The only time I’ve ever seen a football stadium cheer for same-sex attraction is when Katy Perry sang about it at the Super Bowl.
This Sunday I watched her halftime performance with my Pentecostal family and cringed as “I Kissed a Girl” came on. I half-expected them to damn her soul to Hell. Instead, a homophobic relative leaned over the couch with his eyes glued to the screen and said, “She’s so hot.” If I had told him I like kissing girls, he would’ve kicked me out of his house.
It shouldn’t surprise me that a straight girl can get away with bicurious lyrics at an event where straight men in tights slap each others’ butts and cling to each other at every touchdown. People accept the homoeroticism in “I Kissed a Girl” for the same reasons many conservative straight men justify watching girl-on-girl porn—it’s taboo, it’s sexy and it’s not real. Basically, you can’t go to Hell for being an audience of either. The girls? Maybe. But they’re hot, and they’re not really gay, so it’s okay.
If “I Kissed a Girl” is based on a real experience, I commend Perry for exploring and accepting her sexuality. That’s empowering. And if her song were solely about how exciting and cool it was to kiss another girl that one time, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But her song isn’t really about that.
Bicuriousity is about exploring yourself. Perry’s music video is apparently about female hips, breasts, and legs. The male gaze is definitely the subject, not self-exploration.
Perry turns kissing a girl into a heterosexy, rebellious act to make her boyfriend jealous. She’s participating in bisexual behavior, but the passive aggressive “Hope my boyfriend don’t mind it” line gives a bad name to people like me who actually identify as bisexual. Promiscuity and disloyalty are major stigmas against bisexuals both outside and within the LGBTQ+ community, as is the dismissal that we’re “only doing it for attention.”
But “I Kissed a Girl” isn’t about bicuriosity; it’s about fabricating Perry’s rebel image without labeling her part of the minority.
I don’t have an issue with a straight woman kissing other women. In fact, I highly recommend it. Bicuriosity and experimentation have a place in the LGBTQ+ community. But gay appropriation does not.
Perry is the perfect example of a gay ally misusing her straight privilege. She describes kissing a girl as a drunken choice, singing, “It’s not what I’m used to, just wanna try you on.” Perry still wears this “flexible heterosexuality” like a costume on stage. Everyone knows she’s not really gay, and she can drop this persona whenever she wants. But for some, queer isn’t a costume; it’s an existence—one that lacks a few of the privileges Perry can claim. The rights to marry, self-express, kiss in public and not be stoned to death come to mind.
So when a straight woman like Perry writes a pop song about kissing girls, she steals validation from the queer community. This is not only a problem with her song, but with the music industry and society at large. But the first step to fixing this is to not produce songs that appropriate gayness in the first place. And in that respect, Perry is guilty.
Queer artists with songs about same-sex love or attraction don’t sing at Super Bowls. They have a niche audience at best, and get death threats at worst. A straight girl who sings about same-sex kissing goes to the Super Bowl. Her sexuality isn’t just accepted; it’s met with applause.
Perry describes her brief, drunken, same-sex attraction as, “Ain’t no big deal, it’s innocent,” but that’s a lot easier for a straight girl to say. Perry used a lite-gay persona to give her image an edge when she first emerged on the scene. She profited off the idea of being gay, without incurring any of the prejudice, discrimination and violence actual people in the LGBTQ+ community experience.
“I Kissed a Girl” trivializes gay peoples’ experiences to make Perry’s actions mainstream, and this isolates the people who get beaten or fired for expressing sexualities that go “against the norm.” She doesn’t own any aspect of same-sex attraction; she distances herself from it. The “It’s not what good girls do, not how they should behave,” line is a huge “no homo” to her mainstream audience.
I don’t believe Perry wrote “I Kissed a Girl” with some political anti- or pro-gay message in mind. I think she wrote a sexy, “exotic” anthem she knew would attract straight men and women (her main audience), and some people in the gay community. At heart, the song is a marketing ploy that reaches too far.
But it doesn’t matter if Perry meant nothing by it. That she is unaware of how much this song harms the LGBTQ+ community, while she herself is an advocate for feminism and LGBTQ+ rights, concerns me. Rather than bringing visibility and acceptance to bicuriosity, “I Kissed a Girl” says it’s okay only as long as it doesn’t mean anything.
What we need are more songs about girls kissing girls and knowing their names, and fewer songs about how heterosexy and wrong it is. What we need is an unashamed anthem for all the girls who still can’t sing that they kissed a girl, and liked it.