From Meme to Movement: How Megan Thee Stallion's 'Hot Girl Summer' Went from Internet Trend to Cultural Shift

From Meme to Movement: How Megan Thee Stallion's 'Hot Girl Summer' Went from Internet Trend to Cultural Shift
This year, three simple words shook up the internet and permeated the pop culture lexicon: Hot Girl Summer. But how did the term, coined by Houston spitfire Megan Thee Stallion, evolve from a meme to a movement? There are five key moments in Hot Girl Summer's progression, starting with the release of Megan's 2019 mixtape, Fever, in May.
Laced with acerbic, ultra-confident rhymes, Fever served as a constitution for all that Hot Girl Summer would become. On it, Hot Girl Meg establishes that "hotness" is, above all, a mindset. Not unlike the many acts that came before her, Megan raps about partying, having great sex, making money and accomplishing her goals. But what sets Megan apart from her predecessors is her unabashed, "me-centric" approach to these activities. Where many of Megan's foremothers reinforced patriarchal ideals in their music, Fever overtly decentered men's desires and put Megan's at the forefront. Cry over a man when you could be making money? That's not Hot Girl behaviour. Compete for men when you could form a sisterhood with other women? That's not what Hot Girls do! Allow men to influence or dictate how you navigate your sexuality? A Hot Girl would never.
Essentially, Fever issued a clarion call: "Live your best life in whatever way this looks like to you and encourage others to do the same. And whoever doesn't like it can get lost." It was a message that many, regardless of gender identity, needed to hear. And it spread like wildfire on social media almost immediately.
The day after Fever was released, Twitter users like @sweetliketeaaa declared Summer 2019 a Hot Girl Summer. Toward the end of May, Megan dropped the official writ: "Hot girl shit all summer." Fans were free to interpret this however they wished: get dressed to the nines and look cute all summer. Dump your drag of a partner and go flirt with someone new. Party and travel with your friends. Ask for that promotion. Get that degree. Gather your fellow hotties and save the environment. No matter how fans chose to act out their Hot Girl Summer, the underlying mentality was universal: have fun. Be carefree. And don't worry about what others have to say about your choices.
It was a positive, inclusive message and everyone wanted to participate in the growing movement. That's when things went awry.
Brands and contrarians have this in common: wherever two or three are gathered together in fun's name, there they are to ruin things. Predictably, big brands like Forever 21 and Maybelline tried to insert themselves in the Hot Girl Summer movement, hoping to cash in on some of Megan's rising popularity. And, perhaps sour that they were no longer the dominant topic in hip-hop, some men tried to establish a "Hot Boy Summer" counter-narrative on social media, the basis of which was tearing women down or otherwise hurting their feelings. Yuck.
Fortunately, neither of these feeble efforts could stop Hot Girl Summer's reign. In true Hot Girl fashion, Meg filed to trademark her signature phrase, and announced in September that her request was approved. This was a huge win for the Houston rapper, especially in light of failed trademark attempts from women like Kayla Newman (creator of the profitable catchphrase "on fleek") or Cardi B, who was unsuccessful in trademarking her often-imitated "okurr." Thankfully, the right to capitalize off of the phrase "Hot Girl Summer" will rest with the woman who popularized it — a victory for Black women and POCs, whose innovations are often co-opted and exploited without compensation or credit.
Speaking of capitalizing off of the internet frenzy she started, Megan teamed up with Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign to release the "Hot Girl Summer" single in August, the first time the rapper actually uttered the phrase in her music. Debuting at #7, the collaboration was her first Top 10 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart, and entered the Billboard Hot 100 at #11. Though summer was officially over according to the calendar, the Hot Girl Summer wave continued well into October, when the single hit #1 on the Billboard Rhythmic Songs chart.
For Megan, 2019 has not come without its thorns — the rapper lost her mother to brain cancer in March. But it has still been a banner year for this HGIC (Hot Girl in Charge). Ultimately, Hot Girl Summer signalled a massive culture shift, in hip-hop and beyond, where the new normal is to define one's ideal life for oneself, and live it freely, happily and without apology. That's some real hot girl shit.
Check out Exclaim!'s Top Ten Hip-Hop Albums of 2019 here.