Emma Grey Ellis
If you’re having a “hot girl summer,” it’s time to pay up. Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion, and her definitive tweet that this season is made for hot girls, made the phrase the season’s most ubiquitous meme, an internet-wide catchphrase. Got vacation pictures? “Hot girl summer” is your caption. Vlogging a day out with your friends and need a video title? Consider “hot girl summer.” Looking for a self-deprecating tweet that proves you’re also in the know? How about a sweaty selfie and a quip about “hot girl summer.” Need to make your tabloid headline just a little less stale? Those paparazzi photos sure make it look like that celebrity is having a “hot girl summer.” Snapchat? Hot girl summer. TikTok? Hot girl summer. Facebook? Who knows, but it’s probably hot girl summer there, too.
You get it—the meme is everywhere, so much so that it’s nearly a movement. #HotGirlSummer has been tweeted 2 million times in the past month. Meg, as she’s known to her fans, wants it that way. She thinks “hot girl summer” is for everyone: “It’s just basically about women—and men—just being unapologetically them,” the rapper told The Root last month. “Just having a good-ass time, hyping up your friends, doing you, not giving a damn about what nobody got to say about it.” She also thinks she should get paid. Her fans, many of whom are clinging to “hot girl summer” as a memetic reprieve from the year’s stormy political landscape, agree. Hot girl summer feels celebratory in a time when little else does.
As often (OK, always) happens when an unproblematic meme sweeps across the internet’s collective consciousness, brands want a piece of it. So far, the phrase “hot girl summer” has been used in marketing materials by brands including Wendy’s, PacSun (in a now-deleted tweet), Maybelline, DuoLingo, and Forever 21, who styled it “hot girl SUMMAH” in an email subject line, which lots of people on Twitter did not appreciate. In fact, tweeters did not appreciate most of these cheeky corporate references. The replies are full of people asking whether the brand is sponsoring Meg or stealing from her, and accusing them of appropriating black culture. Brands have a long and storied history of using slang terms that originate in the black community to sell their products, which many find objectionable because the people whose creativity those terms represent often don’t see any of the profit.
A related problem plagues meme creators, and particularly meme creators of color. The classic example is Kayla Lewis, alias Peaches Monroee, who coined “on fleek” but didn’t see a cent of the money made by slapping the phrase on practically every hat, T-shirt, bag, and rap song made in 2014. In recent months, meme creators, many of them black women, like Bri Malandro, the wordsmith behind “the yee haw agenda,” have begun filing trademark applications the moment their meme goes viral. Megan Thee Stallion has wisely followed suit, and, if approved, the trademark would cover merchandise like hoodies and T-shirts. Trademarking words and phrases doesn’t always work out: President Trump famously failed to trademark “you’re fired,” and the US Patent and Trademark Office recently denied Cardi B the rights to her signature trill, “Okurrr.” Still, it’s fascinating to watch how the culture around trademarks is changing. News of Meg’s trademark application broke after a fan tweeted at the rapper asking if she was trademarking, and fans were delighted to learn that the answer was yes. Internet capitalism has made wonks of us all.
Whether Megan Thee Stallion gets her trademark or not, the meme has already boosted her career. She’s gained 250,000 Twitter followers since June. Her tweet defining “hot girl summer” is her most retweeted of all time. And of course, while her application hangs in bureaucratic limbo, there’s a far easier and more direct way to honor the woman who has brought Summer 2019 one of its only positive memes: Just go buy her album.
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