and i may do it again

Just adding to a chorus, I guess, but it was a thought I had the instant I heard this song, and I just have to get it off my chest.

"Who? Little old me? He he! Oh no, you saw me!"

So this song clearly runs off the back of a cultural trend that may have reached its nadir moment in the Britney-Madonna incident at the MTV VMAs (hot rumour: might Perry and LiLo smooch at this years?! So naughty!), bringing to mind Philip Brophy's comment on The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert:
[T]he gay embrace of Priscilla is a cultural conundrum qualified by how gay iconography has been assimilated into mainstream currents of Australian imagery, and how gay content has strategically lubed broader media channels for PC reconciliation (2008: 54).
Although I'm certainly not sure whether queer culture has exactly 'embraced' Katy Perry, her song certainly furthers this practice of heteronormativity annexing queer identity. Sure, hear it once and you might think, "Wow, pop music certainly is still at the forefront of progressive sexual identities, this is great". You know, "I kissed a girl / and I liked it", all sung with that kind of snarly, sassy conviction. It's all a bit Pink*, heavily-tooled guitar pop that synths and synchs up those countless vocal dubs. Nice, in a way, like a play on surface (ie. as if a girl kissing a girl is just surface).

Wait another line, though, and comes: "I kissed a girl / just to try it / I hope my boyfriend / won't mind it". This is the kind of faux-lesbianism perfected by teenage girls trying to impress their boyfriends, and exactly that - Perry is probably the biggest 'male chauvinist' of the lot. For not only does she insist that queerness is a sort of sexy play, nothing more than a little experiment and certainly ephemeral, thereby evacuating any consideration of bisexuality and/or lesbianism as lived and committed sexual identities (with definite struggles), but that it's all just a bit of fun for the boys! Watch the video clip, and for the most part, the
is splashed with cute girls doing cute things (but, interestingly and pointedly, definitly not kissing) - but then, at the end, we see Perry wake up in bed next her dude, a wry smile across her face as if, thank God [aside: Perry was originally a Christian singer], it was all just some silly dream!

I can see footy jocks unequivocally pumping this out at their next house party, because, you know, chicks are never real lesbians mate, you can always turn 'em, har har! And Perry sings:
No, I don't even know your name
It doesn't matter,
You're my experimental game
Doesn't mean I'm in love tonight
How unbelievably offensive to suggest that queer and love are mutual categories. Like I said, though, the worst thing is that heterosexism gets its cake and eats it too. Perry's song effectively does the work of 'heterosexing' alternative sexualities at the same time as it denies the latter any lasting significance. "Ain't no big deal / It's innocent" - bullshit it is.

* I think this comparison is interesting in itself, for Pink is arguably another that appropriates queer signifiers into an undeniably straightforward (but empowered!) heterosexuality. But that's just it - the difference is that Pink plays only with signifiers, therefore effectively interrogating the 'taken for granted' images of queer identity (ie. the assumption that all lesbians are 'butch') which in certain instances are themselves points of discrimination. That Pink pushes these same images across to heterosexuality says that they are not inherently gendered. And, again, it's at the level of signifiers - Perry's song is so much worse because it registers certain attitudes and fucking narratively legitimates them.

2 riffs:

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Although I've heard about it -- and of course heard nothing good about it -- I've managed to avoid actually hearing this song.

What strikes me about your analysis, though, is the lines you quote towards the end:

No, I don't even know your name
It doesn't matter,
You're my experimental game
Doesn't mean I'm in love tonight

Read outside the context of Perry's biography and outside the context of all the stock standard prejudices directed at "pop" (which is as much as to say, read within a more "literary" context), those lines say something completely different to me. In fact, they evoke two different possibilities.

On the one hand, "You're my experimental game" does not really invite us to sympathise with the narrator; quite the contrary, I think. How do you sympathise with someone who thinks the other, the singularity of the other doesn't matter, and indeed thinks of the other as but a toy to be played with? So those lines don't invite us (on this reading) to approve of the narrator's attitudes, etc.

On the other hand, it's also hard not to hear some serious self-denial going on in there. There's a lot of negation, and so "Doesn't mean I'm in love tonight" carries a ring of insincerity or self-deception to to it, which would suggest that there's a more complex relationship to queerness and heterosexism than might appear on the surface.

Of course, both of those readings emerge from a particular context that is quite different to the "natural" context (if you like) of quoted verse, and context is everything. Then again, there's no such thing as fully bound context...

Maybe I'll have to listen to this song after all, to hear what else might be heard.


Lawson said...

very interesting comment, thanks. i take your thoughts on recontextualising the song, and to accept that would imply there is something like three levels of 'meaning' going on in I Kissed a Girl - the initial 'naughty/progressive sexuality'; the heterosexist 'it's just for the boys'; and the self-critical 'but here's exactly why not to accept this'. that in itself speaks to something of the complexity of such an apparently 'simplistic' form as pop (pop is defined by its simplicity; clarity of delivery). nevertheless, i still think that some pretty stretched recontextualisation has had to go on in order to reach the more dialectical(?) thrust of the song; it's a lot easier to read it within a particular and proliferate(heteronormative) cultural current. but i suppose that's exactly why not to read it thus! which is to say, the comments you've offered do not necessarily negate my reading but complement by providing a self-enclosed critique. thanks!