Song: ‘I Kissed A Girl’
Artist: Katy Perry
US chart peak: 1
Release date: April 28, 2008
Writers: Katy Perry, Lukasz Gottwald, Max Martin, Cathy Dennis
Producers: Dr Luke, Benny Blanco
Quintessential Max moment: That middle eight suspended animation bit feels very Max
Video synopsis: Katy (and Kesha) having what looks like quite a boring slumber party
Katy Perry, the popstar, didn’t get off to the best of starts. Not only did she start out as a sort acoustic guitar-wielding preacher, she then thought she was Alanis Morissette for a bit, then, when she finally ‘scored’ another record deal she almost ballsed that up by being a bit, well, homophobic. ‘Ur So Gay’ is a) really shit and b) just an awful list of fairly odd stereotypes dressed up as negatives (“You don’t eat meat, and drive electrical cars” – you what?). (She does deal with the allegations of homophobia in this here interview). Demoted to a buzz single, the video is online unofficially and is also awful. So, needless to say, there was a lot riding on the next single. Coincidentally – OR NOT – Perry continued to focus on ideas of homosexuality, this time moving into the world of faux lesbianism with ‘I Kissed A Girl’.
In the same interview with The New Gay, Perry discusses the inspiration behind the song, which was mainly written by Perry and Dr Luke, with additional magic conjured up by Max and actual legend Cathy Dennis (Side note: Here’s a nice quote from Dennis about why she tends to write more with women: “It’s difficult for me to get inside a guy’s head. I am just not cold enough to write as a guy. A lot of the stuff that I want to say is just too frilly – even though I don’t consider myself to be girly, or frilly – but I am very emotional and I think guys are less so.”) Asked straight out if she was a lesbian, as if all songs have to be literal, she replied: “I love my men. I’m not a lesbian, but I can appreciate the beauty of women. That’s what the song is about: me opening up a magazine and seeing Scarlet Johansen and saying “if she wanted to to kiss me I wouldn’t say no.”” So it’s hypothetical lesbianism? “It’s not about that,” Perry continued. “Everyone takes the song and relates it to their situation, they can see it however they want to see it. Love it, hate it, for me it was about us girls. When we’re young we’re very touchy-feely. We have slumber party sing-alongs, we make up dance routines in our pyjamas. We’re a lot more intimate in a friendship than guys can be. It’s not perverse but just sweet, that’s what the song is about.”
This viewpoint was confirmed by actual academic person Lisa Diamonds in her paper, Sexual Fluidity. Here she is discussing the middle eight bit where Perry says women are magical etc. “It seems the traditional view of sexual orientation being a fixed trait was mostly determined through research conducted on men. Girls, on the other hand, seem to have a fluid orientation, falling in and out of love with both genders over a lifetime – thus being magical as Katy points out here. In that sense, her kissing a girl and liking it is actually quite the norm, and really is no big deal.”
Obviously even sweet, no-big-deal, hypothetical lesbianism is enough to scare middle America, or at least that was the worry at the time. “People said, ‘This is never going to get played on the radio. How do we sell this? How’s this going to be played in the Bible belt?’”, Perry’s A&R told HitQuarters. In the end some radio people with ears decided that actually it should be played on the radio and lo and behold people starting calling in saying ‘oh, this song’s good, can you play it again?’.
In a lot of ways, ‘I Kissed A Girl’ feels like the last of those songs that did actually cause a minor kerfuffle with people of a certain age. Or maybe it’s because it felt like the last time a brand new artist has appeared off the back of a wave of scandal in that way – it’s been replicated a lot since but with very little success. That’s because in this case, beneath all the sapphic seduction, is a really catchy, well-constructed song that spans all age groups. Little kids could sing it without really getting the meaning, teenagers could snigger along to it and adults could do drunken dad dancing to it at a wedding. The stomping, glam rock-ish production also means the lyrics come across as kitsch rather than outright seductive (which was sort of Perry’s M.O at the time). Plus the song also gave Perry an excuse for some amazing promo tat – I distinctly remember Peter Robinson at Popjustice getting an ‘I Kissed A Girl’ cherry chapstick. Ah, the good old days.
BUT my favourite thing about ‘I Kissed A Girl’ is that it was originally offered to Macy Gray! Seriously.