Rebecca Black Feels 'Empowered' 12 Years After Viral 'Friday' Video as She Releases Debut Album

Black tells PEOPLE about hustling for years to be taken seriously after "Friday," how coming out as queer liberated her as an artist and crafting her vulnerable debut album, Let Her Burn

Rebecca Black
Rebecca Black. Photo: Sarah Pardini

Rebecca Black is proving to the world that she's so much more than the viral "Friday" singer.

Almost 12 years to the day since viewers first watched the then-middle schooler contemplate sitting in the front or back seat in the highly-memed music video, which now holds over 164 million views on YouTube, the 25-year-old singer-songwriter released her debut album, Let Her Burn.

"I'm so proud to finally be able to have this moment and see so many people listening to the album," Black tells PEOPLE. "It's definitely the biggest thing I've ever taken on creatively, and it's a process that I had tried to start so many times over the last 12 years."

The captivatingly vulnerable and mature body of work couldn't be a further cry from juvenile lyrics like, "It's Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday / Everybody's looking forward to the weekend, weekend." Over 10 electro-pop tracks, constructed by Black alongside hit-making co-writers and producers like Amy Allen (Harry Styles, Shawn Mendes) and Stint (Demi Lovato, Kesha), Let Her Burn finds the musician working through inner dialogues about her own self-perception as well as familial and romantic relationships.

Its title, inspired by her unique journey through the entertainment industry, holds a double meaning: "All of the people and versions of yourself that have held you back deserve to burn, die and go — but learning how to make peace with that is to let this new version of yourself burn really bright."

Growing up in Orange County, California to father John and mother Georgina, both veterinarians, Black always knew she wanted to be on stage, but she didn't think she'd become a pop star. An aspiring musical theater actor, she came across the opportunity to make a pop music video as a young teen and thought it would help her along the career path.

"I just knew that I loved to perform. I thought I was going to go to New York, and my biggest thing was like, 'Can she get into Juilliard or the Tisch program?'" she recalls. "That was where 'Friday' came from, just like, 'What can I do to put on my resume?'"

Shortly after "Friday" was uploaded online, however, a flurry of online hatred came Black's way, with many viewers sending her death threats and critics labeling it the worst song ever. She embraced the joke within the public eye, appearing on talk shows and in Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" music video, but she also stopped attending classes due to bullying and was instead homeschooled.

Despite the hardships, she decided to choose potentially the most difficult life path and work toward serious pop stardom. "It was not the career choice that my parents would have ideally wanted me to choose after that," says Black. "Through that experience and ever since then, I've always had big goals. I never really thought about how I was going to get there."

It wasn't easy. She moved to Los Angeles at 18 with "no idea" how to navigate the music industry, maintaining a connection with her audience as a YouTuber while trying to "get in any room possible" to create songs.

"There were a lot of people that I was dying to work with, but so many people wouldn't give me the time of day," says Black, who spent years performing covers and releasing run-of-the-mill pop songs. "Even though I look back and some of those songs aren't still very resonant of me and my creative choices, at least those people helped me and encouraged me to learn."

Feeling lost, insecure and tired of disappointment around age 20, she nearly quit trying altogether and considered getting a job at a thrift store, simply to find peace in a field that wouldn't break her down. "I'd let so many people get deep inside my head, like, 'You're never going to be able to do this,' and I no longer had people around that really believed in me," explains Black, noting that the prospect of giving up actually encouraged her to keep going.

Rebecca Black. Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images for Fashion Media

"While that was a really dark moment, at the same time, having [thoughts] of, 'Well, I could not do this. I could decide today to quit everything, move and go do what I want,' that stuck with me and was probably one of the first seeds of actual confidence and freedom that put me into a more empowered position," she says.

Over the next couple years, Black competed on the singing competition series The Four: Battle for Stardom and collaborated with the likes of Finneas — long before his sister, Billie Eilish, became famous. Her music career was getting more serious, but it wasn't until she came out as queer in 2020 that she felt liberated enough to fully express herself as an artist.

"I always had a special relationship with the queer community, because they were some of the people who stuck their necks out for me before anybody else really did," says Black, who casually revealed her sexual identity on a friend's podcast. "I was met with so much support from people who were excited to see me living as a normal person… The fact that I'm out here not living in a cave, afraid of the world has been a source of hope for some people."

In 2021, Black released her debut EP Rebecca Black Was Here, featuring unguarded lyrics about relationships over fresh, high-energy beats. She later toured the project and feels as though the whole process gave her a "stamp of validity as an artist," priming the path for Let Her Burn, which she began working on almost immediately after finishing the EP. After writing the album, she entered a loving relationship with fellow musician Veronika Wyman of DAGR.

"She's my best friend in every sense of the word. I've never been more supported by anybody I've ever been with," says Black, who celebrated her one-year anniversary with Wyman on Valentine's Day. "We're still afraid to make any music together, but this last year has been the best I've ever had in terms of feeling supported and not isolated."

Black bares her soul on Let Her Burn, with songs like "Cry Hard Enough" exploring her relationship with her mom and "Performer" looking inward at her own struggles with confidence and honesty. "I was finally trying to speak a bit more to myself and try to understand my world outside of relationships," she says. "Break-up songs, love songs and sexy songs are also a huge part of this project, but that all came from self-discovery and self-experimentation."

Rebecca Black
Rebecca Black. Sarah Pardini

Fanfare surrounding the project has been overwhelmingly positive, though it's also been panned in certain critical reviews, with Pitchfork offering a stark 4.4 rating out of 10 — but Black is unbothered.

"If anyone were to think that what I've been through and had to hear about myself for the last 12 years is going to stop me or affect me in what I do at this point, I'm here," she says with confidence. "I've proven, to a lot of people, that you cannot drive anybody out of the industry if there are people connecting with the music. That's all that matters to me."

Not only are fans listening to Let Her Burn, they're also selling out Black's largest concerts to date around the globe. After wrapping a recent European string of shows, her North American tour kicks off in May. Soon enough, she'll begin working on a new project.

"If there's one thing that I've wanted for my entire life, especially after 'Friday,' is to find a community of people who understand me," says the musician. "I understand the redemption arc story of it all, but this is not the endpoint. I'm just getting started."

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