Friday. Camp?

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.

6 Comments »

  1. Richard Flynn Said,

    March 17, 2011 @ 8:53 am

    I see that the Web Sheriff has gotten to the Dylan parody. I thought parody was protected fair use. WTF Web Sheriff?

  2. Richard Flynn Said,

    March 17, 2011 @ 8:57 am

    It has popped up here–for now:
    http://www.collegehumor.com/video:1949258

  3. Philip Nel Said,

    March 17, 2011 @ 9:04 am

    Thanks for the tip, Richard! I’ve replaced the now-removed YouTube version with the College Humor version. I’ve also taken the precaution of capturing the audio, just in case it gets taken down again.

  4. Jonathan Auxier Said,

    March 18, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

    I somehow managed to go a whole week before seeing this video … which is like five years in internet-time. I once had a professor observe that in our current culture “Self-awareness is nine-tenths of the law.” It’s okay to make mistakes, the crime is to make a mistake and not know it. I think the cringe-factor of Rebecca Black comes in the disconnect between the creators and the performer: whoever wrote, shot, mixed, and released this video is cynical as hell; Rebecca, on the other hand, appears to genuinely think she’s on the road to Beiberdom.

  5. mta Said,

    March 19, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

    Hey there, Phil!

    Thanks for posting this! Wagnerian!

    In Ms. Black’s defense, can I just say how impressed I am with the cast’s acne? You’d think they’d avoid showing it, even celebrating it … And it’s actually an interesting statement of solidarity to keep it in there.

    So rare to see unproduced faces.

    mta

  6. Philip Nel Said,

    March 19, 2011 @ 4:14 pm

    Thanks for the comments! Jonathan: There’s a lot more info. out on this song now. Her parents paid $2000 to Ark Music Factory in L.A., and she was given two songs from which to choose. The Ark Music Factory seems to be the modern-day equivalent of the song-poem businesses from decades past.

    And… Tobin! Good to hear from you! After posting this, I came across Matthew Perpetua’s Rolling Stone piece, in which he writes that Ms. Black “has a peculiar tonality that inadvertently highlights the absurdity of boilerplate pop lyrics that may not seem as ridiculous if, say, Katy Perry was singing instead.” The performance and video do a really nice job of amplifying pop-music banality (right down to the acne, which I confess I’d not noticed until you pointed it out). And her voice — thought autotuned to heck — is a curious one, dropping each “t” from “getting down on Friday,” and pronouncing the song’s title as if it were “fried egg.” As you say, there is something unproduced about this… which is part of its charm.

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