This is not a joke post, though some of you may take it as a sign that I’ve jumped the shark in terms of subject matter. But before you hit the “back” button, hear me out.
There’s something admirable about Rebecca Black. As entrepreneurs, there’s plenty compelling about her story, assuming you can look beyond any preconceptions you may have about her music.
For those of you who have been living under a rock (same contingent that shows up as being “from Mars” in Google Analytics), Rebecca Black is responsible for the 2011 song “Friday.” Love it or hate it, you’ve probably heard it, and with over 200,000,000 hits on YouTube*, there’s no denying it’s a cultural phenomenon.
I’m not going to comment on the quality of the song — for our purposes, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is the fact that a 14-year-old girl with no name and no experience turned a $4,000 vanity release into widespread name-recognition and a place in the pop culture pantheon. She goes to award shows, she’s interviewed by magazines, she guest stars on the Today show — not bad for someone often dismissed as a pariah.
“It’s because the song is terrible,” you might be saying. “She’s just a punchline.” Punchline she may be, but if that’s the case, the joke’s on us. She accomplished her goal. She wanted to be a famous singer, and now she is. Despite the fact that her first song was almost universally panned, there’s no denying she’s a star. You want proof? Non-stars don’t go to the Grammy’s, and they definitely don’t win Teen Choice Awards.
If you’d asked me right after “Friday” became popular what would become of Rebecca Black, I would’ve said she’s going to crack under the pressure. Her song was being mocked incessantly all over the media, and much of the criticism was devolving into ad hominem attacks. Thankfully, she proved my prediction wrong — rather than cracking under the pressure, she handled it with extraordinary grace. Furthermore, she has leveraged her sudden spotlight into becoming a household name. ”Friday” may have been a critical failure, but when measured against its goal — to turn its creator into a star — it is a resounding success.
The motive force behind “Friday” is right out of the tech entrepreneur playbook. Five of the beliefs and behaviors at play are particularly relevant to the startup scene:
- If no other way presents itself, create your own. Ms. Black wanted to be a singer; with traditional record labels not biting (or not attempted), she paid to have her song produced by a vanity label and published it anyway. The risk paid off.
- Viral marketing is powerful. We knew this already, but the sheer numbers of this one reinforce the point yet again. “Friday” was produced for $4,000 and has accrued more than 200,000,000 views. It has rocketed a young singer from no-name status to the fastest-rising search term on Google for the entire planet in 2011.
- Learn your lessons, but don’t look back. Black’s songs have steadily increased in quality since “Friday,” clearly taking into account some of the previous criticisms of her work.
- You can ride the momentum off a sudden success. “Friday” could have easily been a flash in the pan, but it’s been a year and a half — in the meantime, she’s recorded four more songs, co-starred in a Katy Perry music video, and founded her own record label. She (or her business manager) is taking steps to ensure she isn’t just a flash-in-the-pan.
- Perseverance trumps all. It probably would’ve been easier for her to fall off the grid for a while after the initial wave of negative feedback, but instead she met it head on and came out the other side.
There, I’ve said it. I admire Rebecca Black. I find her story so compelling because I see so many reflections of the entrepreneurial dream, a dream which I share. I’ve come to enjoy hearing people use her name, positively or negatively, because it’s a sign that she’s succeeded. When somebody bad-mouths “Friday,” they inevitably name-drop the person behind it.
She’s not a pariah. She’s triumphant.