The Number One musical hit "I Kissed a Girl" has raised a good deal of controversy because it’s sung by a female. But is the song really good enough for its opponents to worry about?
One of the biggest songs of the year, a Billboard number 1 hit, has been Katy Perry’s "I Kissed a Girl." It’s basically a novelty song telling the story of a girl who drinks too much at a party and kisses another girl, a complete stranger. The chorus sums up the song’s dramatic story line:
I kissed a girl and I liked it,
The taste of her cherry Chapstick.
I kissed a girl just to try it.
I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it.
The song has a bouncy melody and is backed with an infectious beat and an artful vocal performance by Perry. Perry’s performance in the promotional video (see it here) for the song suggests that the character hasn’t yet decided on what to do about it all, as she clearly enjoys the memory of the event. The lyrics and vocal melody of the bridge convey an intense enjoyment of female pulchritude as the character sings, "Ain’t no big deal; it’s innocent!"
The song need not be seen as an unabashed endorsement of lesbianism or even of sexual experimentation, however. Perry sings in the chorus, "It felt so wrong; it felt so right," and the end of the video suggests that the entire thing may have been a dream.
Nonetheless, the strong female erotic imagery in both the song and the video could very well strike youngsters as an endorsement and normalization of lesbianism.
One of the delicious and/or ghastly ironies of the situation is that the performer, age 23, is a former Christian pop singer, previously known by her family name, Katy Hudson, and her parents are both pastors in Christian churches.
Naturally, many Christians are highly annoyed about this transition and her immensely popular new song. An ABC News story quotes Christian music reviewer Russ Breimeier as saying, "It seems like ever since the name change, she’s gotten this rep as a party girl. You can still hear some of the talent that was there before, but it just sounds like she’s doing whatever she can to get noticed. And that’s unfortunate. I feel bad for her folks."
In the context of Perry’s debut album, One of the Boys, on which "I Kissed a Girl" appears, she and her song should seem much less of a threat, because the ludicrous craving for attention, good or bad, so pervades her work as to ruin its effect. The All Music Guide review captures this admirably:
Listening to Katy Perry’s litany of belched alphabets, fruity boyfriends, Vegas hangovers, and lesbian lip-locks on her debut, One of the Boys, it’s easy to assume she’ll do anything for attention, and a close read of her history proves that suspicion true. . . . Given this long line of botched starts, maybe it makes sense that the 24-year-old trollop is singing with the desperation of a fading burlesque star twice her age, yet Perry’s shameless pandering on One of the Boys is startling, particularly as it comes in the form of some ungodly hybrid of Alanis Morissette‘s caterwauling and the cold calculation of Britney Spears in her prime. . . .
All the [professional musicians involved in the recording] give One of the Boys a cross-platform appeal, but there’s little question that its revolting personality is all down to Katy Perry, who distills every reprehensible thing about the age of The Hills into one pop album. She disses her boyfriend with gay-baiting; she makes out with a girl and she’s doesn’t even like girls; she brags to a suitor that he can’t afford her, parties till she’s face-down in the porcelain, drops brands as if they were weapons, curses casually, and trades under-the-table favors. . . . Perry is not untalented—she writes like an ungarbled Alanis and has an eye for details, as when she tells her emo meterosexual boyfriend to hang himself with his H&M scarf on "Ur So Gay"—but that only accentuates how her vile wild-child persona is an artifice designed to get her the stardom she craves. . . [T]his is music designed to be everywhere after Perry’s taboo flirtations break down doors. The problem is not with Katy’s gender-bending, it’s that her heart isn’t in it; she’s just using it to get her places, so she sinks to crass, craven depths that turn One of the Boys into a grotesque emblem of all the wretched excesses of this decade.
That’s from a website that is by no means a bastion of conservative thought. The Chicago-area Daily Herald newspaper quotes Julianne Shepherd, editor of a music magazine called the Fader, as being equally dismissive:
"It is a novelty track in the oeuvre of Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl.’ Therefore it will never die, but it will live on over your gym’s PA system and on really terrible radio," Shepherd says. "The song’s appeal is that it is vaguely salacious, but still clean enough so people don’t feel too much like heathens for listening to it. People in clubs like to dance to vaguely nasty songs that they don’t have to think very much about, and this is it."
Since the song will evidently be around for a while, the obvious strategy for parents concerned about its subject matter is not to try to keep their children away from it but instead to embrace it as a "teachable moment" and encourage their children to draw from it whatever the parents consider to be the right conclusions about the issue.
Clearly "I Kissed a Girl" isn’t going to fall into the social memory hole any time soon, and it could lead some young people to think that sexual experimentation is without consequences, but the reality is that neither Katy Perry nor her hit song is big enough to make much of a difference in the world, as long as parents care about their children and talk to them honestly about what they do and should value in life.