The Katy Perry Debate

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This post was written in August 2008 before Perry had become mega-famous and smitten with Mr Brand…

This week’s No.1 record in the UK official charts is Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl”. Apparently, what with Katy being a girl and all, this is a bit risqué – but as she says in the song, so long as her boyfriend doesn’t mind (I’m guessing that he doesn’t so long as there’s a video to watch), then everything’s OK…

This is not Perry’s first foray into controversy – her last single was charmingly entitled UR So Gay. Overlooking the obvious grammar issues with the title, neither of these songs is looking to hide under any bushels: one song dissing her boyfriend for acting gay, the other banging on about kissing a girl and liking it. Ergo, boys kissing is a bit rubbish, but girls kissing is a whole different matter, so long as there’s a male gaze involved somewhere. Whoever’s oiling the Perry machine knows which controversy buttons to press and it’s working – column inches are being tippy-tappied at a scary rate, and Perry has hit No.1 in the US, Australia and now the UK, with surely the rest of Europe a formality to be toppled.

The icing on the cake of the Perry story, however, is that she’s the daughter of two Methodist ministers and a former Christian pop postergirl – way back when, Perry could be found rocking the pews with her version of Oh Happy Day. Not anymore…

So is I Kissed A Girl demeaning to the gay community or just a throwaway bubblegum pop record, as Perry herself has claimed? I think the issue runs deeper than that. On the one hand, we understand why everyone has got caught in the song – it’s a blinkin’ catchy tune, part-penned by Cathy Dennis, responsible for such pop gems as Britney’s Toxic and Kylie’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head. My sister has been humming it incessantly and my niece has it as her ringtone.

But the key question to answer is – if you really are a girl wanting to kiss a girl, what happens if you don’t like the taste of cherry chapstick, as set up to be a key requirement by Perry’s tune? Or, perish the thought, chapstick per se? I’m worried about girls who are just coming out and might now feel shame that cherry chapstick was not available in their local chemist. What if you like the taste of her original flavour chapstick? Does that make your kiss any less of a smooch? It’s a quandary.

On the positive side though, it does mean that Perry is singing about kissing a chapstick lesbian rather than a lipstick lesbian, which is certainly moving away from perceived stereotypes. Oh but hang on, she’s writhing around on satin sheets in the video wearing minimal clothing, high heels and, ahem, lipstick. Silly Katy! When I first kissed a girl, she tasted of beer and was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. But perhaps Katy Perry and I live in different worlds. Yes, that’s probably it…

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