Rosen on the ‘It’s My Party’ Revival: Why Pop Stars Love Lesley Gore’s 1965 Hit

Lesley Gore Photo: David Redfern/Redferns

Icona Pop, the Swedish duo behind the viral hit “I Love It,” has just released a new single, or rather a rejiggered old one: an updated version of their 2012 song “My Party,” with a guest turn from “Ima Read” rapper Zebra Katz. Actually, “My Party” is an update of an update. The song interpolates the chorus of “It’s My Party,” Lesley Gore’s 1963 classic, giving Gore’s teen-angst melodrama a cheeky and profane millennial spin. “Where the guys?” sing Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo. “I had a couple of friends come / Not the ones I really like / What the fuck?” Things go from bad to worse in the second verse, when a zipper on the host’s party dress malfunctions: “My crack’s hanging out / I wish they’d all go home.”

Hjelt and Jawo aren’t the only ones who’ve brought Gore and her bouffant bobbing back into view recently. Over the past few years, “It’s My Party” has emerged as an unlikely muse for today’s songwriters: a half-century-old stick of bubblegum that singers and rappers can’t stop chomping on. In 2009, Robin Thicke tweaked the song’s chorus for his louche come-on “Sex Therapy”: “It’s your body, we can love if you want to / Loud if you want to, scream if you want to.” Amy Winehouse covered the song on Quincy Jones’s 2010 album Q Soul Bossa Nostra. (Jones also produced Gore’s original recording.) In 2011, Drake worked “It’s My Party” into “Take Care”: “It’s my birthday, I’ll get high if I want to / Can’t deny that I want you / But I’ll lie if I have to.”

This year has brought still more glosses on “It’s My Party”: Icona Pop’s song; a desultory R&B ballad by singer-actress Cymphonique Miller; a homemade video by Brandy, in which the veteran star raps over her own unreleased “It’s My Party”; a single by British singer Jessie J that airdrops Gore’s old chorus into some buzzing dance-pop produced by Max Martin and Shellback. The most toothsome “It’s My Party” remake is found, no surprise, in the Song That Ate the World, Miley Cyrus’s bottomless “We Can’t Stop.” In Cyrus’s hit, the “It’s My Party” refrain is defiant and anthemic — a credo for hard-partying, sex-positive, marriage-equality-era youth. Cyrus sings: “It’s our party we can do what we want / It’s our party we can say what we want / It’s our party we can love who we want / We can kiss who we want / We can sing what we want.”

“We Can’t Stop” offers some insight, I think, into why Gore’s song has come back. We live in an age of ambivalent party anthems — songs like “We Can’t Stop,” whose party-hearty sentiments are streaked with desperation and set to doomy music. The well-scrubbed earnestness of Gore’s “It’s My Party” makes it prime straight-man fodder, ideal for debauched updates — c.f. Icona Pop, Thicke, Drake, etc. — and the image of a bacchanal that dissolves in a flood of tears catches the bipolar mood.

Of course, there’s also the fact that “It’s My Party” is just a great song, with a chorus that’s a perfectly formed piece of pop kitsch. My favorite update is the one in “Okay Cupid” (2012), by the rapper Kitty, which turns the song’s message upside down. A party host, you see, has to keep up appearances. “It’s my party,” Kitty raps. “Couldn’t cry if I wanted to.”

Why Pop Stars Love Lesley Gore’s ‘It’s My Party’