Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rebecca Black: A Cautionary Tale in the Making?

There's nothing new about bad pop music and cheesy teen idols -- except for one new element: the democratization of mass distribution and the comment box, instant feedback.

My teen and preteen kids are up in arms about Rebecca Black's sudden rise to stardom and her incredibly (seriously awful) pop song and video produced by Ark Music Factory.

"Look at the comments streaming in," my eleven-year-old says, showing me the video. They love her. They hate her. "Kill yourself now," one commenter suggests.

Though they all cringe while watching the video, it's hard for my kids to feel sorry for Rebecca Black -- she wanted stardom and she's getting the spotlight. Conan had her on this week (including some mockery of her, of course).

It's easy for me to feel sorry for her. I imagine a child whose parents are hyper-focused helicopter parents who obsess on the kid's every move. The child's neuroses edges up. And then I imagine the scrutiny of a million fans or more -- some are nice parents, some are evil parents -- but they are scrutinizing the kid's every move. It's too much. It'll put you in a foul mood and make you shave your head or worse.

I remember the story of Britney Spears not wanting to sing on a metal stage, attached to all kinds of electrical wires in a lightning storm. Her fans were furious. What kind of fans are they? Your most loyal fans? In the paparazzi drag race that followed she flipped someone off. Her mother made her apologize. I thought it was cruel. I thought she's got to be holding in some incredible -- and rightful -- rage.

The problem is that with reality TV and mass distribution now available to all people go from sitting in a beanbag chair in their basement to being broadcast all over the world (while they're sitting in a beanbag chair in their basement). The fact that millions of people have seen your face makes you feel different -- almost on a cellular level. The brain can't really grasp it -- not quickly at least.

I was at a Neil Gaiman Q and A, and someone asked him if he'd been affected by stardom -- the millions of fans. He said that he'd risen so slowly -- growing an audience book by (weird and wonderfully disturbed) book -- that it had felt natural (and, one would imagine, naturally earned). He said that it's the people who rise up to stardom too quickly who suffer -- like when you're scuba diving, he explained, and you rise to the surface to fast, it's excruciating.

So, today Rebecca Black is probably fine. I imagine her adrenaline has kicked in and her hands might shake a little. But this is not good for her -- a comment a second? -- and there are going to be many, many more like her. A larger percentage of the population than ever before in the history of man is going to be famous -- at least of a little while, long enough to mess with their intake of oxygen. And some of them are going to be very young, to boot, and at an age where scrutiny of any kind is already painful.

We can't unmake them. We can't pull back the reigns of the democratization of distribution -- overall, that is a great thing. Can we explain to our children that these pop sensations are human beings? How many Lindsay Lohans do we need to lose before the media decides they should put on the kid gloves -- especially for the kids?