Troy Palmer thinks the Beastie Boys were right to fight for their song, but they got so much more wrong.
I know the case is pretty much closed on this, and the Beastie Boys won, but I can’t help feel like they lost. And in a way, so did the rest of us.
To recap the battle up to this point, it all started when the Beastie Boys caught wind of GoldieBlox’s fantastic and immediately popular commercial that utilized a cleverly re-worded version of their 1986 Licensed to Ill track, Girls. The Beastie Boys demanded the ad be taken down since they never gave their permission for the song to be used, and after a brief legal and public relations exchange, GoldieBlox conceded.
Here are some quotes that stood out to me in the open air exchange:
From the Beastie Boys initial response — “We strongly support empowering young girls, breaking down gender stereotypes and igniting a passion for technology and engineering.”
From GoldieBlox, upon conceding — “We love you and we are actually huge fans. We want you to know that when we posted the video, we were completely unaware that the late, great Adam Yauch had requested in his will that the Beastie Boys songs never be used in advertising. Since actions speak louder than words, we have already removed the song from our video.”
My take is that I think GoldieBlox were wrong and they most likely knew they were from the start. They probably also knew that they had a great idea for a commercial that relied on the use of Girls—a song that they also most likely knew they would never get the rights to. But they went ahead and used it anyway. It struck me as a well-executed, albeit rather unethical, plan—get the ad out there, get it seen, get some pretty huge buzz, then remove the song when legal troubles arise. Nothing to lose, really.
But after reading their PR exchanges, this became—for me—more about the Beastie Boys than GoldieBlox. And I really think the band missed an opportunity to do something bigger than themselves. A lot was made of how misogynistic their original lyrics were (Girls, to do the dishes / Girls, to clean up my room / Girls, to do the laundry / Girls, and in the bathroom) and they themselves made a point to say that they supported empowering young girls and the breaking down of gender stereotypes. Yet as GoldieBlox pointed out, actions speak louder than words. And we saw no relevant action from the Beastie Boys. Why? It was a perfect moment to do some good. To re-affirm to everyone that you’re not those misogynistic kids anymore. To actually show your support for young women and the battles they face.
I’m not saying the Beastie Boys owed us anything, and they certainly didn’t owe GoldieBlox anything. But I feel like they owed something to themselves and to the legacy of Adam Yauch, who famously apologized for the offensive lyrics he wrote when he was younger. So why not collaborate with GoldieBlox outside of an ad, or take their lead and release a new, girl-empowering version of Girls, with proceeds going to a worthwhile cause like The Girl Effect. That’s just one idea, but I have to believe a gesture like that would have stopped making this about the song and would have turned it into something because of the song. And this war of words could have spawned more than one winner.
I will say that when all of this started, it did make want to listen to the Beastie Boys again. So I threw a mix together and turned it up loud. But when Girls came on, I skipped it.
I’m holding out for a better version.
UPDATE: Apparently it’s not over. The Beastie Boys filed a lawsuit against GoldieBlox, claiming willful copyright infringement and want to be compensated an as of yet unspecified amount. Safe to say I’ll be holding out for that better version for quite a while.