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“Girls Just Want to Have Fun”: Excuse, Defiance, and Reassurance

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This is a reprint of an article written by Lucy Mao, which appeared on the All Music Guide website, June 15, 2022. I’m publishing it here as I thought it very interesting to take a close textual analysis of the lesser-known version of Lauper’s monster hit from September 1983.

Girls Just Want To Have Fun:
Excuse, Defiance, and Reassurance

When most people hear the song Girls Just Want to Have Fun, they immediately think of Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 version, released on her debut album She’s So Unusual. What they may not know is that Lauper’s version is actually a cover, as the original was written and recorded by American musician Robert Hazard in 1979. Hazard’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun was written from a male perspective, and it is a pity party full of excuses that a guy throws for himself because he can’t get a girl.

The original features roaring instrumentals, with the overpowering percussion, electric guitar, and synths drowning out the vocals at times. The hammering beat and percussion are reminiscent of someone feverishly pounding their fists on the walls, and the scratchy electric guitar imitates a hoarse voice, mimicking what a person sounds like after shrieking. These elements, as well as the fast tempo and frenzied beat, are a sonic representation of a temper tantrum, pointing to the narrator’s overwhelming anger and frustration. But what exactly is he so exasperated about? His inability to get a girl.

The narrator pleads, “I know your love for him / Is deep as day is long / …But when I knock on the door / I’m close now, you could come,” illustrating a woman refusing him. However, rather than improving himself, the narrator puts the blame for such refusals on girls, constantly using excuses to explain his lack of a girlfriend. In response to his parents’ urges to find someone, namely his dad’s “‘My boy, what do you want from your life?'” and his mom’s “‘you’ve got to start living right,'” the narrator defends himself with “Girls just wanna have fun.” He claims that girls are too focused on having fun to make time for him, so he’s still single. His excuse that “Girls just wanna have fun” (and very similar variations) constitute the bulk of the song, suggesting that he is extremely self-defensive; he would rather blame others through a plethora of excuses than take accountability himself. Not only does the narrator blame women, he is also irate at them for choosing fun over him, spitting out the lyrics in a hard, stiff tone and harshly enunciating each word. Hazard is nearly screaming for most of the song, and the pounding beat reinforces his anger; the line “girls just wanna have fun” aligns perfectly with the rhythm, as each word gets punched by a beat.

The pity party continues with Hazard’s whiny vocals. As he groans “That’s all they really want / Some fun” and “It’s all they really want / Good fun,” his voice goes out of tune and his pitch rises. Hazard’s pitch wobbles poutily, with a mesh of drawn out “Ahhhhhhh”s seeming to overlay his voice, giving listeners the impression that he is complaining. The narrator refuses to admit his own shortcomings and believes that he has done no wrong; rather, he thinks it’s the girls who have wronged him. The narrator pities himself so much that he makes himself cry; his tight-throated voice indicates that he is choking back tears and burps, but it sounds artificial and unnatural. He exaggerates his pain and anguish with contrived wails and moans, playing the victim to convince listeners that everyone is against him. The narrator attempts to console himself with “Come on, boy / Oh yeah / You are the fortunate one,” reassuring himself that yes, he can get a girl, because he has all the “tools” necessary to attract a woman. As the narrator sees it, the problem isn’t him.

But the narrator is the only one who believes this, as evidenced by the lack of harmony and backup vocals. There are no other voices in the song except for Hazard’s (and his screams and pouts). The lack of vocal support is perhaps analogous to the absence of social support for the narrator’s “dilemma”; no one agrees that he is faultless and that the women are to blame. Consequently, the narrator is left alone with his excuses, and he throws a pity party at which he is the only guest.

Hazard probably never anticipated that a piece he composed in 20 minutes while showering and deemed a “kind of silly song” would eventually become an international hit. He completely forgot about his 1979 demo until record producer Rick Chertoff came upon it while searching for songs to include on Lauper’s debut album. The lyrics were changed to reflect a girl’s point of view, so Lauper’s cover is more conscious of oppressive social practices against women. While Hazard assumes the role of the oppressor (though he believes otherwise), Lauper is among the oppressed. The line “Oh momma dear, we’re not the fortunate ones” demonstrates how society has stripped women of many rights and privileges, and “Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one” calls forth images of patriarchy and male control. Perhaps most strikingly, the lyrics never explicitly state that girls are actively having fun; it only reveals that “girls just wanna have fun.” Lauper’s version recognizes that repressive practices, gender disparities, and gendered social expectations have made it difficult for women to have a good time, so her 1983 cover is also a party, just a different kind; it seeks to liberate women from society’s oppressive rules and give them some well-deserved fun through a cosmic feminist party brimming with energy and joy.

Since Lauper’s version is sung by a woman, the narrator is no longer an outsider to girls’ fun; she is within it and is now the one striving to have a good time, hence the festive atmosphere the song evokes. Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” begins with a sparkling synth glissando signalling that the party is about to begin; it’s like the lights are flickering on as excitement pierces the air. Then, the juicy electric guitar springs into action as the vibrating, fizzy synths awaken from their slumber, shooting out bursts of energy and suggesting that the jamboree is now underway. The firm percussion coming in at regular intervals and the steady beat create a dance rhythm that amplifies the jovial atmosphere, with the sprightly tempo of 120 beats per minute and higher key adding more liveliness and dynamism to the scene. The glittering synth marimba electrifies the mood, and although Lauper uses a chest voice, her vocals are elastic and expansive; they sound luminous, radiating beams of energy and creating a spirited and feisty mood. In addition, most of the chorus and refrain, including the lines “Girls just wanna have fun” and “They just wanna, they just wanna,” are sung by a multitude of voices. There is no harmonizing, as everyone sings the same melody, establishing unity and calling forth a motivational party chant. Nearly all the voices are female, suggesting that women are banding together to live it up, in contrast with Hazard’s lonesome pity party. The music video shows Lauper chanting and dancing with other women, and the camera pans across as each dons a pair of sunglasses, reinforcing women’s solidarity and indicating that they are ready to partay.

The music and vocals’ jubilant party seeks to provide women a safe place to let loose, and the lyrics further these efforts to liberate women from oppressive social customs. Like in the original version, the narrator replies to her mother’s “‘When you gonna live your life right?'” and her father’s “‘What you gonna do with your life?'” with “girls they wanna have fun,” but unlike the original, it is not used as an excuse. Lauper employs the line as an act of defiance, challenging social expectations for women. In the music video, we see the narrator’s mother and father in a traditional home; her mother is wearing an apron and cracking eggs in the kitchen, bringing to mind the image of a housewife. Thus, Lauper’s “girls they wanna have fun” can be interpreted as resisting conservative values confining women to the home, and the line “I come home, in the mornin’ light” (presumably after a night out) emphasizes the narrator’s refusal to conform. Lauper also integrates more informal, lighthearted language, using “girls,” “momma,” and “daddy” instead of “women,” “mother,” and “father.” Although Hazard also incorporates “girls,” his usage is belittling and disrespectful towards women, while Lauper’s casual language is empowering by rejecting propriety. She declares “to hell with being a prim and proper lady,” and her fanatical, wild dancing in the music video further illustrates this defiance.

A major structural change in Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” is the switching of the first two verses. Hazard himself remarked, “She took the first verse and second verse and switched them. Why, I have no idea. Melodically, it’s exactly the same.” But here’s a possible explanation: with this change, the narrator’s interaction with her mother comes before her exchange with her father, bringing to the forefront the idea of “ladies first.” Hazard starts his song with the father (historically the head of the family), a structural choice that affirms male dominance and aligns with the narrator’s hostility towards women. Lauper’s new verse arrangement also makes “I come home, in the mornin’ light” the very first line, putting an act of defiance right at the beginning of the song. This suggests that women are tired of waiting; they are going to fight against social expectations now, without hesitation or reluctance.

Despite it being a cover of Hazard’s 1979 recording, Lauper’s version of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” is widely accepted as the original. Hazard’s demo never received significant exposure (if any at all), and it was Lauper’s 1983 version that shot up the music charts and garnered international success. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” became Lauper’s breakthrough single, establishing, if somewhat ironically, her legitimacy as an artist. It often serves as the basis for other covers, with more than 30 artists performing or recording their own versions. As with many other popular songs, covers eventually become covers of covers, and the musical comedy-drama series Glee’s 2011 version is a fitting example. While it is considered a cover of Lauper’s 1983 hit, Glee’s rendition of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” is more specifically a cover of American musician Greg Laswell’s version of Lauper’s cover.

In the series, Finn (played by Cory Monteith) sings “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” for Santana, who is a closeted lesbian struggling to embrace her sexuality. He wants to assure her that he and the rest of New Directions (the show’s fictional glee club) support her coming out and all care deeply. Due to its heartfelt and emotional context, Glee’s cover is a substantially stripped down version. Acoustic piano is the only instrument used, and the vocals constitute the main presence. Glee’s version is also much shorter than both Hazard and Lauper’s recordings; it contains three verses and two repeats of “That’s all they really want… / Those girls, they wanna have fun.” The refrain does not appear as many times, and there are no extraneous refrain-echoing lines such as “they just want, they just wanna,” making this cover significantly less repetitive or showy. These stripped down elements ensure that the song is short, sweet, and to the point, exposing its tender core and creating a more bare and vulnerable experience. Glee’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” thus serves as a place of peaceful solace, seeking to soothe and comfort those who are struggling.

The much slower tempo of 66 beats per minute allows listeners to meander gently through the song, with lingering lines like “Oh girls, they…” and “That’s all they really want…” maintaining the relaxed pace. The soft acoustic piano and quiet, translucent vocals create a calming tenderness, with the delicate layers of harmony forming a halo around Finn’s voice and evoking a spiritual aura that continues to soothe. In the context of the show, these elements establish a safe place where Santana can find support for her sexuality, and, more broadly, they foster a serene environment where the listener can seek refuge and consolation.

While the refrain “girls they wanna have fun” serves as an excuse in Hazard’s original and an act of defiance in Lauper’s version, Glee repurposes it as a reassurance to Santana that her sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of. Not only that, with “fun”‘s positive and sprightly connotation, Finn assures Santana that her sexuality is awesome. Glee’s version supports listeners and validates their anxieties, affirming that the listener is loved and deserves to love themselves. Glee’s cover also, unlike the previous two versions, bridges the gender gap; all the vocalists (Finn and the boys of New Directions) are male, but they are singing for and to a woman. The guys are banding together to uplift women, a stark contrast to Hazard’s anger towards them in the original.

The little-known original “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Robert Hazard revolves around a defensive guy who, unable to get a girl, throws a pity party for himself. The overpowering instrumentals illustrate his temper tantrum at his “dilemma,” with the proliferation of excuses and whiny vocals revealing the narrator’s tendency to blame others (specifically women) for his own shortcomings. Four years later, Cyndi Lauper releases her version, rewritten to align with a woman’s perspective, as a cosmic feminist party seeking to liberate women from restrictive social expectations. The sparkling instrumentation, dance rhythm, and luminous vocals set the scene for energetic festivities, with the refrain reshaped into an act of defiance. The structural changes in Lauper’s cover place women’s defiance at the forefront, lifting them out of the abuse they faced in Hazard’s original. Decades later, Glee featured a stripped down version of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” with the soft acoustic piano and gentle vocals creating a peaceful refuge, where those who are struggling can find comfort and solace. In this version, the refrain is repurposed as a reassurance, and the gender gap is bridged, with a community of guys coming together to support and uplift women in solidarity.

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