Before I get to the subject at hand, I feel it is important to note that I am not a musician. An instrument has not been successfully played by me since my sixth grade music teacher and I did a keyboard duet of John Denver’s Take Me Home Country Road. I am not at all musically inclined. I don’t even have a particularly good ear. One thing I can do is know bullshit when I hear it and Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night and Rebecca Black’s Friday are it. Not only are they pretty much the same song, they also both really really suck.
“Kerry,” you say. “Those songs are more than two years old. Isn’t the subject of your blog post particularly untimely?” Well yes. Yes it is. Here is the deal though, I continue to have arguments with people about this very subject. People continue to tell me how much better Perry’s song is than Black’s and I refuse to accept that I might be mistaken. My rant against these songs is taking up valuable space inside me that I’d like to use for something else such as a cataloging my favorite Cosby sweaters and memorizing lyrics from Wu Tang Clan members’ solo albums. This subject just won’t die and no one can convince me that I’m wrong. It’s up to you Bushwick blog readers. Explain to me why Katy Perry’s song is a monster hit and Black’s is critically jeered when the first is practically a retelling of the second in the same glossy over-manipulated bubblegum pop style.
Let’s start with the facts. Perry’s song Last Friday Night was included on her Teenage Dream album that was released on August 24, 2010. The song itself was released as a single on June 6, 2011 and was the fifth from the album. Black’s song Friday was released on March 14, 2011. One of the main arguments I’ve heard in favor of Perry’s song is that since Black appears in Perry’s video (at 1:47,) Perry was poking fun at Black and her song and wrote her song in response to Black’s. Our facts tell us otherwise. Perry’s song was written at least six month’s before Black even set foot into the studio. So it seems clear that Perry’s decision to include Black in her video was less of a response to Black’s song and more of an attempt to save her own ass. I have to surmise that when Perry first heard Black’s song she was hanging out with now-ex Russell Brand and their conversation went a little something like this:
Russell Brand: Katy, have you heard this new bit of rubbish?
Katy Perry: (listens to song, look of concern growing on her face) oh . . . uh . . .
Russell Brand: Isn’t it bloody terrible?
Katy Perry: (panic rising) Oh shit! Oh shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!
Russell Brand: What is it babe?
Katy Perry: (screaming now) FFFFFFFuuucccckkkkkkk!!!!!
Russell Brand: Did you hear that line describing Friday? It’s hilarious.
Katy Perry: Get my manager on the phone!!!!!
From there Katy Perry’s team gathered for a top-secret meeting to do some serious damage control and it took three publicists, one stylist, a chauffeur and the gummy bears from the California Gurls video to decide to give Black a starring role in the video.
The songs are essentially the same with Black’s being the innocent prequel capturing the excitement and expectations of the upcoming Friday night while Perry relives the hung-over embarrassed reality of the night taken too far. Black’s is the pre-funk to Perry’s walk of shame.
Both songs read like a list of veritable to-dos either of what will or what did happen on Friday. Rebecca’s goal is to get through the day and make it to Friday night so she: wakes up at 7am, walks down the stairs, gets a bowl from the cabinet and eats some cereal. I wonder if she has some short term memory problem that has forced her to devote her morning routine to song so she can make it to the carpool on time. Katy gets quite specific in another way marking the following items as complete: tabletop dancing (check,) excessive shots (check,) credit card debt (check,) cruising, streaking, skinny dipping and a three-way (check, check, check, annnnnd check.) Her lyrics read as if she somehow warped back to 1997 and posted her answers to a purity test in an AOL chat room.
I appreciate Black’s discretion. She doesn’t want you to know what she did Friday night and is happy to coyly reply “Partying! Partying! Yeah!” when asked about her exploits. Perry is the worst kind of kiss-and-teller writing an excruciatingly detailed over-share posted to Facebook on Sunday morning. Is that a hickie or a bruise? Really, Katy? That’s TMI girl and since you woke up with a stranger in your bed, I’m going to go ahead and say that you know damn well what it is.
So, what makes Perry’s song an enormous hit and Black’s a laughingstock? If you’re expecting answers, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I don’t understand it and, dammit, I want it explained! While the production choices in Black’s song do make it a hard listen (oh the autotune!), what should one expect from a self-proclaimed song factory that charges up to $4000 to new young (i.e. naive) singers desperate for their big break. Perry wrote her song with the help of two co-writers and it was produced by award winning professionals Dr. Luke and Max Martin (also a co-writer) who have worked on mega-hits by Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys. The production on Last Friday Night is superior to Friday although we still are subject to the whiny strains of autotune. These professionals should know better. Then again, maybe I’m expecting too much from the guy who helped pen the puzzling I Want It That Way by the Backstreet Boys which ends with three of the most confusing lines in songwriting history:
I never wanna hear you say (never wanna hear you say)
I want it that way
‘Cause I want it that way
Wait! You don’t want me to say “I want it that way?” Why? Because that’s the way you want it? What way are you even talking about? I am definitely holding Perry’s folks to a perhaps undeserved higher standard than Black’s team. Anyway, I digress.
Now let’s take a look at the videos for each song. I realize I’m asking too much of you to actually watch Black’s video. It’s horrendous. Not only does Black lack dance moves, but she looks pretty awkward just standing at the bus stop waving at her friends. She has about as much charisma as Kris Humphries at a Kardashian family reunion. Black is hardly the only bad thing about the video though. It opens and closes with some sub-par A-ha Take on Me (and that video is almost 30 years old) style animations embedded in a PowerPoint presentation. Added to all the boring parts in the middle, one can feel the will to continue watching not only this video, but all music videos that have yet to be made draining from being.
Meanwhile, Perry’s video is a fun romp. Besides Black’s butt-saving appearance, Perry employs Debbie Gibson, Corey Feldman, Kenny G, Glee cast members, and various hot people in a sort of homage to 16 Candles and other 80s movie favorites. It even includes a classic nerdy girl removes her glasses and becomes hot makeover scene. Its budget is bigger, of course, but they use it wisely. The audience is rewarded for watching this gem.
So, even if we consider the lyrics a tie and give Perry the lead on production and video, I still think Black wins this battle. I can tell you’re skeptical. How can I think Black’s song beats out Perry? Why is Black’s song better? Because it had instant word of mouth. Black’s song didn’t need an L.A. marketing machine to help its viral spread. People heard it and immediately sent it to their friends. It connected with listeners in a way that Perry’s song didn’t. Even if most listeners were making fun of it, the song itself caused an emotional reaction. Listening to the song or watching the video led to the creation of memories and jokes with friends. Face it; We like to not like things. Liking to not like it is the same as liking it, right? There is still some element of liking present. Now that’s a concept even more confusing than the aforementioned Backstreet Boys’ lyrics. There is enjoyment in mocking it. Haters gonna hate because hating on it is fun.
We only enjoy Perry’s song because the radio told us to over and over and over again. The song was inescapable. When we heard Last Friday Night, we liked it because of our familiarity with Perry from her two previous albums. We know what to expect from her. She Kissed a Girl and we all liked it, cherry Chapstick and all. Since Friday was Black’s first (and probably only) foray into the pop culture landscape we are unsure of how to react. Since we don’t know what to expect, we expect the worst. It’s a survival instinct to be naturally skeptical of newcomers. Once you look past the newness of Black’s song and accept it for it’s easy devotion to everyone’s favorite day, you can see how it surpasses Perry’s by way of making an immediate connection with it’s audience.
Now even though I think Black’s song is better, let’s not forget that both songs really really suck. Most people probably don’t spend time pondering which sucky song sucks incrementally less than the other. I think Perry knew that Black’s song was better and continued her damage control measures by paying homage to her by inviting her to perform on stage at one of her own shows. I think the two ladies could make all pop music fans happy and maybe even unite the world if they teamed up more often like they did virtually in The JaneDoze amazing mash-up of the two songs T.G.I.Friday. Now that’s a song whose greatness isn’t even up for debate.
There. I feel better. This may be a pretty stupid argument to get wrapped up in for two whole years. It’s hard for me to ignore such pop culture milestones even if they are egregious abuses of what I would consider fair listening expectations for any reasonable person. Now that this rant is off my chest I can devote more time to my growing obsession with the solo careers of the Wu Tang Clan’s 10 members. I think Ghostface Killah has a new album.