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Bad is Good (Sometimes)

April 19, 2011

Yet more coverage -- this time on the BBC website -- about Rebecca Black bids me in incredulous tones to ask: Why is anyone surprised about the pop singer's success?

Black's meteoric rise on social media and the talk-show circuit is completely understandable. The fact that she can't sing and that the song that rocketed her to her two minutes of stardom ("Friday") is terrible is neither here nor there.

We live in a culture that adores mediocrity. When people go online and deride her terrible lyrics and auto-tuned bray, they actually help to further Black's notoriety, not hamper it in any way.

If something is panned as being universally bad, it piques our curiosity. We wonder 'how bad can this possibly be?' and we go and take a look and a listen. The turgidity is relative of course -- there are many pop songs as stupid as "Friday" out there. (The 1990s Whigfield number "Saturday Night" springs immediately to mind; Sunday, coming wistfully at the end of the weekend, is perhaps impervious to truly inane musical treatment.)

There are some cases of musical badness which deserve attention because they provide light relief. Examples include The Really Terrible Orchestra (a classical music ensemble based in Scotland made up entirely of proudly mediocre instrumentalists) and the hilariously off-color opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins, who makes me giggle every time I hear her castrated-tomcat version of the Queen of the Night's famous aria from The Magic Flute.

But Black's song doesn't fall into the category of good badness. The song and the singer are merely mediocre. And the best way to deal with mediocrity is not to fan the blaze of instant celebrity by covering it extensively in the media and helping it go viral by facebooking and tweeting about it, but to ignore it.

P.S. Yes, I'm aware of the fact that writing about Black in this blog post contradicts what I just said.


  • hear hear! similar dynamic is at work when liberals take to Huffpo or DailyKos to ring their hands about Sarah Palin and wonder why so many people are paying attention to her. Sarah Palin may be the Rebecca Black of contemporary politics. Uh oh, i just did the thing i meant not to do.

    By Blogger Unknown, At April 19, 2011 at 1:40 PM  

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