I skipped watching the opening ceremonies, so I managed to last through two solid weeks of intensive Olympics viewing before “The Girl from Ipanema” finally got lodged in my head.
I’m not the only one. The Associated Press reported that Spotify noticed a 1200 percent jump in streaming requests for the song in the first few days after the Olympics kicked off. NBC Sports even did a segment on “the real girl from Ipanema,” making it sound in the run-up like they’d done a significant chunk of original reportage in tracking down Helo Pinheiro, the blonde 71-year-old Rio native who inspired songwriters Vinicius de Moraes and Antonio Carlos Jobim when she strolled past a local bar wearing a bikini in 1962 or so. In reality, Pinheiro has been identified as The Girl for decades. She even weathered a 2001 lawsuit from the songwriters’ heirs when she named her Rio fashion boutique “Garota de Ipanema.”
Pinheiro was also reported to have tart words about the Rio Olympics’ choice to have model Gisele Bundchen walk into Maracana Stadium to the sounds of her signature tune. Bundchen, after all, is from the town of Horizontina in the southern interior of Brazil, while Pinheiro is a born-and-bred carioca, as natives of Rio de Janeiro are affectionately known. In other words, Bundchen may be one of Brazil’s best-known faces, but everyone knows she’s not from Ipanema. She can’t truly embody The Girl.
In truth, the only other contender for the title of The Girl is Astrud Gilberto, the vocalist for the hit 1964 recording. Astrud was the wife of Joao Gilberto, who played guitar and sang the Portuguese lyrics on the album version of the song. Later, she divorced him and took up with Stan Getz, the saxophonist on “The Girl from Ipanema” (and, even later, became an artist in residence at Stanford). Astrud was born in northeastern Brazil but grew up in Rio, and “The Girl from Ipanema” was her professional debut. Music historians like to play up her status as an untrained singer, a naive and innocent housewife, but Astrud feels that this story is a distortion. Her biography contends that she had plenty of practice performing with the musicians in the Gilberto clique before she made her recording debut.
Interestingly, when other women cover this song — and they do;“The Girl from Ipanema” is one of the most-recorded songs ever, second only to the Beatles’ “Yesterday” — they often change the lyrics to “The Boy from Ipanema.” But I prefer The Girl and her complete disregard for her admirers as she heads to the beach, day after day.