We used to call it the Spokane vortex – the way this town sprouts connections to major worldwide stories.
Now the Spokane vortex has entered the viral age: The song and video “Friday” – the object of the most unwarranted avalanche of attention in the history of the world – has roots, or at least one tiny, rooty fiber, here.
“Spokane is like my home,” said Patrice Wilson, the songwriter, rapper and impresario behind “Friday.” “I still have cousins and everything there. I’m actually going to be in Spokane (Friday) until Saturday.”
That’s right: The man behind “Friday” is here in Spokane.
Today. Friday. On Saturday, which follows Friday, he’ll be gone.
OK. I’m swimming in the shallow pool. But Wilson’s Spokane connections have been the source of online chatter for a few weeks, particularly at Whitworth, which he attended briefly in 2000.
Wilson helps young people – like “Friday” singer Rebecca Black – make songs and videos through his Los Angeles company, Ark Music Factory. He’s drawn heat from critics who say he exploits kids and families, charging a few thousand bucks to produce and promote heavily Auto-Tuned songs and videos. He says the costs are reasonable and that he’s helping to produce clean, fun music that’s appropriate for kids.
“They don’t have to have the greatest voice,” he said. “They can have a great image, a great personality, as long as their heart’s into it and they feel the music … I’ll give them a chance.”
The chance for what, is the question. Black has undergone a brief, intense battering at the hands of the online commentariat that sets a new low even for that arena.
Wilson sees it more in the “no publicity is bad publicity” vein, and says the experience will be a stepping stone for Black. He’s released his own song, “Say What You Want,” that responds, sort of, to his critics.
“Hey, yo, everybody wants to know what Patrice has to say,” the song begins, before moving on to the refrain: “I keep on hearing everybody calling me a pedophile, calling me Fat, Fat, Fat, Fat Usher.”
Word of Wilson’s connection to Whitworth first popped up on a Los Angeles Times blog several weeks ago. He attended the school for three terms in 2000 and ran on the track team, he said. I don’t think it’s where he learned songcraft. (I teach a class there; I suspect my students could write a better song in an hour.)
“We’ve been seeing a lot of social media chatter about it on Facebook and Twitter and that sort of thing,” said Emily Proffitt, a Whitworth spokeswoman.
In truth, this particular virus is probably about dead by now: The video appeared in March, quickly set a record for YouTube page views and “dislikes,” prompted the creation of a page on Wikipedia and a ringtone, spawned a flood of parodies, and gave us Wilson’s self-produced “interview” and then his song.
By the time a dinosaur like me wades in, the kids have been infected with something else. And yet, when I watched “Friday” this week, the number of dislikes was still steadily ticking upward.
The song is not good, but it’s not vastly worse than a lot of the garbage MTV has peddled over the years. The overwrought response to it is just a furious echo from a mean-spirited chorus of kids who haven’t yet lived their way into more important considerations.
But, yes, Wilson has introduced some truly inane lyrics into the lexicon: “Friday, Friday, gettin’ down on Friday… Partyin’, partyin’, yeah! Partyin’, partyin’, yeah! Fun, fun, fun, fun, looking forward to the weekend.”
In case the message escaped you, Wilson says it’s supposed to be a fun, light song. He says the online hostility was tough for Black to take, but that she’s been strong about it and is moving on to other things. Part of moving on apparently involves a legal dispute between Black and Ark over rights to the song.
After Wilson’s year at Whitworth, he spent several years kicking around Spokane, working day jobs and trying to produce music here, he said. He left for Los Angeles in 2007.
He’s considering holding auditions for singers here. Maybe the vortex will exert its force once again, and Spokane will produce the next Rebecca Black – though I wouldn’t wish that on even the most attention-starved kid.
Here’s what Wilson tells his artists before their videos are put online: “It’s not going to be pretty. People can love you or people can hate you. … People say all sorts of things.”