Maggie Rogers has been asked so many times to describe the encounter with Pharrell Williams that propelled her to fame that she has got an answer memorised. “I just looked at my feet,” she tells interviewers, “and tried not to throw up.” But that’s just a line. The truth is, she can’t remember anything about it.
For Rogers and her classmates at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University, it was supposed to be just another day at college. They were told they would have to prepare a song for a homework assignment and bring it to class, but not that Williams would be there, listening to and critiquing those songs. The video of the masterclass that followed is on YouTube“I would try stacking that lead vocal on the chorus,” he tells the first pair of starstruck students, “and do a vocal line.” To the next, he advises, “I would edit the second verse, and think about harmonies on the chorus.” Then comes Maggie Rogers – she appears at 18:15.
After insisting that it needs “a couple more hours mixing and mastering”, Rogers plays Williams the result of her homework assignment – Alaska. The song, even to ears not as expert as Pharrell’s, is immediately striking. Its expertly crafted layers – an elastic, melodic beat, syncopated taps and clicks, and the murmured sample of a spoken voice – sit for a moment before the melody announces itself. “I was walking through icy streams that took my breath away,” she sings, the folk beginnings she outlined to Williams a few moments earlier immediately evident, “… and I walked off you. And I walked off an old me.” Williams’s eyes widen, his mouth opens, and he glances over at her with an expression somewhere between confused and astounded. “I have zero, zero, zero notes for that,” he says finally. “I’ve never heard anyone like you before, and I’ve never heard anyone that sounds like that.” The video went viral, and a record deal soon followed.
“I recognise all the freakishly weird details that aligned to make this sort of connect,” Rogers says now, sipping on a virgin mary in a restaurant in London. She is wearing the same chunky animal-bone necklace she wore in the video, but seems like a different person entirely – older, more animated and (understandably) infinitely more at ease. She knows she was nervous that day, but only from watching the video back, not from actual recollection.
“I was talking to [Mumford & Sons’] Ben Lovett last night,” she explains, “and I told him I don’t have any memory of this event, and he was like: ‘So you’re telling journalists what you think you were supposed to feel, right?’ And I was like: ‘Yeah!’ I haven’t been able to articulate that ever, but that’s exactly it. I sort of had this line when they ask me: ‘I just looked at my feet and tried not to throw up’, but, like … that’s not true. I don’t really know.”
When she met Williams, Rogers had only just emerged from two-and-a-half years of creative stagnation. During that period, she didn’t write a single song. “I just didn’t really know who I was,” she says, “so I didn’t really know what I sounded like. And so I did a lot of writing, and I studied abroad and I fell in love, and like … I got to be like any other college student. It was kind of nice to just not know for a little while.” It is lucky the creative drought ended when it did, a week before the masterclass, with Alaska tumbling out of her “in about 15 minutes”. If it hadn’t, the year that followed would have looked very different. In the past 10 months, Rogers has graduated from college, signed with a major label, released an EP, played her first festival, made her live TV debut on The Tonight Show, and toured the US and Europe. She’s been in London for a few days to play two sold-out club shows at Omeara, and when she is done with this interview, she will fly to Amsterdam. It’s been incredible, she says, but she’s had to learn pretty fast how to put her foot down.
“I actually did have a moment a couple of days ago,” she says, “because every moment of my day on this tour is scheduled for me, where I was like: ‘Er, two seconds. Can we check the schedule with me? Can we pretend like I have some control over my own life?’ I feel like I had more freedom when I was a freshman in high school than I do right now.” She understands it – “We’re all on the same team” – she’s just had to get better at saying no, “making sure I get alone time, and putting my mental health first. Because, at the end of the day, this is supposed to be fun. So I’m trying to keep it fun.”
Keeping it fun doesn’t always come naturally to Rogers. “I care really deeply about my work, [so] I think it’s really easy to take myself too seriously, but I’m trying really hard not to.” She is certainly an intensely earnest presence. Talking to her is both invigorating and draining; she speaks quickly, often segueing excitedly on to another topic mid-answer, before taking a sharp breath and reminding herself sternly, “Complete sentences.” Intent on giving every question its proper due, she stops abruptly midway through an answer when two people sit down at the table next to us. “Can we move?” she asks quietly. “I really care about this and I want to talk about it, and I just can’t think.”
Settled into a new, quieter corner of the restaurant, we resume. We had been talking about politics, and a song she wrote last year called #. “I can’t sigh another angry sigh for an insecure man that’s telling lies,” she sings on the demo, which she wrote, recorded and uploaded the day after Donald Trump was elected. “It’s really impossible for me, as a 22-year-old female in my country, to not think and feel things about what’s happening,” she says. “The chorus is that I’m sweating – I don’t know what do, and I feel, you know, sticky about it.”
It’s important to Rogers that she voices her concerns about the world through her music – especially since “musicians have been political literally since people were writing songs” – but she is passionate too about the sheer catharsis of a good old-fashioned pop song. “I love pop music, it’s just fun and it feels good and it’s easy. You need both. You need music that is compelling and intellectual, but you also need music that just feels good and you can laugh about and dance to, and I think I’m trying to marry the two in some way.”
Rogers’ favourite music, and the kind that it is her ultimate goal to make, is music you can dance and cry to at the same time. Robyn’s Dancing On My Own, she says, is the pinnacle of this. “That’s what I want to do. The release of the production is so joyful. It’s joyful and so independent and – ” she breaks off, holding her arms out for me to inspect. “I have goose bumps actually, thinking about it. Like all over my body, wow. I’ve had a lot of really awesome moments dancing to that song, where I’m like: ‘I’m OK! I am strong, and powerful and full-bodied.’”
Listen to the poignant, pulsing anthems that Rogers herself creates, and you might just feel the same. Nor, at this rate, will you be dancing on your own to them.
Now That the Light is Fading is out now.
"Friday" is a song by American singer Rebecca Black, written and produced by Los Angeles record producers Clarence Jey and Patrice Wilson. It was released by ARK Music Factory as Black's debut single on March 14, 2011. The song features a rap verse from Wilson, which was uncredited on the single. Its music video caught a sudden surge of hits after Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax comedian Michael J. Nelson called it "the worst video ever made" on Twitter and the song was featured on the Tosh.0 blog. The song's reception was highly negative.
The original video was removed from YouTube on June 16, 2011, due to legal disputes between ARK Music and Black herself. By then, it had already amassed more than 166 million views. and 3.2 million "dislikes" (88% of total ratings) from YouTube users. The video was uploaded to YouTube again on September 16, 2011 and currently has more than 2.7 million "dislikes" as of July 2017 (79% of total ratings), making it the fifth most disliked video on YouTube. Since the growth in popularity of the song and video, there have been numerous parody videos and remixes.Forbes stated that the notoriety of the song is another sign of the power of social media—specifically Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, in this instance—in the ability to create "overnight sensations."
Background and production
"Friday" co-writer Patrice Wilson, a worker at Ark Music Factory, explained that he wrote the lyrics "on a Thursday night going into a Friday. I was writing different songs all night and was like, 'Wow, I've been up a long time and it's Friday.' And I was like, wow, it is Friday!"
An Ark Music Factory client told Black's mother about the company's production services in late 2010; Black was 13 at the time, and living in Anaheim Hills, California. Black's mother, Georgina Kelly, paid Ark Music $4,000 for a song and accompanying video that included a choice of two pre-written songs. According to Kelly, the payment covered one half or less of the production costs of the music video, and Black's family could have paid nothing in exchange for giving up all rights to the song. Black chose "Friday", as "the other song was about adult love – I haven't experienced that yet. I felt like it was my personality in that song." Ark Music extensively used the pitch-correcting software Auto-Tune. Although Kelly had some doubts over the quality of the lyrics, Black assured her that "I sang it as they wrote it, Mom."
A 22-second sample of "Friday" featuring the chorus where Black sings, "Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday".
Problems playing this file? See media help.
"Friday" uses the 50s progression, an I-VI-IV-V chord progression that many popular songs have used such as "Heart and Soul" and "Unchained Melody". It is performed in the key of B major at a tempo of 112 beats per minute. According to Randy Lewis of Los Angeles Times, the familiar structure contributes to the song's catchiness, making it what others have called an earworm. The song also sees Black on a harmony track. In a review for Rolling Stone, writer Matthew Perpetua described the vocals as having "a peculiar tonality that inadvertently highlights the absurdity of boilerplate pop lyrics," adding that the tone in the refrain "sounds unlike anything else in pop music." He noted the sound as being not entirely agreeable to listen to, but stated that Black ultimately ends up "sounding like a distinct singer with an alluring sort of anti-charisma." The lyrics of the song speak about "hanging out with friends and having fun." Paul Asay of Plugged In noted that lyrics reflect the happenings of a day, in the life of a teenager like Black, like eating breakfast and going to school. "She's excited 'cause it's Friday. Which means a weekend full of possibility awaits," he concluded.
The song has received almost universally negative reviews from music critics, for its songwriting, instrumentation, Black's singing voice, and the video choreography. Lyndsey Parker of Yahoo! Music asked if it could be "the worst song ever." On March 29, 2011, it surpassed Justin Bieber's "Baby" as the most disliked YouTube video, with 1.17 million dislikes, and once had over 3 million "dislikes", accounting for 88% of the total ratings of the video. The video was later removed, although it has since been officially re-uploaded. The co-writer and producer of "Friday", Clarence Jey, said about the song that "the concept we feel seems to have crossed a lot of boundaries, for the better or worse." Observers have called it "bizarre," "inept," and "hilariously dreadful." The song and Black herself were "savaged" on social networks across the Internet, while being seen as a "YouTube laughing stock." On YouTube, the video was met with negative comments and video responses, including comments interpreted as "violent". Kevin Rutherford, a columnist for Billboard magazine, wrote, "Black's video for 'Friday' is one of those rare occurrences where even the most seasoned critics of Internet culture don't know where to begin. From the singing straight out of Auto-Tuned hell to lyrics such as 'Tomorrow is Saturday / And Sunday comes afterwards / I don't want this weekend to end' and a hilariously bad rap about passing school buses, 'Friday' is something that simply must be seen and heard to be fully appreciated." Many other reviewers also singled out the lyrics in particular for criticism, which were described as "overly simple and repetitive" by TNT Magazine. Jim Edwards of BNET and Doug Gross of CNN both noted that the rap break from the considerably older rapper was "creepy."Time ranked it number two on a list of "Top 10 Songs with Silly Lyrics."
Despite the overwhelmingly negative reviews, a few reviewers had positive things to say about the song and video. Entertainment Weekly writer Joseph Lynch noted that there was "something sickeningly catchy about this tune that keeps you coming back for more."Rolling Stone's Perpetua stated, "When you see this video, you immediately notice everything that it does 'wrong', but it actually gets a lot of things about pop music right, if just by accident."OK! Magazine also noted that "some are calling the 13-year-old signed singer the next Justin Bieber." After watching the video, singer Chris Brown said: "Honest opinion? It was great. I'll be jammin' to it on Friday, Friday." Fellow teenage singer Miley Cyrus denied that she had criticized Black, saying "I am a fan" and that she sang "Friday" while driving.Simon Cowell praised Black, saying "I love her [and] the fact that she's got so much publicity. People are so upset about the song, but I think it's hysterical. [...] Anyone who can create this much controversy within a week, I want to meet. I love people like that." He observed that "any song to do with the weekend annoys you. It reminds me of 'Saturday Night'... It's what we call a 'hair-dryer song,' a song girls sing into their hair dryers as they're getting ready to go out. But the fact that it's making people so angry is brilliant." Cowell advised Black not to "listen to anyone over the age of 18. I'm being deadly serious. Whatever she's done has worked. Whether you like her or not, she's the most talked-about artist in America right now. Nobody over the age of 18 should understand her or like her. So she should just do it her way."
On May 6, 2012, Patrice Wilson released his sequel to the song "Friday", titled "Happy", focusing on Saturdays. In December 2013, Rebecca Black released her own sequel, entitled "Saturday".
By March 21, 2011, the "Friday" music video had been viewed more than 30 million times on YouTube.Forbes estimated that as of that date, Black and ARK Music had earned $20,000 from YouTube's revenue-sharing program, and Billboard estimated iTunes sales of approximately 43,000 copies, roughly equivalent to $26,700 in royalties. Within a week after being released on iTunes, it had jumped to 19 on their sales chart, on March 19, 2011. "Friday" debuted on the US Hot Digital Songs chart at number 57 and went on to peak at number 38. "Friday" debuted on the New Zealand Singles Chart at number 33 on March 21, 2011. The song entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 72 and rose to 58 the next week. It sold 87,000 copies in the United States over its first two weeks and has gone on to sell 442,000 copies, as of December 2013. The song also received airplay in Sweden. In the United States, it was played 12 times from March 16 to 22, considered low for a Hot 100 song. Despite the song's strong performance elsewhere, Georgina Kelly claimed in late March 2011 that her daughter had not received any money from the song's sales to that point in time, saying "We haven't received a dime from anywhere."
Development and summary
The concept for the music video is based on the lyrics and presented as a typical Friday for Black. She wakes up and goes to school, meeting her friends on the way. In the evening, after debating whether to sit in the front or back of a convertible, Black and her friends ride the car to a party at 7:45 pm.Patrice Wilson appears near the end of the song to deliver a short rap. The video was shot on January 6, 2011 at Black's father's house with friends and family as extras, and requiring multiple takes over 12 hours. Some of those extras became stars in their own right; her friends Benni Cinkle, Amanda Cooper and Hayley Grodt. Ark Music, according to Black's parents, cautioned them and her that they should not expect her to become famous. Black hoped that her friends and family would enjoy watching the video on YouTube and that it would perhaps help her to later begin a singing career.
The video was posted on February 10, 2011 and received 4,000 views, enough to please Black, before comedian Michael J. Nelson's Twitter account and a Tosh.0 blog post, "Songwriting Isn’t for Everyone", drew attention to it on March 11, 2011, turning the video into a viral hit. Criticism of the song's lyrics, the use of Auto-Tune on Black's vocals, as well as the content of the video also caused it to become viral. On May 9, 2011, comments became subject to prior approval for posting. Two days later, commenting was disabled altogether and archives removed. By June 15, 2011, the video had more than 166 million views, and 3.2 million "dislikes" from YouTube users against just 454,000 "likes". It also peaked in the top 20 most watched YouTube videos of all time. After Ark Music attempted to begin charging $2.99 to watch the video a limited number of times on YouTube in June, Black asked YouTube to take the video down.
After reading the harsh reviews of "Friday", Black said that "those hurtful comments really shocked me." Ark Music offered to take the video down from YouTube, but Black refused the offer, saying that she did not wish "to give the haters the satisfaction that they got me so bad I gave up." Black's father has accompanied her in public to guard against potential accosters. In response to criticism over the song's significant use of Auto-Tune, Black performed an acoustic version during an interview with ABC News, which earned over 180,000 dislikes on YouTube (84% of total ratings) by November 2011. Later in the interview Black's mother, Kelly, stated that she was "angry and upset" after Black was brought to tears by comments, such as "I hope you go cut yourself and die" and "'I hope you cut yourself and get an eating disorder so you'll look pretty." Black said, however, that soon she was able to ignore such comments, and asked Justin Bieber, her idol, to perform a duet with her. Although Bieber has not released an official announcement regarding the offer, he posted on Twitter "sunday comes after saturday? weird." Bieber later sang part of the chorus at one of his concerts.Rolling Stone's Perpetua again praised Black after the interview and said, "She is actually a pretty decent singer. [...] She is a total sweetheart. [...] Black comes off as a well-adjusted, happy and grateful kid." He also pointed out Black's intention to donate part of the profits from the song to school arts programs and relief efforts in Japan following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Benni Cinkle, who became known as "that girl in pink" and appears during the second verse of the video, released her own song entitled "Can You See Me Now" and created an anti-bullying organization (That Girl In Pink Foundation) due to the negative response she got from "Friday".
The video for "Friday" was later placed at number one in the NME list of "50 Worst Music Videos".
Not long after the "Friday" video went viral on YouTube, Black and her mother, Georgina Kelly, got into legal issues with Ark Music over rights to the song. In a March 29, 2011 letter from Kelly's lawyer to Ark Music, it was alleged that Ark Music failed to fulfill the terms of their November 2010 agreement by not giving her the song and video's master recordings, by claiming Black as exclusively signed to the label, and by exploiting the song without permission – for example, selling a "Friday" ringtone. While Wilson stated that Kelly "will get the masters and the song ... [t]hey can have it all", and agreed that Black was not exclusive to Ark, his attorney claimed that Ark owns the copyright for the song and the November agreement is invalid. In June 2011, Ark Music Factory started charging $2.99 to watch the music video on YouTube. Black's initial response was through a message through her Twitter account saying: "Thanks for all the messages regarding the $2.99 fee added to Friday video, I have nothing to do with this!!"
On June 16, 2011, YouTube took down the official video for "Friday". Instead a message in place of the video read: "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Rebecca Black. Sorry about that." A spokesman for Rebecca Black said her legal team had asked YouTube to take the video down because of an ongoing legal dispute with the song's producers Ark Music Factory. Ark Music Factory responded by saying it was disappointed that Black decided to have the video pulled from YouTube despite the two parties being in "good faith negotiations". It added: "There's been an ongoing, open dialogue with our company. So we were blindsided to get a 'Take Down Notice' alleging copyright infringement instead of a call or e-mail from Rebecca's representatives. Our use of the video has fully been authorized (as evidenced by four uninterrupted months and 160 million-plus viewings without objection) by both Ms. Black and the copyright holder. Regardless, we are going to continue to take the high road and work out the complaint as soon as possible, so that the million-plus people who watch Friday for free each day can continue to enjoy the video." On September 16, 2011, the video was restored to YouTube, on Black's official channel.
Cover versions and popular culture
Glee Cast cover
A cover version was released by the cast of season two of the television series Glee. The cast performed it on the show as well. The official release features cast members Puck (Mark Salling), Artie (Kevin McHale) and Sam (Chord Overstreet) on vocals, as part of the prom festivities on the "Prom Queen" episode that aired on May 10, 2011. Series co-creator Ryan Murphy explained to The Hollywood Reporter the use of the viral hit as a tribute to popular culture. He said: "There’s a rule for it that's explained in the show. The Glee Club is hired to perform songs for the prom and they were told by the principal to please do popular songs that the kids know." Murphy noted that Glee's "Friday" cover offers a different take since it's sung by males for other 17-year-olds. The show pays tribute to pop culture and, love it or hate it, that song is pop culture."
Other versions and performances
On April 1, 2011, "Friday" was performed by Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Taylor Hicks and The Roots on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The New York Knicks City Dancers joined in. Jimmy Fallon released "Friday" as part of his 2012 Warner Records album, Blow Your Pants Off, which featured high-profile acts such as Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen. The album won Best Comedy Album at the 2013 Grammy Awards.
The song has also been covered in a recording by Richard Cheese, and live in concerts by Todd Rundgren,Odd Future,Nick Jonas, and Justin Bieber. Singer Katy Perry performed the song on selected dates during her California Dreams Tour, including at the Rod Laver Arena, Newcastle Entertainment Centre, TD Garden, Air Canada Centre and the 1stBank Center. During the August 5 concert at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live, Rebecca Black joined Perry onstage, performing the song as a duet.
Numerous parodies of "Friday" have been uploaded to YouTube and become viral in their own right.Conan O'Brien and Andy Richter also made a joint parody entitled "Thursday" on the Conan show on TBS. The YouTube phenomenon Bad Lip Reading was launched when an anonymous music and video producer replaced the audio to the "Friday" video with new music and lyrics about gang fighting. "Gang Fight", released in March 2011, earned Bad Lip Reading a million hits and thousands of subscribers, with many spoofs soon following.
Black appears as herself in the music video of Katy Perry's single "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)". She appears as the host of a party in the house next door to that of "Kathy Beth Terry". At the end of the video, "Terry" attempts to blame the excesses of the party (which had subsequently moved to her own house) on Black, only for her parents (Corey Feldman and Debbie Gibson) to disbelieve her.
ARK Music Factory launched its "Ark's TGI Friday Covers" project, showcasing cover versions of "Friday" by well-known artists alongside other user-submitted tributes, re-works, and parodies of the song/video and inviting users to submit their versions for relaying through Ark Music Factory's site. In November 2012, multiple outlets suggested that Nicole Westbrook was "the new Rebecca Black", on release of Patrice Wilson's "It's Thanksgiving".Kohl's Department Stores used a modified version of the song as its 2011 Black Friday advertising jingle. The hook "It's Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday" was changed to "It's Black Friday, Black Friday, Gotta go to Kohl's on Black Friday".
Black made her national television debut by performing a mash-up of the song along with her second single, "My Moment", during America's Got Talent's result night for the YouTube Special round on August 10, 2011. The round featured various acts who have auditioned via YouTube. Rebecca Black sang an acoustic version of the song on Good Morning America. Rebecca performed Friday along with "My Moment", live in Suncorp Place, Sydney as a part of Telstra's 4G LTE network launch. She also sang "Friday" live on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
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Mark Salling of Glee
There have been multiple covers of the song, including on the television series Glee, in concert by Justin Bieber, Odd Future and Katy Perry, separately