Why Tina Fey’s ‘Mean Girls’ Became a Pop Culture Phenomenon

When Tina Fey’s cult classic movie Mean Girls was released in 2004, the Emmy Award-winning creator of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and 30 Rock recalls sneaking into the back of a cinema to assess the audience’s reaction.

“They were watching so intently because they were pulled into its emotional stakes. I don’t want to pat myself on the back, but I tried to make a movie that didn’t talk down to girls and that had jokes that they would think were funny,” she said, describing her first and only screenplay. 

The movie stars Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, and Amanda Seyfried, and it became such a pop culture wonder that it’s now a barometer of the high school movie genre. 

The next evolution of the film is its transformation into a stage musical. In doing this, Fey didn’t want to create a duplicate of the film. Instead, she sought to strike a balance between giving fans the key moments they loved while filling the show with novelty and surprises.

Following the premiere of the stage adaptation of Mean Girls on Broadway in 2018, it has earned 12 Tony nominations and become a massive hit among younger audiences.

Modifying Mean Girls for the stage provided its creators with a chance to flesh out the storyline and go deeper emotionally. They wrote a number of breakout moments in which characters are able to express their innermost emotions, such as betrayed friend Janis singing her anthem of independence, “I’d Rather Be Me” and troubled mean-girl Gretchen belting out the pain of her fragile self-doubt, “What’s Wrong With Me?” 

“Girls at that age have big feelings, and these are definitely big emotions. So they make sense onstage,” explains Fey.

Fey loved John Hughes’ high school classics like Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink, and those films inspired Mean Girls. “They were great movies in that they wrote those characters not as tropes but as real people. And they were truly funny,” says Fey.

In previous interviews, she has confessed to being a bit of a mean girl herself during her younger years. Remembering her high school years, Fey said: “It made me recognize bad behaviors in myself. It made me realize that when you’re in the middle of that behavior, you always think you’re in the right when that’s not really the case.”

Benjamin, the show’s lyricist, has long idolized Fey. “She didn’t just teach me a ton more about comedy than I ever knew, but she also taught me about collaboration and how to express concerns or have a disagreement in a respectful way that gets us all where we want to be.”

For her part, Fey mirrors the words of the girl-empowering role she played in the movie with a message that says: “Calling other people stupid doesn’t make you any smarter. It’s a pointless behavior, and it’s only ultimately toxic to yourself.”