In naïve, or pure, Camp, the essential element is seriousness, a seriousness that fails. Of course, not all seriousness that fails can be redeemed as Camp. Only that which has the proper mixture of the exaggerated, the fantastic, the passionate, and the naïve.
— Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp” (1964)
— Rebecca Black, “Friday” (2011)
And yet, as Sontag writes, “The ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful . . . Of course, one can’t always say that. Only under certain conditions.” Those conditions, she explains earlier in her essay, include an abundance of ambition: “When something is just bad (rather than Camp), it’s often because it is too mediocre in its ambition. The artist hasn’t attempted to do anything really outlandish. (‘It’s too much,’ ‘It’s too fantastic,’ ‘It’s not to be believed,’ are standard phrases of Camp enthusiasm.)” Does the Rebecca Black tune have that abundance of ambition?
I’m not sure. What makes this song “so bad it’s good” is its juxtaposition of outlandishly banal lyrics with a glossy pop production. On the one hand, the song sounds slick, professional, expensive. On the other, its lyrics read like a first draft — or, if there were something that preceded a first draft, then that. I mean, sure, if you’ve had trouble remembering the order of the days of the week, “Friday” might prove a helpful mnemonic:
Yesterday was Thursday, Thursday
Today is Friday, Friday (Partyin’)
We, we, we so excited
We so excited
We gonna have a ball today
Tomorrow is Saturday
And Sunday comes afterwards
I don’t want this weekend to end.
That said, it is less useful in helping one decide which seat to choose. Front seat? Back seat? I know I gotta make my mind up… just not sure.
So. Is the song Camp? Alex Carpenter’s cover version renders “Friday” in a Camp spirit:
His interpretation brings to mind Sontag’s claim that
Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation – not judgment. Camp is generous. It wants to enjoy. It only seems like malice, cynicism. (Or, if it is cynicism, it’s not a ruthless but a sweet cynicism.) Camp taste doesn’t propose that it is in bad taste to be serious; it doesn’t sneer at someone who succeeds in being seriously dramatic. What it does is to find the success in certain passionate failures.
On the other hand, “Friday (Groundhog Day Remix)” suggests that the song is merely bad, and not Camp:
The repeated destruction of the “Friday”-playing alarm clock conveys a visceral (and comic) dislike of the song.
My favorite version, and the one that ultimately sways me toward the “Camp” side of the argument, is the ersatz Bob Dylan version:
This performance is emphatically not Camp — which is precisely why it steers me towards the opinion that Rebecca Black’s version is Camp or, at least, can be appreciated as such. The spare production of faux Dylan’s version brings the banality of the lyrics into focus, and the contrast between its starkness and Black’s original amplifies the Campiness in her version. What was merely cheesy in her rendition now seems almost extravagantly so.
For the record, I, too, am “lookin’ forward to the weekend, weekend” — though I confess I anticipate no “Partyin’ partyin’ Yeah.” This weekend leads into our March “break,” during which I hope to catch up on a variety of projects and obligations — uninterrupted by teaching or grading. Speaking of which, I need to attend to some of the latter now. Yeah. Fun, fun, fun, fun.