Thirty-nine years after its release and 13 years after the video was posted on YouTube, Girls just wanna have fun made history. A week ago, Cyndi Lauper’s debut single hit the milestone of one billion views on the video-sharing platform, becoming the fifth song from the 1980s and the first sung by a woman to hit the historic milestone.
Now 68, the Brooklyn artist is celebrating the latest hit from a song that brought her world fame. There have been countless cover versions of the 1983 hit, which is still often heard in karaoke bars, commercials, movies and Instagram videos (even Britney Spears recently used it on its own). Social Media). But its longevity and enduring relevance cannot be understood without acknowledging its role as the unofficial soundtrack of new wave feminism.
“A lot of people don’t realize it, but ‘Girls’ is very much a political song,” Lauper said in a statement. “When I put my feminist hand on it, I knew I wanted to make it an anthem for all women.” Although it was she who made the song hugely popular, the original songwriter was Robert Hazard, who wrote it in 1979 from a male perspective. It was the story of a young man who apologizes to his parents for being so promiscuous, but blames the women who “just want to have fun” with him. When Lauper was offered the opportunity to include the song on his debut album, She’s so unusualshe agreed on the condition that she be allowed to change the gender of the protagonist and rewrite several lines to remove sexist overtones.
“Changing its meaning seems quite revolutionary to me, because in Hazard’s version it was a reproach,” explains cultural journalist Elena Cabrera. “In one line, the song condenses a truth we might be ashamed to admit, given our lives full of responsibilities. We girls need to take care of others, study, earn money, be responsible and always proving it to the outside world. And then comes Cyndi Lauper and she’s like, “no, you and I know what we really want is to have fun, and we’re going to allow ourselves to have that.”
Although at the time many people reduced the song to a simple demand for female sexual freedom, the singer has since defended that her vision goes far beyond that. “That doesn’t mean that girls just want to fuck,” Lauper explained to Atlantic in 2014. “It just means that the girls want to have the same fucking experience that any man could have.”
The message was encapsulated in lines such as “Some boys take a beautiful girl / And hide her from the rest of the world / I wanna be the one who walks in the sun / Oh girls, they wanna have fun. It is for this reason that the song has become an unofficial anthem for the latest wave of the women’s rights movement, and it is quite common to see the title paraphrased on posters: “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun-damental Rights”.
Before the track reached one billion views on YouTube, four other hits from the 1980s had reached the milestone: Sweet Child O Mine by Guns N’ Roses, take on me by A-ha, Billie John by Michael Jackson and I will never abandon you by Rick Asley. Although Lauper’s song also finds success on music platforms such as Spotify (where it has been streamed over 600 million times), the music video‘s influence has been defining throughout these four decades. He was also one of the first to include actresses from various ethnic backgrounds. “The one thing I really wanted was to have multiracial girls so every little girl could see themselves in it, and it would be pretty infectious if everyone had the right – no matter what race or color or what whatever – you were entitled to this joyous experience,” she recounted. Atlantic.
Elena Cabrera agrees that the music video was a vital part of keeping the track alive in the public’s imagination. It underlines three fundamental aspects. “First we have his response to the archetypal parents: his mother – played by Cyndi’s real mother – is seen cracking eggs in the kitchen, looking bitter, and his father is busy preaching moralizing sermons . Later, she is seen owning the streets, the public space, with her friends, in groups, safe and strong despite the appearance of people. And finally, there is the bedroom as a sacred place where anything can happen, and this recently conquered outside world is a metaphor for openness to the world. It all happens through fun, music, happiness and celebration,” she says.
The pop culture impact of Girls just wanna have fun is too deep to gauge. Two years after its release, it was made into a movie starring three future stars: Sarah Jessica Parker, Shannen Doherty and Helen Hunt, and the list of singers who have come up with their own cover version of the song includes Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry and The Killers. The hashtag #girls just wanna have fun has been used millions of times on Instagram, and it’s hard to find a talent show without at least one contestant picking up Lauper’s smash hit to try and wow the judges. The track’s influence on new, feminist-minded songs has been highlighted by journalists like Emma Green. “It helped set a template for how future stars would sing about social issues,” she wrote in her interview with Lauper for Atlantic.
As for Cabrera, she feels the song is even more relevant today than it was in the 1980s. “In 1983 there was this overriding idea of fun, carefree aesthetics, music and dance as a channel of liberation,” she says. “I think the great struggles of women, minorities and young people have been a very heavy burden of responsibility, and it’s very important to democratize pleasure, well-being and happiness.”