Rebecca Black knew that coming out would feel freeing on a personal level. She didn’t realize that it would be the catalyst she needed to freely explore her sound, too.
Speaking on the phone to NewNowNext on the heels of the 10-year anniversary of “Friday” — the famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) pop single that first catapulted her into the spotlight — Black recalls the “many different feelings” that came up as she prepared to come out. The 23-year-old singer-songwriter and social media star first spoke publicly about dating girls in an April 2020 guest appearance on the podcast Dating Straight.
Was it nerve-wracking? Of course, especially with a captive audience of more than 1.4 million subscribers on YouTube, most of whom have grown up with her and consumed her content for years. But Black has no regrets. “I feel so lucky to have the audience that I do, and to have the community of people that I have,” she gushes. “I feel like coming out allowed me to share a side of myself that I didn’t even realize I was hiding. My audience has always been so forthcoming and brave with the stories they’ve shared about their own experiences. Now, I can hopefully return that same sentiment.”
Black channeled her newfound vulnerability into “Girlfriend,” her popular single from January about, well, getting back together with her ex-girlfriend. “Friends think I’m naïve,” she sings, “I don’t care what they say ’cause I’m not listening / Need you like I need to breathe.” It’s autobiographical, but any queer woman who has ever been caught up in the all-consuming haze that is young, sapphic love could tell you that. It’s also a more mature version of the fervent, infectiously catchy pop sound that put her on the map.
Black co-wrote “Girlfriend” in a studio session last summer with her collaborators and close friends Prince DCF and Micah Jasper. “I had just come to this head of this situation that I was not really sure what to do with,” she remembers, “and it all spilled out into the song. Like, ’This is what’s been going on in the past five months of my life, and I don’t know what else to say other than exactly what I’m going through.'”
By the time the song finally dropped, she’d called it quits with the ex in question once and for all, a moment of cosmic irony that she addressed in a cheeky TikTok. (I joke that getting back together with your ex-GF is a queer rite of passage, and Black agrees: “Unfortunately, it is.”) But “Girlfriend” was an important milestone for Black, who had yet to explicitly address a queer relationship in her lyrics. She also directed its glitter-filled music video, another first in her career.
“My last relationship of two years, we weren’t the stereotypical queer-looking relationship,” she explains. “There wasn’t a super-masculine one and a super-feminine one; it was all everywhere. And I wanted to be as true to that [in the video] as I could because that’s really important to me as a queer person.”
For Black, authenticity means honoring all of her interests and inspirations, both as an individual and as a musician. “Girlfriend” — and the anniversary remix of “Friday,” a sped-up iteration that features “DontTrustMe” icons 3OH!3, gender destroyer Dorian Electra, and “Queen of Bounce” Big Freedia — are “good first tastes” of her latest project, which she’s been hard at work on for the past year. “I’ve tried to not really give myself any boundaries,” she says. “So, if you think you know what you’re expecting, you probably don’t.”
Her stylistic influences run the gamut, and she rattles them off with the excitement of an artist who knows she’s onto something special: glitch music; Imogen Heap’s artsy alt-rock sound; Robyn’s anthemic, dance floor-ready pop hits. She describes the forthcoming project as songs that “live in the same universe” but don’t sound identical.
In the past, Black was too nervous to experiment with her sound and feared that her longtime fans and listeners just “wouldn’t understand.” Post-coming out, she refuses to let fear hold her back. “This version of Rebecca Black,” she says, “is not afraid to make a very Rebecca Black-shaped hole in the wall if she runs through it.”