"I have a knack for doing things when I don't think I'm going to do them," music star Rebecca Black chuckles to The Advocate.
She's referring to her casual coming out as queer earlier this month. Appearing on the Dating Straight podcast hosted by a couple of her friends, Black felt comfortable enough to publicly open up about her sexuality.
"I think to me the word 'queer' feels really nice," she said on the podcast. "I've dated a lot of different types of people, and I don't really know what the future holds. Some days I feel a little more on the gay side than others."
She didn't plan to come out per se, but Black says the moment just felt right. "I just felt comfortable to talk about it, and I had made a choice when I had decided not to necessarily come out over the past few months, but to just stop really being so afraid of answering the question," she tells The Advocate.
You might remember Black from one of the internet's earliest viral moments, a playful music video for a song called "Friday" that garnered attention (good, bad, and very ugly) from around the world.
That was when she was just 13 years old. The song and video are now an immortalized piece of American meme culture, still referenced to this day.
Black and her family, who only expected their local community to see the video, had no idea how widespread it would become. All of a sudden, an avalanche of attention and vitriol was hurtled their way. Black struggled with bullying and death threats throughout her childhood. "One minute, I was a normal girl, and then, in the next, millions of people know who I was and they were ruthless in hurling the most vile words my way," she has said.
Now 22, Black has come out stronger on the other side.
"I just tried to be kind to myself," she says. "I have done a lot of work to try to reflect on what that meant for me, emotionally, as a kid going through that and having so many people just have so many opinions about you from such a young age."
It certainly affected her self-image. "I was so uncomfortable with myself for so long, just in general, growing up as a teenager. I always felt like I was a bit of an outcast just because of my relationship with my body. And obviously, this experience I had with 'Friday.' I kind of inhibited myself for a while, just on all fronts. As I started to process all of that, all of a sudden dating became much easier and understanding my sexuality also became much easier because I was in a community that was so accepting."
Black shares that she didn't fully begin to understand her sexuality until she was 19 or 20, but by having friends in the LGBTQ community, she "was lucky to be surrounded by a group of people that made it really, really easy." She adds, "I just never really thought that I would be a part of it until I was."
"My sexuality and the choice to come out was something I thought about for, obviously, a long time, as any queer person does," she says. Being vulnerable with herself and with her fans was a driving factor. "For so long I felt like I had to say, 'I'm great, I'm fine, I'm doing so well right now.' But nobody relates to that, because how many people are actually doing well? We're all struggling. As soon as you start being honest with that, people are like 'Oh, yeah, I feel that.' And that was shocking to me, but it's made things so much easier."
Black is not just "lookin' forward to the weekend" anymore — she's looking forward to the future.
She's been releasing a steady stream of new music since 2016, including tracks with producers Nathaniel Motte and Grammy Award-winner Finneas. And although she has no album planned out yet, she's not ruling out the possibility.
While the internet was the source of so many hardships for Black, she embraces it. She uploads vlogs for her 1.5 million YouTube subscribers that rack up millions of views, and she has just shy of 1 million followers on Instagram. The web, as Black knows firsthand, can be a cruel mistress, but in it, she has found community.
"The internet, as a culture, has developed so much," Black reflects on her virality. Of course, there are still haters out there, and "it's not perfect, by any means, but there's definitely much more awareness. People really understand the way that their words have just as much of an effect as they would in person, because you're now starting to see these people, like myself I guess, grow up. They have lives and they're not that different from so many of us."
Photography by Raul Romo; styled by Quinton Jackson; hair and makeup by Francie Tomalonis