Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

In Defense of “Summer Girls”

with 3 comments

by Weiner

In the past year or so, I’ve read a few media commentators ragging on the song “Summer Girls” by boy band LFO (aka Lyte Funky Ones) from the summer of 1999. The most recent was in Time magazine, where Kayla Webley proclaimed it “the most awesomely bad summer song ever.” Matt Yglesias, whose blog I enjoy and usually agree with, called it the “worst hit song ever recorded,” and Alyssa Rosenberg piggy-backed off his observation to perform this more detailed analysis of why the song, in her mind, is “the worst.”

Well call me tasteless but I firmly believe that “Summer Girls” is one of the best summer songs, indeed, one of the great songs, of our generation. Here’s why:

Let me take you back to the summer of 1999. I was 17 years old, a counselor at Camp Kingswood, a Jewish camp, run by the JCC of Newton, Massachusetts but located in Bridgton, Maine. Coming from Montreal, I only barely knew what Abercrombie and Fitch was, let alone that I could like girls who wore it. The still don’t have many stores in Canada (and don’t have any in Montreal, as far as I know) but I visited the giant store they had in Boston. I wasn’t sure if I liked it, or disliked it. I just saw it was something new to me, and that was exciting.

I also remember seeing an interview with LFO, I think it was on MuchMusic (Canada’s equivalent to MTV) where they were talking about how people assumed that because they had this hit song they were rich. And that they weren’t rich. They said they made some money from the song, obviously, but that didn’t make them super multi-millionaires. And that information surprised me. Even at the age of 17, it never really occurred to me that people who were famous, celebrities of a sort, could be less than obscenely wealthy. This was probably incredibly naive of me, but this was still a year or so away from the time I had my first political thought. In any case, I felt that I could relate to LFO in a way that made other public figures, actors and musicians and the like, seem more distant.

And so hearing LFO telling me that they “like girls that wear Abercrombie and Fitch” was a reference I could relate to. And so were all the other references. I also “liked Kevin Bacon” and though I had never seen Footloose, I figured that I probably wouldn’t enjoy it. I had never seen Larry Bird play but I knew who he was an appreciated his greatness. Michael J. Fox, a great Canadian actor and spokesman for those with Parkinsons, was indeed Alex P. Keaton in Family Ties, a show that I watched, if didn’t quite understand as a child in the 1980s.

Webley proclaims that “no one calls” Shakespeare “Billy,” and perhaps that’s so, but Chris Farley, who had died only two years prior to the release of the song, called the old Bard “Bill” in the original “Matt Foley Motivational Speaker” sketch, still perhaps the greatest piece of sketch comedy of all time. So Rosenberg was off-base when she said that LFO “are not accomplished enough to refer to William Shakespeare by the nickname ‘”Billy,”‘ because art is not just about originality, but about borrowing and paying homage, and LFO was paying homage to Farley as much as they were to Shakespeare.

Rosenberg also argues that “Just because you can drop cultural references, doesn’t mean you should.” You know what? I disagree. Because I can still relate to all those lyrics. They still take me back to simpler time (that perhaps never really existed), a time when things in the world seemed to be ok. They remind me of summer, which is more relaxing than the rest of the year for those like me, who are perpetually on academic schedules.

“Summer Girls” provides nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. And that’s a good thing. It may not make me or anyone else hearken back to anything really concrete or specific. But it should make you feel warm and fuzzy. It strikes me that a good chunk of enjoying music is simple familiarity and comfort. Well these lyrics are not only familiar, but they reference things that are familiar. And the song is incredibly catchy. I mean really catchy. Who cares if we don’t know why he is telling this girl that his name is Rich? Just relax, enjoy the summer, and enjoy the song.


Written by David Weinfeld

July 23, 2010 at 13:36

Posted in music, pop culture

3 Responses

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  1. and most importantly, what most people seem to miss is that the song is tongue in cheek. the absurdity of what they are saying is not lost on these guys. i think it becomes more apparent when you listen to some of their other songs. i particularly recommend every other time if you don’t believe that they’re joking. (consider especially the lines “but then i think about the time when we broke up before the prom and you told everyone that i was gay… okay.)

    because i sympathize with the people who instinctively hate this song. when it came out, i was a high school student surrounded by spoiled brats who idolized abercrombie and fitch, and i hated it. it was only after i figured out the subtext that i decided i liked it.


    July 23, 2010 at 14:05

  2. I had a similar reaction to another 1-hit wonder from Summer of 1999, Len’s “Steal My Sunshine.” Having grown up in awful weather in Massachusetts, I didn’t know much about what this thing called “sunshine” was, or how it could be stolen, but this and the exotic origins of this band (a mysterious place called Canada) certainly fascinated me.

    I also agree 100% with Julie, though I remember hating “Girls of Summer” only when it started getting more play than “Steal My Sunshine.”


    July 23, 2010 at 23:30

  3. […] So, with all due respect to Andrew Sullivan (who I greatly admire), I would like to start our own little contest here at PhD Octopus. It’s entitled “Stand up and Sing.” It’s a chance for our readers and my fellow bloggers to submit the best pop songs (broadly defined) that deliver a political message (again, broadly defined). These are songs that provide pointed social commentary without falling over into smugness. It should go without saying that the entries should also be good songs. Here at PhD Octopus we’re all about quality and content. […]

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