuse would have deterred many aspiring singers from following their ambitions. Not so for Black, however; the young woman showed her impressive resilience and musical talents when she appeared on the second series of U.S. talent show The Four in 2018.

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Black wowed judge Meghan Trainor in particular and successfully completed the first round of the competition. While she didn’t quite manage to make it through to the challenge round of the show, she nonetheless silenced the doubters by proving her singing skills.

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The last few years have also seen Black release her own music – beginning with her debut 2018 EP RE/BL. Since then, she’s gone on to release the singles “Sweetheart” and “Anyway.” Black also dropped two other tracks in March 2020: “Self Sabotage” and “Closer” – with the latter tune being dubbed “earwormy” by Paper magazine.

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In addition to her musical projects, Black has also found success right where she started out: on YouTube. And with her sizable following, she is an influencer and bona fide star on the platform. On her channel, the singer shares “original music, covers [of] my favorite songs, and tips and tricks on beauty and style” with some 1.46 million subscribers.

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While she’s been uploading videos to YouTube since 2011, it’s fair to say that 2020 has been Black’s year. She’s been featured in style bibles i-D and Dazed. Furthermore, the star even played a set at Club Quarantine – a nightly online rave hosted on the videoconferencing app Zoom, which has been described as “the hottest new club” of the moment by The Cut.

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But why has Black been talked about so much in 2020? Well, for one thing, there was that emotional Twitter post and, of course, her singles. But the singer also hit the headlines thanks to a personal revelation which she shared in April that year.

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Black revealed on the podcast Dating Straight that she identifies as queer and that her most recent relationship was with a woman. And during the conversation, the singer discussed her sexuality and experiences with dating.

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During a frank discussion, Black explained that she perceives sexuality as falling on a “spectrum,” and that, for her, the word queer “feels really nice.” The singer also divulged that she has dated many different kinds of people thus far. She added, “Some days I feel a little more on the gay side than others.”

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When pressed as to whether she had just “come out,” Black responded, “I guess I did.” The star then went into the nitty gritty detail of exactly how she’d arrived at this point. She said, “’I made a conscious decision to not, like, ‘come out,’ but just to, like… people started asking and I just stopped not responding.”

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While some may have been taken by surprise by Black’s disclosure, eagle-eyed fans may have been less so. That’s because Black previously addressed the issue of her sexuality in a candid Q&A on her YouTube channel in January 2020. She explained, “You can definitely be on one end of the spectrum or the other. [And] there is this huge middle ground [within that]. I definitely see myself as being on that spectrum.”

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In any case, Black’s revelation on the Dating Straight podcast lead to a flurry of attention. A number of publications including MailOnline and Teen Vogue picked up on the story, while Gay Times magazine went one better. The latter publication declared that the star was a “gay icon” and ran an interview with Black in which she discussed her queer identity.

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It’s clear from Black’s interview with the publication just how much the gay icon designation means to the young vocalist. She told the magazine, “No term means more to me… and I mean that!” Going on to praise the LGBTQ+ community, Black explained that they had “supported me before anybody else did.”

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In addition, since opening up about her sexuality, Black has appeared alongside British drag queen Cheryl Hole on an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Con Live. The original RuPaul’s Drag Race is a huge part of contemporary LGBTQ+ culture and is credited with helping bring it to the mainstream.

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There is no doubt that “Friday” – despite its success – cast a long shadow over Black’s life. But now, having spoken out about her identity more, could Black finally be about to make a mark on the world once again, this time on her own terms?

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In 2011 Black sang on “Friday” that she was “lookin’ forward to the weekend.” But with new music being released and support from Gay Times, Club Quarantine and more, it seems that the singer can look forward to more than just that. Indeed, the future looks very bright.

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