On the most recent Digital Tracks chart, the Internet phenom’s surprise hit that ponders everything from which seat to take in her friend’s car to which day comes after Friday has already sold 159,000 units. And it was just announced this week that “Friday” will be performed on an upcoming episode of the popular Fox television series, Glee.
The 13-year-old songstress has also appeared on Good Morning America as well as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and is reportedly working on a follow-up track (“LOL”) as well as the rest of her debut album.
So what more could Rebecca Black want to know that she’s “arrived”? How about a parody! Already, late-night talk show hosts including Conan O’Brien—and even the Jonas Brothers—have poked fun at the teen singing sensation with their renditions.
But how about having a church take you on?
I'm sorry ... what?
That’s right. Community Christian Church of Naperville, Illinois, jumped into the ring earlier this month by way of “Sunday,” which has a little more method behind its madness than perhaps other parodies that have gone before. I talked about this recently with the church’s Creative Arts Director, Eric Bramlett, and asked him how in the world he and his church were inspired to parody Rebecca Black’s “Friday” as a way to invite people to worship with them on the upcoming Easter Sunday.
Stay with me, ‘cause this is good stuff …
So Eric, tell me what is the genesis behind how “Friday” became “Sunday”?
Well, Jesus started it. [Laughs.]
Very true! But when did you first know that you wanted to parody this video?
I think it was in one of our creative brainstorming meetings. and it’s kind of the way the viral videos go. It’s like, “Did you see that? Did you see this thing? Did you see it?” And we were just amazed at how quickly it was shooting up the charts. I think when we first looked at it it had 30 million views, and I think by the end of that day it had jumped up to like 50 million. It was just crazy! And you know our media team and our creative team has always enjoyed looking at opportunities for parody or satire, and it’s something that is well documented in the way in which we express ourselves creatively. So it wasn’t that far a stretch that we would try to figure out is there a way for us to do a parody of this in some way.
We were talking a lot about our current Easter service and opportunities to invite people to Easter as all churches probably do in terms of getting the word out and inviting and including our friends and neighbors. And so it became kind of the idea basically—what if we took this video and we turned it into "Sunday" and we used the lyrics to talk about the Easter weekend? And from there all the jigsaw puzzle pieces kind of fit into place. My daughter Sadie was familiar with the song and knew that she could pull off a Rebecca Black impersonation, so that’s what she did. And then we had a couple of characters that had already appeared in some of our “Kids’ City” curriculum videos that were these goofy white rappers. And so since we had the spot in the song for a rap, it only made sense for us—at least for our attenders—to have the BP and Master E make appearances in this song. So that was really kind of how it showed up. And then we were right in line with our school system’s spring break, and so it gave us some opportunities to recruit some kids and put the shoot date together. And we just tried to make it as fast as we could and get it out there as soon as we could.
In general, have you seen parody be effective in your work in church ministry?
Absolutely. I would say it’s a huge value, a huge connecting point for our attenders and particularly the people who are coming maybe for the first time and people who are far from God. You only get an hour with somebody in those cases, and so for us to be able to link our service in some way to what’s going on out there in the pop culture has proven to be very effective. It creates a connect with them, and it helps them to see that we’re people too and that we know what’s on our radio and that we see the world outside and we get them. And then in the future, when they’re living their life and going into Target and they hear a song, maybe for the first time it reminds them of church. We’ve done Mac and PC parodies, and we’ve done some E-Trade baby parodies. You know things like that where that stuff is out there and it’s going to be viewed. And so there’s an opportunity to be able to connect to that to their experience that they had at church, and it is one that we don’t think that we should pass up.
On the flip side, do you think it’s possible to connect with people by not using pop culture references. Can you still be effective in illustration of biblical principles?
Sure and we do. It’s just one of the tools in the toolbox. It’s not the only tool in our toolbox. But I think that because probably a lot of churches don’t use that tool in the toolbox, for one reason or another, it tends to kind of pop out as being unusual or somewhat unexpected. But absolutely. We want to communicate the gospel in whatever ways are out there.
Even though “Sunday” has garnered over 2 million views at YouTube at this point, I know you’ve received some negative feedback. What is your feedback to that?
First of all, you kind of have to take the whole idea of comments on the Internet as a grain of salt experience. My background is in the theater, and it’s like if you read the good reviews and believe them then you have to read the bad reviews and believe them. And so at some level you kind of look at all of it and say, “Well all of it doesn’t really matter. It’s great if they liked it, it’s great that those people didn’t like it," etc.
What’s interesting to me is you’ve got this thread of personality that likes to express themselves on the Internet, and one of the reasons they like to do this is because of the anonymity it provides. And so sometimes they can be more bold in their reactions on the Internet than maybe they would if they were sitting face to face or if they were on the phone like we are. And so it’s interesting to me that it is not exclusive to whether or not you’re a Christian or whatever your beliefs are. That’s a personality trait. My only thing on that was it’s interesting to me how you know there are plenty of horrible things that are being said about the video on YouTube or Tosh.0, but there are also people arguing on Godtube about the Sabbath and whether or not we should have been singing about Saturday instead of Sunday because Jesus celebrated the Sabbath on Saturday. And so you know it’s kind of one of those things where there’s a thread of personality type that will engage in that kind of commentary under that anonymity, and it’s fine. It’s public, it’s there, they can do that. But you know, I’m not going to engage necessarily in any of those quote-unquote controversies.
Do you think there would be less criticism if it wasn’t a “Christian” parody?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. I mean, I think part of it is that maybe it’s difficult for people to perceive that it’s possible to be both a parody and also be genuine about inviting someone to church. We were walking that line and trying to do both, and we are trying to poke fun at something that it is in pop culture that has been universally loved to be hated, you know?
[On YouTube] the thumbs down of Rebecca Black’s video is 90 percent. People love to hate it. I think the reason people love to hate it and keep talking about it though is because it’s a well-crafted, addicting chorus. Like you can’t get it out of your head. And that’s a positive in the midst of something that people are talking about in the negative. So I think it has as much to do with that part of the particular song as much as it might whether or not it was Christians doing it. But I do think that the fact that it was a church doing it caused the boom because it was well made and then to find out that it was from a church and it was genuinely inviting people to church created a buzz about it that some of the other parodies didn’t. And we weren’t the first. There were plenty of parodies of Rebecca Black’s video that have been out. But in terms of the overall response, I’m sure that there’s an element of that that’s “wow” for a person who has maybe never liked church or didn’t have a good experience and then also doesn’t like Rebecca Black. It’s like two strikes. But they’re watching it. So it’s this weird combo of reactions.
How far has this video taken you in terms of notoriety or just placement either on other video-sharing or media sites or on radio or television?
As far as I know, I don’t think anybody’s shown it on television. I have heard stories of radio stations across the country playing clips of it like on the morning shows—or even DJs just commenting about it. But I haven’t heard any word with regards to television yet, and I don’t suspect that it will. I think we’ll get a little bit of a bump this weekend, ‘cause it will be [Palm] Sunday. And then we’ll get another bump with Easter. And then I expect it’ll die out the way that all good viral Internet video does.
Speaking of Sundays, on one of the recent episodes of your "The Pop Culture Pulpit" podcast you mentioned that your church plans out nine weeks in advance for your services. How do you work out the video illustrations to coincide with what is being taught in the church services?
Basically it’s a team sport from the very beginning. When we’re in a room working on that stuff, the lead teaching team pastor is there working and brainstorming with anybody else who’s on the arts side or the media side. It’s a little bit of a different structure. I’m the Creative Arts Director and I report to the lead pastor, Dave Ferguson, and he’s on the teaching team but he doesn’t lead the teaching team. And our guy Tim Sutherland, who is kind of our teaching team guru, he actually reports to me as part of the arts. So we look at the teaching element of the service as a part of what we’re doing in the full hour, so we’re all working together to craft what we’re going to see on-screen, what we’re going to see in person, what we’re going to hear as far as music goes and what we’re going to hear as far as teaching goes. So we work together from the very beginning.
And then the other part of that, we meet every May over two days to plan out the entire calendar year’s worth of material—just in terms of like here’s where Christmas falls, here’s what the series is going to be called, here’s how many weeks it could run, etc. So we walk away from that meeting in May knowing what we’re going to do for that August all the way through the following August. So actually Dave and Jon Ferguson and myself had an opportunity a few years ago to kind of outline how we do that part of it in a book called The Big Idea and Zondervan published it. We do all of that in advance. One of the other reasons we do it in advance is so that we can drill down and have the same topics for adults, students and kids so that everyone is experiencing the same topics, and so that parents and families feel more prepared to have spiritual conversations with their kids, because they know it’s the same topic.
I grew up seeing live drama illustrate sermons in the Sunday evening services at my church. Would you say that video is the 21st century equivalent of live drama which connects us back to the parables that Jesus told in the Bible to help clarify his points for the people?
Absolutely. We’re telling the greatest story in the world. How did Jesus do that? He did it through telling stories. And he used the tool of his day … for example, sometimes he drew in the sand. And I think we’re called to tell creative stories to try to point people toward the greatest story. So whatever it takes to do that.
And it’s funny that you mentioned live drama. I’ve been doing this as a Creative Arts Director since 1996. And when we started, we had one location and we did a lot of live theater. And then we began experimenting with multi-campus, and now we have 12 locations all across Chicago. And so that’s crazy, right? So for a while there we were still doing live theater. And we would rehearse all at the same time, and I remember doing a five-campus, six-campus launch rehearsing a four-actor sketch on a Friday night with 24 people in the room. And so we held on to that kind of as long as we could, and then it just became clear as video was becoming more accessible and the prices were going down on good gear, you were able to achieve more through the computer editing at a lower price. It became more economical and smarter to spend our time crafting the video content and turning our sketch ideas into video ideas. And so, you know, it was just a transition that we went through as a church, as a creative group. We used to do a lot of crazy theater stuff, and now we do a lot of crazy stuff but it ends up on video and we’re able to use the Internet to make it available to all of our campuses.
I heard that you received some positive feedback from someone who really connected with the “Sunday” parody video and was encouraged by what you’re doing at Community Christian Church in trying to reach people. Would you share about that?
Sure! I was fortunate enough to get a letter from one of our campus pastors, and he’d received an e-mail from an attender, someone who had maybe just come a couple of times. And he friended us on Facebook and maybe a day later he saw our video on Facebook and thought it was kind of funny. He’s a Web guy. And then the next day he saw it on Tosh.0 on Comedy Central ‘cause that’s the world we live in.
So he saw it on Tosh.0, and he couldn’t believe it. He was seeing all of the comments and kind of his reaction as he was seeing all of this kind of typical trolling that happens on the Internet and the vile comments was that he was just worried for us and hoping that we don’t give up. “Don’t give up on trying to do this stuff. Don’t let these comments get you down.” He’s went on to say that maybe somebody who’s been in that position to make those comments maybe right now isn’t going to be the time when they’re going to watch a video like this and say, “Oh yeah, I need Jesus right now.” But maybe, just maybe, somewhere down the road there’s going to be a place when they’re ready and maybe, just maybe, they’ll realize that there’s there is a church out there who’s silly enough to have some fun and would point them in the right direction. And he kind of closed his note by saying, “Count me as one of those people.” Now I don’t know where he is on his spiritual journey, and I trust that that campus pastor will guide him as he continues his spiritual journey. But it was exciting for me, as one of the people who made the video, to realize that you know that that kind of person who’s experiencing this is exactly why we made it. And that is exactly the person that we’re trying to reach. And so it was very encouraging to get that note and kind of feedback.
Do you think people could get more hung up on the way a message is delivered as opposed to what the message is?
I think so. I do think that comedy is confusing for our American version of evangelical Christianity. And I think we shy away from it because we think that to be a Christian you need to be nice. And that might be true most of the time, I guess. I do think God invented laughter, and he invented comedy and you know I think the comedy part of it is probably one of the church’s least used gifts from God. And it’s dangerous, and it’s risky and you have to experiment.
We weren’t trying to make a viral video. We were trying to invite people to church. And it would be silly of us to say that we did it because we’re capitalizing on someone else’s lightning. It’s Rebecca Black’s lightning. It’s not our lightning. We didn’t do this. It was already out there. So we certainly weren’t aiming to do that. But at the same time we just kind of did what we do which is to emulate, to parody, to point out. Like the joke in the middle [of “Sunday”] that nothing rhymes with the word orange. That’s a joke! Nothing rhymes in that song. So I don’t know how you look at that and say, “Oh well they’re serious or they don’t understand what parody is.” But you know, that’s okay.
So what’s next after “Sunday”?
I think Monday. [Laughs.] We’ll be excited to see how we do and how our attendance is on Easter Sunday. But we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re going to keep telling stories and putting them out there for people to experience. And we are beginning the process for having a community online service with the streaming service on our Web site. It just kind of happened that a lot of this viral attention or Internet attention has coincided with launching that in the next month.
But I would say we’re just going to try to help people find their way back to God. That’s [our church's] mission statement. That’s our passion. When the next idea strikes, we’ll decide what it takes to try to pull it off and, you know, continue to reach people who are far from God. That’s what we’re passionate about.