That title, though. While Dorothy Boyd told Jerry Maguire in 1996 he had her at hello, 20 years later, Lady Gaga had us at "Hey Girl." So what do the lyrics to "Hey Girl" mean? If you were hoping for another female empowerment banger to add to your playlist for a night out with the most important ovary-havers in your life, then Gaga's got you covered. If you're just really into two women with an incredible set of pipes on them, Gaga (and Florence Welch) have you covered. The lyrics, however, aren't as easily decipherable, as say, "I Will Survive" or "Respect."
The lyrics draw on a long history of the homosocial in female friendship. When I say homosocial, I'm referring to behavior that comes across as romantic, even though the two people have no concrete sexual interest in each other. The song draws upon this tradition by describing a female friendship so intense it sounds almost like a romance. But I should clarify: Gaga didn't invent this. It's been going on for centuries, and, if you're interested in the topic, I suggest you embark on a google deep-dive on how Victorian women in Britain wrote letters to each other that sounded seriously steamy and intense.
But that's a story for another time. Let's see how Gaga writes one of her best songs yet about two girls just hanging out.
The First Verse
Hey girl, can you hear me?Are you holding out your heart?Hey girl, do you feel me?Sometimes I go too farHey girl, it ain't easyI know it's pulling me apartBut darlin', don't you leave meBaby, don't you leave me
The pair establish the tonality of the song right off the bat. This is about the connection between the two women: the call and response structure of the verse makes the song feel like a conversation. They're effectively asking: are you there? Are you being open with me? Do you dig my vibe? This feels like all the emotional temperature-taking that goes on during a romantic relationship and suggests maybe we should apply the same attention we give to our lover's(/lovers') feelings to our most important friends. The use of "darlin'" and "baby," as well as the intensity of both singers repeating "don't you leave me," suggests the friendship's powerful enough to feel almost like a new romance.
Hey girl, hey girlWe can make it easy if we lift each otherHey girl, hey girlWe don't need to keep on one-in' up anotherHey girl, hey girlHey girl, hey girlIf you lose your wayJust know that I got youJust know that I got you
In short, enough giving in to the way society pits women against each other. This ballad is a call to action. It poses the question, imagine how strong women would be if, instead of investing all their energy in competing against each other, they applied that same energy to supporting each other. I'm a big fan of the last few lines. "If you lose your way/Just know that I got you" sounds like the sort of line you'd hear from a boy band singer addressed to an imaginary female listener. This suggests women can be each other's white knights.
The Second Verse
Lady is it lonely?I been callin' out your nameTell me that you need me'Cause I need you just the sameEveryday a heartacheI'm just tryin' to keep it saneBut I know you believe meBaby don't you leave me
More of the same from the first verse. There are the same intense feelings there, a certain level of dependency ("Tell me that you need me... don't you leave me"), emotions we'd associate with romance or lack thereof ("lonely," "heartache"). The beauty of this song is the way it flips this traditional reading of the song on its head by having two women perform the duet, and, if you don't believe me, just imagine how different it would be if this was Lady Gaga dueting with some male musician.
Help me hold my hair backWalk me home 'cause I can't find a cabAnd we dance down the boweryHeld hands like we were 17 againAnd then it's 4 a.m.The sun is creepin' up againDon't you leave meOh, darling don't you leave me
I love bridges, because, lyrically, this where the meat of the song tends to be located. So it is with "Hey Girl," where Gaga and Welch spell out what's so weirdly romantic and underrated about female friendship. Having someone to hold your hair back when you vomit after partying too hard, having each other's backs and walking each other home when there's no taxi in sight, dancing the night away and holding hands like you do as a teenage girl at the shopping mall. This song is important because it celebrates something that society doesn't. There's no friendship equivalent of an anniversary or a wedding. Your parents aren't going to be psyched for you finding a best friend who's perfect for you. Thus Gaga and Welch here do some important work: giving friendship its due.
Just know thatJust know that I got youJust know thatJust know thatJust know thatHelp me hold my hair backWalk me home 'cause I can't find a cabAnd we dance down the boweryHeld hands like we were 17 again
OK, they're more or less reiterating what they've already spelled out in the bridge, but I'm still loving this vision of a Welch/Gaga best-friendship, whether it's fictional or factual. They may not be dating each other or sleeping with each other, but they're still there for each other. Sound the BFF horn.
This song is everything. It says that, even if you're flying solo romantically, you don't have to be lonely if you've got a truly great friend in your life and it celebrates this relationship with the same calibre of emotion that normally gets dedicated to a romance in pop music. Rejoice.