Rebecca Black’s latest EP once again proves that she is a legitimate pop power still being slept on.
Rebecca Black transcended “Friday” years ago. Since 2017, she’s been putting out synthpop gems that shine alternately with melancholy, exuberance, and defiance, but, without fail, are polished to perfection. Her earlier singles tested the edges of the indie-pop-girl landscape in all directions, trying genres from glittering dance-pop to anthemic ballads to drop-driven electropop and attitudes from snark to hesitance to unabashed romance. Rebecca Black Was Here is her first EP since 2017’s RE / BL, and it reintroduces Black as a pop artist worthy of attention by (finally) packaging her different musical impulses together into one compelling project.
The EP is split cleanly down the middle between hyperpop and more traditional synthpop sounds. “Better in My Memory,” “Personal,” and “NGL” all play around with a similar kind of hyperpop style where sweet, shimmering verses are contrasted with sour, clanging choruses in order to explode emotions outward into the most visceral manifestations possible. “NGL” is the best of the group, and at three and a half minutes long, it’s also the most structurally developed compared to the sub-three minute runtimes of the other two. Indeed, it uses that time thoughtfully, giving the song’s diverse array of textures room to breathe and mingle, particularly on the lavish bridge where each harsh and sugary layer of synths is broken down and built back up amid playful vocal processing and dramatic stop-start rhythms. The writing is also interesting, with Black admitting she was the bad guy in a relationship, speculating about what a breakup song from the other person’s perspective might be like, and rhyming “Sky Ferreira” with “mascara.”
The last three songs on the EP scan as more tried-and-true synthpop reminiscent of Black’s previous singles. Track 4, “Blue,” is a ballad that puts her voice front and center: after the vocal manipulation of the first three songs, it’s a breath of fresh air that reestablishes her presence as the cohering factor of the EP. Following it is latest single “Worth It For the Feeling,” which is similar to her 2020 track “Self Sabotage” in the way it transforms complicated relationship troubles (“If history’s repeating / Then it’s worth it for the feeling”) into surprisingly gorgeous pop confection. Drenched in reverb and layered with hazy synths, violins, and electric guitar, “Feeling” is pretty because it relies on melancholy, instinct, and uncertainty, and it’s a strong contender for the project’s best song. Rebecca Black Was Here then closes with its first single, “Girlfriend,” which is a fun, frothy cut about Black getting back together with her girlfriend that takes the soul-baring, weightless qualities of “Blue” and “Feeling” and morphs them into the happiest track here. “Girlfriend” is also the final clue in revealing the overarching narrative: Rebecca Black Was Here is a reverse breakup album, beginning when the relationship is already over and ending with Black changing her mind and vowing, with infectious optimism, that “this time it’s gonna be different.”
The EP features, in the context of Black’s discography, both sounds that are new and some that are already familiar. She still excels at her brand of synthy futurepop, but “NGL” in particular is a nice calling card if she decides to venture further into the hyperpop scene. Regardless of genre, though, one thing remains true in all her work from 2017 to now: Black’s songs are distinguished and elevated by her singular presence. Of course, her voice has enough power to carry the music convincingly, but her biggest strength lies in her ability to imbue even the most hushed line with emotion — and, conversely, her ability to make even the most forceful melody sound delicate. Her sweet, emotive vocals anchor the chaos of the more maximalist tracks, tie them to the more traditional pop output of the second half, and ensure that the inherent emotion of each track remains front and center. Rebecca Black’s name may carry old baggage along with her pop music career, but she’s proven over and over that she’s worthy of being seen as a meaningful artist in her own right.
Published as part of Album Roundup — June 2021 | Part 1.