Yesterday, my best friend sent me a link to “How Katy Perry Gets Away With Homophobia,” an article on Nylon about, well, how Katy Perry gets away with homophobia. Writer Gabrielle Korn writes about her grievances with the singer’s Super Bowl XLIX halftime show, specifically with the non-threatening, football fan-appeasing, undercurrent-of-homophobia-with-a-dash-of-colorful-heteronormative song choice “I Kissed a Girl.” Korn writes about how Perry is subtly homophobic, a feeling I’ve expressed many times before in casual conversations to friends, but because she’s so bubbly and effervescent and — quite frankly — gay (at least in terms of camp levels), the idea is quickly disregarded because clearly she’s gay friendly, right! Hello! Have you HEARD “Firework”?
But stay with me. Korn’s article only scratches the surface of Perry’s latent homophobia. She writes:
Katy brought in Lenny Kravitz for an unlikely duet version of “I Kissed A Girl.” Maybe the goal was to make the song more appropriate for the Super Bowl audience: As the New York Times concludes, it was “presumably to help the subject matter go down more easily for unprepared, unforgiving viewers.” It’s as if by adding a male voice to the lyrics, the already-vague bisexual (or as some call it, barsexual) themes are watered down. And to my disappointment, while they sang most of the song together, Kravitz didn’t chime in to “I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it,” emphasizing the fact that any experimentation referenced by the lyrics is between straight women. If Lenny Kravitz had sung the words “my boyfriend” during the Super Bowl, I’d be writing a different article.
I got it. But then again, I’ve been carrying around these concealed feelings about Perry ever since she debuted with the strangely heteronormative bisexual anthem “I Kissed A Girl” in 2007. But my best friend couldn’t quite see the author’s point.
“I’m confused. I was hoping you could shed some light on this,” she said.
There was a piece of the puzzle missing. I directed her to a paragraph in the article referencing another song off Perry’s debut album, One of the Boys: “Ur So Gay.” Korn wrote:
Released on One of the Boys along with the similarly super-homophobic “Ur So Gay,” “I Kissed A Girl” was never really categorized as an offensive thing. Katy Perry even became something of a queer icon: Somehow after actually releasing a song with the words, “I hope you hang yourself with your H&M scarf while jacking off listening to Mozart,” she went on to have her songs covered on Glee, spoke publicly against Prop 8, and was honored by the Trevor Project. She gets away with an entitled, IDGAF-what-you-think brand of homophobia while also appointing herself a spokesperson for LGBTQ rights. It’s like there’s this pressure to laugh at her gay jokes because she insists she means well. If you take her homophobia too seriously, it’s on you for being uptight[.]
The issue is that most people don’t know about “Ur So Gay.” The casual listener also doesn’t care about what charities Perry supports, or whether she actually claims to stand up for LGBT rights, instead of just writing a vague song loaded with corny turn-of-phrases and imagery that’s one giant metaphor comparing the concealment of ones identity to fireworks in the sky. Perry is NOT Lady Gaga, who has written speeches and spoken at rallies, like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, to eradicate homophobic laws; Perry hasn’t created a foundation to help LGBT youth like Gaga. In fact, the only thing Katy Perry has done, and continues to do, is to exploit her gay fan base at every turn and then rub it in their faces at the most important sporting event of the year, one of the most watched, if not the single most watched, live televised event. Like Korn, the inclusion of “I Kissed A Girl,” especially as a heteronormative duet with Lenny Kravitz, left a bad taste in my mouth (That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy her performance as a whole, because I did; it was fun, playful, colorful, and she knows how to command a stage and an audience…and let us never forget the inclusion and comeback of rap legend Missy Elliott, who slayed her set, wowed audiences, and became the talk of the internet in a matter of minutes.)
It’s more about her brand, which I think Korn didn’t elaborate enough on in the Nylon piece, specifically her song “Ur So Gay” as explained in the article, and her general lack of conviction. She calls herself an ally, but she doesn’t actually stand up for the LGBT community publicly. Not in the way she could. Apparently she said once that she voted “no” on Prop 8, California’s amendment stating that a marriage is defined solely as between a man and a woman. Ok, and to that, I say: “Thank you.” That does not, however, make her a “gay activist.” It makes her a voting citizen. She’s the equivalent of that friend who says, “No homo,” and then follows it up with “I didn’t mean anything by that, I have two gay friends!”
She brands herself as a “Just Another Guy” type of girl, which is fine to an extent, but she doesn’t seem to champion herself as a strong woman, rather someone who would rather watch football with the guys than contest their inevitable homophobic remarks, and that translates to her thoughts on the gay community. She’s the daughter of two Protestant ministers, so she had to grow up around people who “disagreed” with homosexuality (as if homosexuality was something to be agreed upon in the first place), and the lyrics of “I Kissed a Girl” reflect that. The point Korn makes about Lenny Kravitz not singing the boyfriend line during the Super Bowl performance is such a reflection of heteronormativity, the heteronormativity that Perry grew up around, that she sings about in the very song being criticized here. The song itself is watered down, and in general not about being gay at all, but rather it’s lyrical content trivializes a huge part of the coming out and coming to terms processes. She hetero-normalizes the experience and turns it into a “fad” or “phase.”
Katy Perry does NOT get to trivialize the coming out process. She does NOT get to turn sexuality into a fad. And to those who have found solace in “I Kissed A Girl” because of it’s bisexual connotations, the Super Bowl performance with Kravitz just echoes that. It’s no secret that professional sports, especially football and the NFL, are largely homophobic, but it is right to pander to only a straight audience?
That was what Korn needed to say. It’s not just “I Kissed a Girl,” it’s the lack of conviction and muddled intentions of a pop star who has no problem selling records and concert tickets to gay fans, but won’t be true to them in a time of great social change, where even the smallest, most subtle statement would have a resonant impact.
Perry’s music in general is watered down. She uses vague campy metaphors and never gets to the heart of anything, which is why she’s popular. America loves a vague, non-threatening pop star. She sexualizes herself while poking fun at it, so “it’s ok.” She heteronormalizes a gay act but isn’t an out loud advocate or supporter. She’s playing “the game” (using social issues and appropriating them for entertainment) and it’s working for her, but that doesn’t mean she gets to take advantage of a gay fan base, or take away something that belongs to them, to me, alone.
And if I’m wrong, I challenge Katy Perry to prove me wrong. And not with some vague metaphor about plastic bags drifting through the wind, but something I can hang my fandom on.
Game on, Perry.