Released: 28th August 2000
Writers: Robert Hazzard / Lolly Vegas
Peak position: #14
Chart run: 14-25-38-50-63-74
When Per Sempre Amore (Forever In Love) failed to crack the top ten, it sent shockwaves around the charts. If inarguably one of Lolly’s best singles, (nay, one of the best songs of the ‘00s) could only reach #11, then something big needed to happen in response.
That Lolly’s record label wanted to push a cover version at this point was unsurprising. Having missed the top ten for the first time in her career (we still don’t know what happened there), logic – and experience – would dictate that this was a surefire way to score a compensatory hit. But choosing the right song isn’t as easy as it seems, as would soon become apparent. Girls Just Want To Have Fun was originally a #2 hit for Cyndi Lauper in 1984, and a decade later she’d taken a reimagined reggae version – Hey Now (Girls Just Want To Have Fun) – back to #4. In theory, then, it was almost time for the track to reappear in the chart again, and there was no reason that Lolly shouldn’t be the one to do it.
Except Girls Just Want To Have Fun didn’t need to make a comeback because it had never really gone away. This is one of those songs that had permeated popular culture to such an extent that it was almost impossible not to know it. The original might have pre-dated the majority of Lolly’s target market, but it’s unlikely her version would be the first time many fans had heard it, which isn’t usually the case with a cover. The reasons for this are multi-faceted. Girls Just Want To Have Fun was – and still is – a strong recurrent commercial radio hit, so that in itself created a challenge for Lolly’s version, which would essentially be battling against itself for airplay. The track is also one of the archetypical celebratory anthems of feminism, and few songs dealt with the topic so proudly. Even the ‘girl power’ phenomenon of the ‘90s that was attached to pop music manifested itself more in attitude and personality than it did lyrical content.
Lolly’s version of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun didn’t feel like it was released with any of this factored in. Even the subtle name-change – which does, in fairness, represent the way the title sounds – feels like it removes a sense of defiant purpose from the track. Instead, it very much takes the song at face-value; and that’s not a bad thing. With so much context, it’s easy to forget that we’re talking about a gloriously giddy pop song here, and that’s precisely what Lolly delivers. Her version is a mash-up of the two Cyndi Lauper versions; the peppy production is based around – and updated from – the original version; yes, the synth marimba is polished up and sounds as good as ever. But it also incorporates the: “Hey now, hey now, what’s the matter with you, girls just wanna have fun now” hook (sampled from Redbone’s Come and Get Your Love), which was added to the 1994 version.
That’s about as inventive as this single gets; but if you’re waiting for the moment where Girls Just Wanna Have Fun goes catastrophically wrong…well, that doesn’t happen either. It’s a lovingly faithful remake, which at worst comes across as a functional – but characteristically sprightly – ‘00s remix. Indeed, it’s almost as if the track is consciously aware that it’s treading a thin line with every second that passes, and so concludes before the three-minute mark to minimise the risk of outstaying its welcome. Interestingly, so buoyant is the performance that it almost feels as if the Lolly façade is slipping a bit and we’re simply hearing Anna Kumble having the time of her life in the recording studio. The track remains absurdly uplifting, and the: “They JUST wanna, they JUST wanna…” refrain that closes the song is gravity-defying. If there was even the slightest chance that anyone was starting with Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and working backwards to discover the original(s), then it’s the perfect introduction.
Famously, Cyndi Lauper’s 1984 music video for the song was shot on a small budget (well, $35,000 doesn’t seem small, but…) and it seems that same mentality was afforded to this single as well. It wasn’t a significant change from the norm for Lolly, and not necessarily unwise given the underperformance of the previous single. But where her videos were usually creative with their resources and turned the fiscal constraints into cheerfully twee concepts, this one doesn’t feel quite so successful. The essential elements are all there: ransacking a clothes shop? Check. Picnic in the park (don’t litter, kids)? Check. Frolics at the fairground. Check, with generous helpings of candy floss. But something doesn’t quite click, and after two decades of ruminating on the matter, it suddenly became clear. Lolly in the “real world” doesn’t follow the (unwritten) rules of the act. All the previous videos had some fantastical element to them and/or existed in the bubble of pop music. So, seeing her perform choreography (however impressively) in the middle of an average high street market while bemused stallholders look on doesn’t fit the established convention. There is nothing within the visuals for Girls Just Wanna Have Fun to decisively differentiate Lolly from Anna Kumble, and that was never part of the deal.
What the performance of the single ultimately boils down to is that regardless of whether a cover version is good or bad, it should never, ever be unnecessary. And that is the cardinal sin Girls Just Wanna Have Fun committed. It is delightfully enjoyable for what it is, but the enduring legacy of the original – even for a new generation of pop fans – rendered its impact negligible. The track’s #14 peak feels like an entirely fair reflection of what this single represented. Alas, when her second album Pick ‘n’ Mix peaked at #80 a few weeks later, it was a telling sign that the Lolly phenomenon which tore quite unexpectedly through the chart, was done.
Happily, the end of Anna Kumble’s stint as Lolly was not one of woe, unlike many of her peers who found themselves in a similar situation (you can read all about it here). She parted with her record label on good terms and quickly made the jump to television presenting. Arguably this wasn’t the best song for Lolly to go out on, but if a spirited cover of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun was as bad as things ever got, then that’s a pretty impressive track record.