When new-to-the-scene Cyndi Lauper debuted her lead single “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” in 1983, she could not predict the lasting impact those lyrics would have on American pop culture. Since the release of its accompanying album She’s So Unusual, Lauper’s hit has become a household title and has been professionally covered by over thirty artists, inspired a movie of the same name, and stood the test of time as a rallying cry for women’s equality.
The feminist connotation of “Girls” did not always go hand-in-hand with the tune. First written and demoed by American musician Robert Hazard in 1979, the song was originally sung from a male’s point of view, and thus hypersexualized its female subjects. Lauper found the lyrics to be misogynistic, and took it upon herself to rewrite them from a female perspective, rearranging it into the song heralded today as “an anthem of female solidarity.”
Lauper’s “Girls,” which the singer has called “very blatantly feminist,” catapulted her to fame. The song joined three other tracks from She’s So Unusual, including “Time After Time,” in the Top 5 of Billboard’s Hot 100, making her the first female artist to achieve this status. Lauper epitomized the album’s namesake, becoming especially popular among teenagers for her neon dyed hair and hybrid-punk style. According to writer Sheila Moeschen, she created a new space in the music industry for self-expression that “ran counter to the raw sensuality and edginess of her contemporaries like Madonna or veteran rockers Joan Jett and Pat Benatar.”
In the second and most famous refrain from the song, Lauper sings about how some controlling men hide women away, but for Lauper–and any fan bopping along to “Girls– “I wanna be the one in the sun / Oh girls, the wanna have fun.” For once, women could switch on the radio or flip the channels of MTV and hear a female-driven song that was about a woman celebrating herself. The lyrics demand respect and serve as an example of female agency, a concept minimally explored in songwriting before Lauper’s breakthrough.
It wasn’t just the song’s galvanizing lyrics that turned heads. In 1984, the “Girls” music video won the inaugural VMA for Best Female Video, and went on to capture the minds and hearts of millions. It was also one of the first of its kind to feature women of multiple races, driving home Lauper’s message for equality among women in addition to between the sexes.
In the video, a cheetah-clad Lauper parades around the streets of New York City, herding friends and strangers alike in a celebratory conga line that ends in a bedroom dance party, much to the dismay of her parents. Lauper channels ‘80s aesthetics as she sways to the synth-pop beat with backup singers, sporting hoop earrings and teased hair pointing in every direction. It is considered by MTV, VH1, and Rolling Stone to be one of the greatest music videos of that era.
“Girls” has come a long way since its initial heyday, infiltrating pop culture in countless ways. Alan Metter’s 1985 movie-musical Girls Just Want to Have Fun stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt as two friends set on entering a dance competition in their conservative town, and features a cover of Lauper’s song by Deborah Galli.
New interpretations of “Girls” are constantly resurging, from college a cappella groups to covers by The Killers and Miley Cyrus. One of the more famous renditions appeared in 2011 on the hit TV series Glee, when Cory Monteith’s character performed Greg Laswell’s version of the song for Naya Rivera’s Santana, a closeted lesbian, to show his support for her.
In 2017, Lauper reworked the lyrics of her single once more. This time, the title was displayed on a t-shirt that read, “Girls Just Want To Have Fundamental Rights,” a salute to the worldwide protests during the Women’s March. Lauper, a co-founder of the True Colors Fund for LGBTQ youth and homelessness, designed the shirt to raise funds for True Colors and Planned Parenthood. The slogan made its way onto buttons, magnets, and other mainstream forms of protest, solidifying the song’s role in spreading a feminist message.
Nearly 37 years after its original release, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” has remained a fixture in the American pop cultural consciousness, and Lauper’s music continues to live out a legacy of empowerment.END
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createdAt:Thu, 18 Jun 2020 13:49:17 +0000