Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl” has been in my head a lot lately.
Not just because it’s catchy, not just because there’s something I like about the song, but also because the song has been bugging me.
On the surface, Perry’s song seems to be acknowledging and condoning alternate female sexualities, as well as singing the praises of traditional femininity, with lyrics like, “I kissed a girl / and I liked it” and “Us girls we are so magical / Soft skin, red lips, so kissable / Hard to resist so touchable / Too good to deny it”.
But other lines quickly quash any question about Perry’s sexuality: “I kissed a girl / just to try it / I hope my boyfriend / won’t mind it / It felt so wrong / It felt so right / Don’t mean I’m in love tonight”; “It’s [the kiss] not what / I’m used to”; and “It’s not what / Good girls do / Not how they should behave”. The last scene in the music video reinforces this idea that “good girls” don’t kiss other girls, with Perry waking up in bed next to her aforementioned boyfriend.
In popular culture, kissing a woman is only permissible and sanctioned if a woman is already an avowed heterosexual. This drags up the male fantasy of lesbian women that perform on each other to please him instead of each other. For examples, just watch a few minutes of a Girls Gone Wild commercial.
So we have faux homosexuality that plays into the male gaze with a video full of women in fishnets and underwear, gyrating and having giggly pillow fights, all while not actually kissing each other. The absence of any kissing, while nice because that’s one less titillation for the Male Gaze, drives the point home that this song and dance is really just about a male fantasy, having nothing to do with the desires of women.
The icing on the cake comes from Perry’s own objectification of a female subject: “Just wanna try you on / I’m curious for you” and “No, I don’t even know your name / It doesn’t matter / You’re my experimental game / Just human nature”. Now we’re free to dehumanize and sexualize each other into pieces of meat to be sampled, instead of waiting around for a man to do it! And we can pretend it’s just human nature, too. Free season passes for everybody! Yippee!
This attitude underscores an aggressive masculinity that runs through the song, its beat, and Perry’s singing: “and I liked it” is sung with such defiance. It poses as third-wave feminism with a “girly” but loud-and-proud protagonist, but is really just good, old-fashioned woman-using.
I suppose I shouldn’t expect much from the same woman who sings a song entitled, “Ur So Gay” that feminizes and demonizes men who drive electric cars and don’t eat meat. But I wanted to find something positive in this song that gets suck in my head and kind of gives me a boost of testosterone-filled attitude. I guess I’ll have to stick this in the “guilty pleasures” file.
Full disclosure: I’m coming at this from a heterosexual perspective. I’d love to hear queer voices on Perry’s song.
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