During the summer of 2010 — the “Summer of Summer,” as it’s retroactively been dubbed — few songs sounded as much like the season as Best Coast’s honeyed “Boyfriend.” These two-and-a-half minutes of hazy surf-pop breezed by in a rush of oceanic sun, with singer Bethany Cosentino seemingly pining for a guy with the innocent charm of a middle-school crush. “One day I’ll make him mine and we’ll be together all the time,” she sings. “We’ll sit and watch the sunrise and gaze into each other’s eyes.”
The aura of romance and liberated love that reside in Cosentino’s gliding chorus didn’t just define summer; they also led the song to become an unexpected LGBTQ+ anthem over the past decade. Fans had misheard (and celebrated) its main hook as “I wish she was my boyfriend” and used it to soundtrack wedding proposals and custom playlists. “This album literally helped & healed me through the toughest time of my life when I was outed & kicked out of my home at the age of 18,” a fan named Lauren tweeted during Pride Month.
But in June, Cosentino revealed the song’s painful backstory on Twitter. “‘Boyfriend’ is honestly about a co-dependent, addictive, unhealthy obsession with someone so I will GLADLY hand it over to the LGBTQ+ community to make it their own. For real,” she wrote. “Take it. It belongs to you now.”
“To watch people take it and turn it into this song that they’ve used in terms of proposing to their boyfriends, proposing to their girlfriends, helping them come to terms with their own sexual identity… I’m truly like, thank God that you guys took this and made it your own, because I hate it,” Cosentino told MTV News with a laugh. “That really makes me just feel really good, to know that something that I created that came from … an unhealthy place has been taken and transformed into something that is really positive and healthy for people.”
When she performs the song now with Best Coast’s other half, the multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, she channels that positivity. You can hear it on a livestream celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Crazy For You, the album “Boyfriend” kicks off, tonight (August 14) via Seated, as well as on an updated version of the song where Cosentino uses inclusive language. “I wish she was my girlfriend,” she sings, also using the word “partner” as well as they and them pronouns. The song was a 24-hour exclusive on August 7 for charity; Best Coast raised over $2,000 directly for the Trevor Project.
“It’s truly a bummer song,” Cosentino said. “But when I think of it now from this place of people using it as an anthem for themselves and for their sexuality, and for their songs that they put on playlists for their partners and things like this, this song has a whole new meaning for me.”
The decade-long journey of “Boyfriend” reveals that an artist’s intent is just one factor that plays into a creative work’s reception, especially in an age of social media-boosted fan edits and wish-fulfillment remixes. It’s also a good example of an artist celebrating this pivot and leaning into a better understanding of themselves that comes with time and growth. That’s something Cosentino’s friend, former tour mate, and livestream guest Hayley Williams knows well.
The duo became pals in 2012, and five years later, Best Coast and Paramore shared a North American 2017 trek, including a Nashville stop where Williams and Cosentino sang “Boyfriend” together onstage. “That tour, I think, really bonded us in a way, because we were both going through breakups, and we were both dealing with just unpacking a lot of trauma and things that you realize at the time you didn’t think were super bad and unhealthy,” Cosentino said. “But in hindsight, you’re like, oh fuck. I think that just experiencing that time with her was really powerful.”
In 2018, while performing with her band, Paramore, Williams announced they’d be effectively retiring “Misery Business,” a signature song, from their live set. At the heart of the decision was a line in its second verse — “Once a whore, you’re nothing more” — that, as she’d grown into her own feminism in the decade since the song’s release, she no longer felt comfortable singing. “I know it’s one of the band’s biggest songs but it shouldn’t be used to promote anything having to do with female empowerment or solidarity,” she wrote on Instagram earlier this year, when Spotify included the song on a “Women in Rock” playlist.
The ease of social media allows artists to explain why “growth and progression,” as Williams wrote, can lead to a reevaluation of their work. Cosentino understands, and even after 11 years on Twitter, she still rides for being able to spread positivity via the platform, even as she deeply knows its faults. “You can put information out there so quickly and it can reach all these people,” she said. “You also can find out very quickly who you know is a piece of shit and has horrible ideas and politics.”
There’s a third option: Tweets can spark genuine dialogue between artists and fans, especially as fans reach out in earnest with specific questions. One such fan referenced “Misery Business” in a July tweet directed at John Darnielle, who’s been the voice behind The Mountain Goats for nearly 30 years. His 1994 song “Going to Georgia” is a fan favorite, fiercely beloved for its compelling mini-narrative about a guy with a gun showing up to see an unexplored “you” character and the soaring drama in Darnielle’s vocal delivery. But he’s since disavowed it, saying the song glamorizes toxic masculinity — a conclusion the tweeter named Christie asked him to reexamine.
“Hey @mountain_goats as a woman and feminist going to georgia is a super cool song, one of your coolest in fact, and you should re-avow it,” the fan wrote. “Same to @yelyahwilliams with misery business.”
Darnielle responded with candor, as he’s often done when previously asked about the song on Tumblr or when fans request it at live shows. “Yeah I mean you’d have to’ve had my experience of some of the the bro-iest of bros sharing their reactions to it over a period of twenty years to really see it from my POV,” he tweeted. “I get where you’re coming from but you see how our perspectives are necessarily different, yeah?”
“I don’t play ‘Going to Georgia’ anymore because I can’t really reconcile how buoyant it is with how much I dislike its narrator,” he previously elaborated. “When I wrote it, I enjoyed that tension, but I was more of an aesthete then and now I think more with my gut. My gut tells me the whole deal with ‘Going to Georgia’ is bogus, so that’s that.”
Time moves on, and signifiers change. “Misery Business” and “Going to Georgia” get retired; “Boyfriend” becomes an LGBTQ+ anthem. Meanwhile, some remain constant. Snacks — Cosentino’s beloved fluffy orange cat and Crazy For You cover star — remains Best Coast’s mascot well into his golden years. He’s even got his own merch, naturally, as she’s had him for 12 years and counting.
“He has some health issues and stuff, but this is the most time I’ve ever spent with him,” Cosentino said of the past five months. Best Coast had a 2020 tour lined up in support of their 2020 album, Always Tomorrow, and they did play a brief run of shows before COVID-19 shut down the music industry. But the open schedule has had its benefits, ones that recall those balmy days of summer 2010. “It’s nice to just sit around with Snacks and watch TV the way that it was in the early days. He’s the best.”