Kozlowski: ‘Friday’ not much worse than Gaga

By Mark Kozlowski

There is almost nothing I would not do for you, my dear readers. Provided it is legal,… There is almost nothing I would not do for you, my dear readers. Provided it is legal, newsworthy and I feel like it, I will subject myself to many an unpleasant experience for the good of the public. Now, you might scoff at this pompous assertion. You might doubt that I would be so selfless. What proof can I possibly offer of my deepest sincerity?

I listened to Rebecca Black’s anti-hit “Friday.” Just so I could write a column for you.

Do you doubt my selflessness now?

Now, the song is really, really bad. The official video on YouTube, with 83 million views and counting, has more than 1.5 million dislikes against about 200,000 likes. And I wonder how many of those 200,000 were hipsterish folk who were trying to be ironic or cool or edgy or something.

Listening to the track made me lunge for Bach, Beethoven, Paul Simon, Cab Calloway and William Hung recordings immediately, just so I could get that irritating “Fryeee-day, fryeee-day, party in the baaack seat, something-something-something” out of my head. I don’t even want to go back to figure out what the “something-something-something” was, because that means I’d have to listen to it again.

The funny thing is, the production value of the music video is actually pretty good, and Black is on-key throughout. Say what you will, but either Black or whoever did the mixing is not tone-deaf. What is objectionable is the young phenom’s execrable tone quality.

So, we have a bad music video, one of many. What makes Black’s hit unique is that this is a popular bad music video that has gotten all the way up to number 26 on the list of most popular iTunes downloads. Bad music videos are easy to understand. What is not easy to understand is why so many people feel compelled to throw good money after bad music.

Now, let me engage in some amateurish and potentially bad psychology. Not that I mind engaging in bad psychology: If it’s bad enough, maybe this column will go viral. Anyway, my explanation for this “fad of bad,” as a friend of mine so succinctly put it, is that we have a mass “keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome going on. Whenever there’s a crowd, we are tempted to see what it is they’re all staring at. There is a degree of curiosity engendered by constant chatter. Curiosity aside, there is just so much buzz about this video that we don’t want to be left behind in the march of popular culture. We don’t want to be less hip because we don’t know how much we’re supposed to sneer at Rebecca Black.

So, why people listen to her song and even buy it makes sense to me. What doesn’t make sense is why so many people who hate Black will gladly listen to a lot of popular music that is nearly as bad. Turn the radio to any pop station you choose, and you’ll hear the same exaggerated electronic effects and annoying vocal styling.

Who can forget, for example, “papuh, papuh-RAHT-zee”? The lyrics for many popular songs are no more profound than Black’s stating that Friday is party day, immediately preceded by Thursday and followed by Saturday, Sunday and Monday. For example, a recent Britney Spears song contains the lyric “If I said I want your body now, would you hold it against me?” — a line which would have elicited groans 32 years ago, though it registered 32 million hits on YouTube in the present.

Additionally, Black didn’t star in the 56 million-hit music video whose leading lady is dressed in one moment as Elton John, in the next as C-3PO and finally as a bumblebee, all without explanation. Cough, Lady Gaga, cough.

As I mentioned before, Black actually carries a tune. She doesn’t carry it well, but she’s on pitch. Listen to some hits today, and one will note that a few of them don’t really have much of a melody.

Take, for example, another piece by that bumblebee lady that has scored a middling 76 million hits on YouTube, the verse of which consists almost entirely of eighth notes sounding one note, which incidentally happens to be a B — “Poker Face.” These 56 and 76 million hits aren’t hits of derision, but of admiration: Lady “Buzz” Gaga is an obscenely popular artist. Now, I wonder, could it be possible that Lady Gaga is also benefitting from some of what Black has benefitted from, namely, a desire to listen to her music largely because everybody else is doing it?

Meanwhile, one of my favorite YouTube clips is also in some ways a music video. It’s Glenn Gould playing Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Contrapunctus XIV” from “Art of the Fugue,” one of Bach’s extremely late works. As Gould twists and turns in his peculiar way, he becomes one with the music. There are no sound engineering tricks, flashing lights or distortions aside from the pianist’s audible humming. It is deeply moving. And only about 106,000 people have viewed it on YouTube.

Why is popular music better than Rebecca Black? Comment to [email protected].