Monday, August 11, 2008

As Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" approaches its second month at Number One, it's time to come to terms with it. Until Thomas told me a few minutes ago that this was a Cathy Dennis-Max Martin collaboration (the producer and Perry herself are also credited), I assumed a Linda Perry-wannabe cobbled it together from disparate parts belonging to Pink and "I Touch Myself." Furthermore, I'm surprised by the number of straight guys I know offended by its sentiments. Jonathan Bradley mentions how the song's been framed as "oh my god lesbian exploitation"; Josh's reaction ("honestly I'm even inclined to defend the lyrics if only because the counter-argument is so stale and automatic") makes sense too. Meanwhile Thomas hates it: Katy Perry turns homosexuality into a fetish. Hell, I burbled once, "The world's waited for an answer to Franz Ferdinand's `Michael' long enough." I wish.

A unabashed enthusiast for any song that bulldozes instead of sneaks same-sex sentiment into the Top 40, I was ready to endorse it had Perry given me a clue as to how she wants me to respond. Where Carrie Underwood would have unearthed some ambivalence in the chorus and Rihanna delighted in the transgression to her value system, Perry just sounds blank; she could be the female edition of Bret Easton Ellis' protagonist in Less Than Zero, to whom things happen in an expanding, scarcely credible chain of randomness. In its way "I Kissed A Girl" tells us much about America in 2008: we're tired of being forced to take a position on those damn gays, tired of this president, and we're not so crazy about the funny old white guy and slick black guy running to replace him. Its anomie can barely rise to annoyance.

7 comments:

kiss out the jams said...

Brilliant roundup, Soto. And as a loud voice of THIS IS CHANGE when I was first aware of it, it's become all too transparent that I projected my dream post-Bush pastiche onto this simpering moron. It's still a catchy sumbitch, though.

Dave said...

You might be interested in some of the Poptimists' discussion of this song -- I've come around to the idea of it, if not the performance (I don't think it's blank so much as in the wrong genre -- it's aggro-confessional when, I think, the song is essentially twee; the sentiment being expressed is the curiosity of someone with about the sexual self-awareness of a grade-schooler).

The crazy mass of opinions is linked above, but one opinion worth looking at is Nia's, here, who really really wants people to think about what's actually in the lyrics of the song before projecting "what it says about sexuality" onto it. That's where my twee hypothesis came from, which has been disputed. But I linked to a few covers that DO make the song an awful lot cuter than Katy Perry makes it. (Also some interesting discussion elsewhere about the actual construction of the song -- about the choices to make it in a minor key forcing a kind of reading onto it, giving it a sense of uneasiness, that the material doesn't necessarily deserve.)

Dave said...

Also, I think the position on those damn gays is clearer in the Katy version than you make it out to be. She's literally homophobic, terrified that this experience might mean something (again not a reading totally held by the lyrics, which complicates things); it comes across as terribly regressive when it aims to be shocking. That says something about something -- you'd think that someone could kiss a girl and like it without (much) comment in 2008, right? The performance is all exhibitionist but the attitude is pretty damn narrowminded for bi-curiosity. It strikes me as Snarky Internet Tone, letting an in-the-know or sarcastic tone stand in for the actual content of whatever message you might be trying to convey. (But the message is still there, maybe made doubly annoying by being presented as some kind of joke or truism.)

Alfred Soto said...

True -- I kinda admire how straightforward the song is -- but, again, I return to her singing, which is affectless in a way that makes Grace Jones sound like Scott Walker.

Hans said...

I think the Onion's article on straight girls kissing for the WOW factor summarized it all. The way she covers the factor that "HEY, she's not a dyke, it was just for FUN!" repelled me from the go. BUT yeah, it was a catchy song.
Four months ago ;-)

theon said...

josh was kind enough to give me an out right after calling the antiperry argument "stale and automatic" by saying something like "i can hear the exhaustion in theon's voice as he stoops to it" but i dunno, the song is pretty terrible. i'm not offended by its sentiment so much as i'm offended by its confusion; it's the the dark knight of pop songs.

i am all for dramatized confusion (ashlee's "love me for me" comes to mind) but it is pretty clear from the tone of "i kissed a girl" that perry thinks she's saying something - something titillating at least and society-changing at most - but the thing is so muddleheaded and likedavesaid gradeschooler that it falls apart. it's the worldview of a gradeschooler delivered in the aggressive voice of a forum troll, and it's kind of hard for me to stand.

all this said i wish "the taste of her cherry chapstick" had a better song around it.

Dave said...

it's the the dark knight of pop songs

Whoa, I called TDK the Katy Perry of '08 movies. Peanut butter/chocolate etc.