The Hypocrisy and Homophobia of Katy Perry

Published February 4th, 2015

Updated May 8th, 2017

Katy Perry dropped her latest single “Bon Appétit” on Friday, April 28th, 2017, and, well, it didn’t exactly set the world on fire — at all — leaving the 100 on iTunes after less than two weeks. A far cry from 2016’s “Rise,” or 2013-14’s tour de forces “Dark Horse” and “Roar.”

My, how the mighty have fallen.

But most fans are concerned with the singer’s feature on the song, Migos, who, early this year, were blasted for their homophobic comments on the likes of Frank Ocean and rapper ILoveMakonnen.

Some fans were even quick to point out that the outrage to her featuring Migos on her new song actually points to a larger problem with the Katy Perry brand: She’s largely rested on her innate and suggestive homophobia.

Perhaps we can give Perry the benefit of the doubt and say that she’s not even aware that  what she’s written about or coopted has any real meaning other than “funny metaphor” or “colorful, cool visual,” but I’m not biting.

Just because she campaigned for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election, does not an activist make.

Have you read the Nylon article, “How Katy Perry Gets Away With Homophobia,” about, well, how Katy Perry gets away with homophobia? You should. 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”?

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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.)

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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!”

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Symbolic?

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” — or the inclusion of Migos on “Bon Appétit” — 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.

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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.

But something tells me that just isn’t woke enough to realize her own embedded version of the patriarchy: casual, societal homophobia.

12 thoughts on “The Hypocrisy and Homophobia of Katy Perry

  1. I think you’re going in a little hard on her, but I agree to an extent. It’s a very interesting conversation. I never expected her to go full-on gay at the Super Bowl. That’d create anarchy. But I understand your point.

    Just discovered your website today and I love it. Really thought provoking man.And relatable.

    • Thank you, sir! I appreciate that! It’s nice to know I’m reaching people.

      I think it’s just about awareness. Self-awareness in her case. She needs to stand for something, or at least don’t pretend to stand for US.

  2. I never liked Katy Perry and now I totally have a legit reason hahaha. She’s just so fake. Something about her I don’t like.

  3. “exploit her gay fan base at every turn and then rub it in their faces at the most important sporting event of the year” wow, she needed to gay it up a little. i wish SJW were as thorough about defending fat issues as they are with LGBT, but then again, fat is not Nanny State compatible, apparently. both sides are so messed up, no wonder i’m centrist.

  4. I personally have never been a huge fan of hers but this really saddens me particularly as she has such a big fan base. Maybe the fact that this new release wasn’t a winner like her previous ones is a sign that people are paying more attention. I also saw something on AOL a couple of days ago about racism she’s showed to some of the people she works with, but I’m not sure of the accuracy.

    • I think a lot of people are starting to pay attention in a post-Trump world, not just to Katy Perry, but to anyone with any sort of platform. It’s so important to hold everyone with a microphone to a higher standard, particularly if they use their platform — and soapbox — to profit off of what they preach. Perry, in particular, is known for her flagrant cultural appropriation and her degrading use of the word “gay” to fit her brand of snarky vanilla pop. She was lucky she rose to fame when she did, before people really started to realize that words matter, as do actions, and that tolerance for the sake of tolerance isn’t enough.

  5. Pingback: The Hypocrisy and Homophobia of Katy Perry | HyperReality

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