"I Kissed a Girl"
by Katy Perry
Of course we should have seen Sarah Palin coming. All we had to do was look at the music charts. Which song dominated American radio airplay this summer? Not M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes," despite the deserved critical excitement when it jumped into the top five on the back of Pineapple Express; not Miley Cyrus; not the Jonas Brothers; and not even Coldplay. It was Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl," a pseudofeminist exploitation number whose cynicism has been topped this year only by the RNC.
Perry is an ex-Christian singer who has seized the main chance. "I Kissed a Girl" marries an overbearing glam-rock shuffle-stomp—think of Gary Glitter's "Rock & Roll Part 2" with the beat audibly fraying at the edges, as if the producers figured the only way to reach America's heart was to pulverize—with Perry's shrill singing, which seems less rooted in a musical style than a personality type. Forget about lesbian until graduation; Perry is a lesbian until the camera switches off—the loudest girl in the Girls Gone Wild infomercial. Each to her own, but she sounds so robotic it's hard to sense much in the way of human impulse there.
The lyrics just make it worse. She kisses a girl—sure, okay. She likes it—um, and? Oh, and she hopes her boyfriend doesn't mind, because sexual autonomy is inextricable from the male gaze, and that's fucking awesome. "I Kissed a Girl" is infuriatingly ass-backward: cynical adherence to outdated values made into titillation, snide calculation dressed up as the underdog, the same old bullshit disguised as rebellion.
Those traits have dominated recent election news. Writing in Salon about why Palin gives her nightmares, Rebecca Traister could have been describing "I Kissed a Girl": "What Palin so seductively represents... is a form of feminine power that is utterly digestible to those who have no intellectual or political use for actual women. It's like some dystopian future... feminism without any feminists." What's worse is that people are falling for it, mistaking a pat on the head for progress. It takes a nation of Katy Perrys to hold us back.