Rebecca Black was once one of the most bullied people on the internet. At just 13 years old, her music video for the song “Friday” launched her into internet notoriety and took a major toll on her mental health. It ranked as one of the most disliked videos in all of YouTube history, and Black spent the last twelve years unpacking the trauma that came with going viral for all the wrong reasons.
Now 25, Black released her debut album in early February called “Let Her Burn.” The 10-song record delves deeper into Black’s growth as a performer and gives her the control of her artistry that strangers around the world took from her all those years ago.
Here, Black talks to Wondermind about redefining herself, learning how to be vulnerable, and how she’s protecting her peace.
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WM: How does it feel to finally release this debut album? Were you nervous to put yourself back out there, especially after everything you went through when you were younger?
Rebecca Black: I'm definitely nervous. I mean, I think I am always nervous before a release, maybe now less than before because I've built up so much confidence and trust, I think, between me and my audience. … I know they're going to support me and root for me, and that's such a special thing that I am so grateful to have. But it's always nerve-wracking because I think what I've created over the past few years has been increasingly vulnerable and it's become something that I'm so proud of, which really helps with the nerves but at the same time it's sharing such a big piece of yourself, and that's always a little scary.
WM: How did you find the confidence to finally be vulnerable, especially when you're so online?
RB: I've done a lot of work on myself over the last few years, and I really have to give so much credit to the years I've spent in therapy kind of unlocking those pieces of myself because I was not always like that. In fact, I think when I was in my late teenage years, I was so locked up inside myself and never wanted to share anything about how I was feeling because I was so afraid. But then I saw how much that got in my own way and stopped me from doing so many things that I loved—including music for a second.
WM: You dealt with so much hate at such a young age. How did you cope with that?
RB: I mean, there's really no right kind of way to cope with something like that. No matter whether it's happening in the way that it did to me online and in a very public way, or even as a kid dealing with bullying in school. I think as a child especially, you're so at the mercy of the people in your life and especially the adults that are there to guide you through it. But for me, it was such a crazy case that my family and I were all trying to work our way through that.
In the beginning, I coped in literally just the only ways that I could find—some which were really probably even harmful to [me] in terms of trying to just skate by and get through each day. I pretended that I was doing a lot better, even to myself, than I was really doing. But as I got older and got the help that I needed and did really intense, specific work to unwind some of the belief patterns that I had built up as a kid because of that, that really was the true way of coping and dealing and healing.
WM: What finally pushed you to seek help for your anxiety?
RB: The world honestly worked in a very strange way. And I don't even think I really knew what I was getting into when I decided I was going to try to get into some therapy because really I've never done it before. You have no idea what it could look like. I guess I just tried to trust the process, and as I started to really understand who I was and what had actually happened versus the story that I had told myself, that allowed me to trust the process so much more.
WM: When you're feeling anxious now, what do you do to ground yourself?
RB: I just had a huge anxious moment this morning, and I'm so lucky that my girlfriend is such an incredible grounding force in my life. When I'm feeling those things spur up, it's so easy to leave that unsaid, whether you're alone or in a room with people or even with people you love, like for me with my girlfriend. It's so easy to just ignore that and try to get through it in silence. But the second you say something you give people around you the opportunity to help you and be there for you. But even if that source is just a journal, actually letting the energy express itself and not live only in your mind, I find is so powerful and also gives you the opportunity to hear yourself and hear maybe how illogical you might even sound sometimes, and how the things you're saying to yourself don't really make as much sense as they feel like they do when they're in your head.
WM: The album is so, so good, but the song that really stuck out to me was “Performer.” It talks about putting on armor and having multiple different versions of yourself. Could you tell us about the inspiration behind the song and what you hope others feel when they listen to it?
RB: “Performer” was a really special song. It was actually the last song that we wrote for the album, and it came up at such a special time. This album was such an incredible process for me because it really helped me finally go there in so many ways, even just in the ways I speak to myself, and “Performer” felt like it was almost a part of something new. I really enjoy creating worlds and building worlds in terms of writing songs around real experiences, but building them into something even more fantastical. But “Performer” is what it is. It was what I was going through.
I struggled with vulnerability my whole life as somebody who's been through what I've been through when I was younger. And I guess I was coming to terms with just how that's affected my relationships and the way that it's gotten in the way of so many [connections with] people that I love. … The song itself has actually nothing to do with being a true performer in my own life in terms of my career. It's just in the ways that I am probably a better performer as a friend or as a daughter than I am even as an artist, and grappling with that.
WM: What do you hope the world sees from Rebecca Black with this album?
RB: I hope that people can just really see what I have to offer as an artist outside of what they might know me from before, and give this moment as much validity as they would anybody else, and not compare it to the things that have unfortunately defined me since I was a child. And at the same time, I also just really hope that people can resonate with some of the things I talk about in the songs. A lot of the songs are about the relationship I have with myself and the ways I've grappled with so many of my own misgivings, which was a different experience writing for me, rather than talking so much about the ways everybody has wronged me. And hopefully, find some peace within themselves.
I mean, this album is called “Let Her Burn.” It's an album about not only letting those people who haven't served you in the ways that they could theoretically burn around you, but also letting those versions of yourself that have held you back burn and letting the truest version of yourself burn brightly. So all of those pieces I hope somebody can take even just a little sliver from. That would be amazing.
WM: Now that you're older and you have this confidence and other tools in your mental health toolbox, how do you protect your peace from internet trolls?
RB: Oh my God. I mean, that's hard. We're all trying, and I wish I was better at it. But I think one of the most important things I've had to build over the past 12 years, ever since what originally happened, was we all deserve to have an inner soundboard within ourselves that allows other people's opinions and thoughts and criticisms to bounce off of. And I'm such a big believer in taking constructive criticism, and that's such an important part of my life and what I do. But we also have to be able to trust ourselves and our own minds and our own thoughts on things. And that confidence—really, I think it’s just trust in ourselves and the ways that we believe and think—will guide us so much further and allow criticism to become constructive and allow us to grow and learn and become better.
So much of what we do and who we are is compared through social media and compared through everything that we find on the internet. But in reality, everything that we do is completely unique to ourselves. Not only are we unique, but the paths that we take are completely our own. And there's no right or wrong way to do it other than to try to be true.
WM: What would you say to younger kids who are being bullied online or in person?
RB: It's such a hard thing to talk about with kids because even though that was something I experienced as a kid, I don't really think I came to terms with it until I was an adult. But if something is happening to you and feels like you are being isolated or pointed out, you always have the right to tell somebody and talk about it, even if it's just telling a friend and helping yourself through it too.
The reason these kinds of things happen is because the person who is doing the bullying or attacking is the actual hurt person, and it doesn't excuse what they do at all. But it could be anybody. And I wish that I didn't take everything so personally when I was a kid, and that's a hard thing to understand when you are a kid too. There's still so much I have to learn about it … But I hope just encouraging community and encouraging the fact that none of us are going through that alone. A lot of us have shared experiences and we all deserve to talk about it. We don't deserve to just put up with it.
WM: What's something you've improved about your mental health over the years?
RB: I think really just building trust within myself is the biggest thing, and also learning how to prioritize it. I'm somebody who very naturally—and this is even something I was going through this morning—is like, if I need to prioritize myself and what I'm going through, the last thing I want to do is put that on anybody else, because I'm always trying to be so aware of my actions and everything, but there comes a time and place where you have to, whether it's your health or your mental or anything, and you deserve to do it as much as anybody else would. I think that comes with putting yourself in other people's shoes. And I guess if the tables were turned, how would you react? And for me, I just have to remember that I'm the hardest person on myself.
WM: What's something you wish you would've done for your mental health sooner and why?
RB: Ooh, ooh, ooh, that's a really good question. I think I would've taken more leadership if I knew how to do it in my own world, and learn that putting yourself first is not a selfish move. And sometimes selfishness is also really positive, you know, the whole put-on-your-oxygen-mask-before-you-do-anybody-else's type situation.
WM: You have an incredibly busy schedule lately with the album release and your tour. How are you prioritizing your mental health right now?
RB: Oh my God, I'm trying to do my best. I think this is something I'm learning right now, literally, but boundaries and knowing that boundaries are important to sustainability. That's something that I'm still really trying to harness right now. But I do think I'm learning the lessons as they come. It's OK to say no, it's OK to put limits on what you know you're capable of. That doesn't make you weak. It just will redefine your relationships to become helpful for you and sustainable for you.
WM: If you were to give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
RB: You'll never regret being nice to yourself, even if it's in the littlest moments of allowing yourself to wear what you really want to wear or do what you really want to do or say what you really want to say or not say what you don't want to say. I think that all of those moments, especially when I was younger, I would hyper-focus on so many unimportant things that I don't remember to this day, but they left me with so many wounds. But those positive moments, I remember so much more.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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