Music

From Katy Perry To Rita Ora: A Very Short History of Pop-Music Lesbianism and What It Says About Social Progress

The distance traveled from 2008's "I Kissed a Girl" to today's "Girls" can't be measured in years alone.

|

What a difference a decade makes when it comes to representing alternative sexuality.

These days, even National Review conservatives who only a few years ago were sending their prayers to Bruce Jenner (they'd never call her Caitlyn without scare quotes) have practically sued for peace when it comes to transgender issues.

Two pop songs with lesbian motifs, one released in 2008 and one released earlier today, measure the immense distance we've traveled as a society when it comes to chilling out love and sex.

In 2008, pop star Katy Perry released the song "I Kissed a Girl," the video for which boasts more than 142 million views, an amazing number. Racy for its day, the singer/protagonist coyly recounts that she "lost her discretion," kissed a girl, and "liked it." But this is not an ode to a love that dare not speak its name or even the beginning of ribald experimentation. And it's definitely not a farewell to heterosexuality. Indeed, Perry mentions in passing a boyfriend, strongly implying only the weakest sort of L.U.G. (lesbian until graduation) experimentation, if that.

From the lyrics:

No I don't even know your name
It doesn't matter
You're my experimental game
Just human nature

It's not what
Good girls do
Not how they should behave
My head gets
So confused
Hard to obey

The video is vintage Perry, filled with voluptuous, lingering shots of scantily clad female bodies, lots of fluttering hand fans, and ironic winks. The naughtiness stops with a single illicit kiss, too. The video is very much about what's called "the male gaze," under which a woman performs for an unseen, heterosexual man who is titillated by the girl-on-girl action but remains figuratively in charge of the situation. Whatever slight transgression might take place, its point is ultimately to re-inscribe conventional sexual mores rather than challenge them.

Firdaus Latif, FMFA 2013. Creative Commons.

Then there's today's new release from British singer Rita Ora, featuring Cardi B (last seen at Reason demanding from Uncle Sam an accounting of where her "fucking tax money" goes), Bebe Rexha, and Charli XCX. On one level, "Girls" is, like a Perry song, basically a conventional, upbeat pop tune, but its treatment of sexuality is radically different. The singer/protagonist talks about enjoying having sex with men, but she's emphatic that she's unabashedly bisexual ("fifty-fifty and never gonna hide it").

Sometimes, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls
Red wine, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls
Sometimes, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls
Red wine, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls
Girls, girls, girls, girls, girls

Cardi B's raps this verse:

Now I could be your lipstick just for one night (one night)
Girls just wanna have fun and have their funds right (yeah)
I mean, say my name, say my name, say my name (say my name)
It tastes good just rolling off your tongue, right? (hurrr)…
I'm too sexy, I seduce myself (Bardi)…
I steal your bitch, have her down with the scissor
Tonight, I don't want a dog, I want a kitten (Eoooaaawww)
I might French a girl from Great Britain

Full lyrics here.

More interestingly, and despite the explicit lyrics, there are no images of the performers or any women in the video, which is all text. Far from being a visual spectacle that plays to male fantasies, sex in "Girls" is a private matter that happens behind closed doors, or at least offscreen. Effectively, there's no gaze, male or otherwise. There are only individuals doing what they want.

This is what empowerment looks like, and pluralism too. Individuals have more choices to express themselves than ever before and, as important, we are all more at ease with people having more choices. The speed with which society becomes more accepting of consensual activity between (or, for polyamorists, among) consenting adults can be agonizingly slow or be blazingly fast. Gallup started asking Americans about marriages between whites and blacks in 1959, when only 4 percent approved. It took another 35 years before a simple majority approved (the number today is around 90 percent). In 2004, just 31 percent of Americans favored same-sex marriage, but by 2017 more than six out of 10 respondents did.

Like "I Kissed a Girl," "Girls" is a short pop song and we should be careful not to hang too many heavy thoughts on it, lest it collapse altogether. But especially in an era of apocalyptic rhetoric and fears about "the suicide of the West" on the one hand and dire warnings about the resurgence of fascism on the other, it's worth stopping every once in a while to acknowledge that our ability to live our lives as we see fit is moving in the right direction.

HT: Sarah Rose Siskind

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

129 responses to “From Katy Perry To Rita Ora: A Very Short History of Pop-Music Lesbianism and What It Says About Social Progress

  1. Like “I Kissed a Girl,” “Girls” is a short pop song and we should be careful not to hang too many heavy thoughts on it, lest it collapse altogether.

    You’re kidding, aren’t you, Nick? I mean, this stuff is probably the meat of quite a few doctoral dissertations by now.

    1. Yes. Dissertations where the grad student defends her thesis while wearing only her underwear, most likely.

      1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

        This is what I do… Dailycash.us

    2. My good friend is a math teacher and I actually joked to him the other day that if he’d chosen a different field he’d probably be stuck reading term papers talking about what a strong metaphor Cardi uses, empowering herself by letting the audience know that these isn’t just any old shoes, these is red bottoms. And then he’d probably have to give the kid a B+ for it.

    3. My last month paycheck was for 11000 dollars… All i did was simple online work from comfort at home for 3-4 hours/day that I got from this agency I discovered over the internet and they paid me for it 95 bucks every hour…

      This is what I do…. http://www.onlinereviewtech.com

  2. It doesn’t say a damn thing about “social progress”.

    1. Maybe it does, but not in the way you think. Go back 50 or 60 years, and you had pop songs about a one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people-eater and another pop song about a “wooly bully” (likely a reference to aggression among furries). Compared to those old songs, this modern pop pablum is very tame!

      1. If you want to go novelty songs, you gotta include Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-a-Ling!”

        1. Why don’t we do it in the road?

    2. Another disaffected goober continues to whine and complain about his more educated betters in the more civilized parts of our nation. He refuses to accept that the left-liberal alliance will MOUTHRAPE HIS UGLY ASS GOD I HATE THESE PEOPLE SO MUCH I LOVE TO PRETEND I’M SHOVING MY DICK DOWN THEIR THROATS YES YES YES OH GOD I LOVE FANTASIZING ABOUT RAPE continue to shove progress down his throat until he dies. Carry on, clinger.

      1. I know what you mean. This song is cute when Rita Ora and Cardi B sing it, but the neighbors will call 911 if Tony sings it on a street corner. There’s a reason many gay men are reluctant to leave the plantation by experimenting with women.

        1. Now there’s imagery for you. Tony singing on a street corner.

      2. So you’re a homo who’s full of sexual angst because you don’t get to rape the mouths of goobers. You may be right that the goober-clingers of the country just aren’t educated enough to appreciate the benefits of such a progressive agenda. Just out of curiosity, what progressive institution were you educated at? Prison, perhaps?

      3. Anyway, someone of your educational attainment wouldn’t be satisfied with goobers, but if you insist, have you considered carrying around an recycled 20 oz soda bottle instead? Slightly less conversation, but more portable and tidy.

        1. Oooohhhh he mad!

        2. For the record, Sanjuro, I’m going to steal this and use it to respond to Arthur Kirk.

    3. Actually it does, for this song to be accepted as a mainstream “normal” pop song as opposed to “i kissed a girl” which was much more promotional of the sexual aspects of women rather than just a relationship with the same sex. That’s progress in any sane person’s book.

      1. That looks like wishful thinking mixed with your opinion.

  3. Sometimes, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls
    Red wine, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls
    Sometimes, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls
    Red wine, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls
    Girls, girls, girls, girls, girls

    Truly inspired writing. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, this literally brought tears to my eyes.

    1. I still think it’s a lesser period of Motley Crue.

    2. I still think it’s a lesser period of Motley Crue.

      1. It’s clearly ripping off the Beastie Boys.

        1. You have to fight!

          For your right!

          To eat CAAAAAARPET!

    3. 🙂

  4. Shhh.. no one tell Nick about the Indigo Girls….

    1. Shhh…no one should mention kd lang around him either.

      1. Shhh… No one tell him about Jill Sobule, who wrote a song called I Kissed a Girl in 1995 that was better than either of the ones mentioned in the article.

      2. Shhh….Nick is pretending to be a millennial. He doesn’t know anything about those ppls.

        1. Fair enough. If he needs to show that he’s bae or woke or whatever the fuck it’s called this week, fine.

      1. Freddie Mercury on homosexual hookup sex:

        I’m a shooting star leaping through the sky
        Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity
        I’m a racing car passing by like Lady Godiva
        I’m gonna go go go
        There’s no stopping me

        I’m burnin’ through the sky yeah
        Two hundred degrees
        That’s why they call me Mister Fahrenheit
        I’m trav’ling at the speed of light
        I wanna make a supersonic man out of you

      2. IIRC, Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up* had a one-time only midnight release because it was too edgy for MTV at the time. L7 was a bit… edgy performance-wise* too.

        *Both videos, though broadcast nationally, are NSFW

    1. I assumed he meant “dog” in the street sense, but when he got to the part about throwing a tranny out of his house, I realized how important it was for Governor Christie to sign that law after a judge had ruled that the cow must of had a good time.

      1. Yep, must of

        Of what?

  5. The distance traveled from 2008’s “I Kissed a Girl” to today’s “Girls” can’t be measured in years alone.

    Damned millenials.

    Nick Gillespie|May 11, 2018 6:45 pm

    What the hell man?!

    1. He’s a lesbian.

      1. Lesbian wanders into a cowboy bar in Wyoming. Sees an old cowboy drinking alone, wanders overs, talks a bit, asks him if he’s a real cowboy. Sure he says. How about you, being polite. Oh I am a lesbian. What’s that, cuz he has lived an isolated life. Oh, I think of women all day long, all night long. And she wanders off. Later the cowboy is talking to the bartender, kinda thoughtful. Says Here I used to think I was a cowboy, it turns out I’m a lesbian.

  6. Ha ha. I’m imagining the Jacket assigning this article to one of the interns who promptly told him to fuck off.
    “It’s cool, I’ll do it myself”.

    1. The jacket doesn’t run shit anymore.

  7. “(they’d never call him Caitlyn without scare quotes)”

    FIFY

    Transgenderism has nothing to do with homosexuality. Two completely different subjects.

    1. Granted. In some ways, being 50/50 is the type of thing that is more acceptable in music videos and adult websites than in mainstream society. A transgender person is in a clear category that neighbors tolerate or reject. Bisexuals and cross-dressers confuse and scare judgmental people more.

      1. That’s not surprising. Transgenderism is the strongest possible endorsement of sexism and traditional sex roles. It’s a dramatic affirmation of the idea that one’s thoughts, feelings and behavior must conform to one’s body. There’s comfort there for people who are extremely conservative about sex roles. Did you know that the country with the highest rate of male-to-female “sex change” surgeries is Iran?

        On the other hand, people who are blatantly sexually non-conforming, like bisexuals, straight-appearing homosexuals, and drag queens, are a scary threat to the traditional sexual social order.

        1. Yep.

  8. Transgenderism has nothing to do with homosexuality. Two completely different subjects.

    Arguable, but not around Diedre McCloskey!

    1. Reason-contributor “Deirdre”

      reference

      1. Must be a great book to get a reaction like that. I’ll have to read it.

    1. Now that poem is a classic. 🙂

    1. OK, museum foundation, whatever.

    2. Al publicly-funded museums should be free to de-accession items from their collections. Many are subject to stupid and destructive rules requiring them to give away or destroy out of scope, duplicate, excessive and unwanted holdings. Private museums and private collectors who pay to aquire items for their collections are often much better stewards of our cultural patrimony. IE, they put things back on the open market when they no longer want them or need the money.

      1. How much do you think I can get for Lincoln’s old iPad?

        1. Back in those days ‘iPad’ meant something different than today.

        2. Museums don’t exhibit most of their collections anymore. Theyre worse about keeping their shit out of the public view than private collectors who, unless they donate to bad museums, put their shit bacvk on the market with annotated and photo-documented catalog listings and the opportunity for anyone with the requisite scratch to actually buy the item ., then in turn exhibit it, sell it or donate it to some institution that may actually care for and display the item. Museums really suck these days. They don’t display shit, they don’t take care of it when it is out of public view. Do you want to see prehistoric native-American cultural material? Go to the British Museum or some other decent foreign institution. American museums “repatriate” that stuff to people who have no actual cultural connection to it.

        3. Museums don’t exhibit most of their collections anymore. Theyre worse about keeping their shit out of the public view than private collectors who, unless they donate to bad museums, put their shit bacvk on the market with annotated and photo-documented catalog listings and the opportunity for anyone with the requisite scratch to actually buy the item ., then in turn exhibit it, sell it or donate it to some institution that may actually care for and display the item. Museums really suck these days. They don’t display shit, they don’t take care of it when it is out of public view. Do you want to see prehistoric native-American cultural material? Go to the British Museum or some other decent foreign institution. American museums “repatriate” that stuff to people who have no actual cultural connection to it.

          1. Sometimes it’s impressive how specific white racial grievance can be.

            1. No one cares about your sex life

  9. The Rap Music, Vegan Muffin Fiasco At Duke University (Update: Coffee Shop Is Leaving Campus)

    “…So, despite the fact that neither barista had selected the song and that they turned it off immediately and apologized, they were fired….”

    1. Sometimes I just laugh and laugh, and wonder how much derpier they can get, and how soon they will collapse and implode like a black hole.

      Other times I wonder how much has changed from, say, 100 years ago, and how much is just the internet spreading news of these stupidities wider and faster.

      1. I’m confused. I read your link, Eidde, and I know nothing about how Spotify works, but these two sentences seem to be in conflict with one another:

        “…So, despite the fact that neither barista had selected the song and that they turned it off immediately and apologized, they were fired….”

        “Britni Brown, who was manning the register, was in charge of the playlist that day.”

        So if you choose the playlist, you aren’t in charge of picking the songs?

        1. Nope. They put together a mix based on your preferences.

          You can build your own playlist, but it’s a hassle compared to just selecting “Your Daily Mix.”

          And before you ask, no, “Your Daily Mix” usually isn’t songs you’ve selected, it is a few of your songs and mostly songs they select for you.

          1. The barista bears command responsibility, but she owned up to it.

            Given how prevalent this sort of “popular cultures” is just about anywhere, I’d think it would be the bosses who should bear the brunt of enforcing a family-friendly environment through *rules enunciated in advance,* as opposed to saying, “oh, didn’t we tell you, you have to carefully vet popular music to make sure it’s appropriate, so you’re fired.”

            1. Because the complaint could have gone the other way – “this low-level employee is presuming to say what kinds of popular culture are OK, we demand that the bosses do something about it!”

              It’s management’s job to set the tone without being dicks their employees, likewise universities which contract with these businesses.

              What reasonable person could anticipate that a university would want to censor culture not made by white conservatives?

              1. But leftist elitists are NOT reasonable. They believe THEY should be in charge of any censoring that needs to be done. A mere grunt behind the coffee counter must not presume to silence minority cultures, but it’s OK for a credentialed elite to do so.

            2. “The barista bears command responsibility”

              yeah, i don’t really care because his question was ” if you choose the playlist, you aren’t in charge of picking the songs?” To which the correct answer is “no, not if you choose ‘Your Daily Mix'”

    1. Key-rist. These people act like there’s only two ways to make pizza. HInt New Yorkers – the ‘New York slice’ sucks too. Very Italian in that its made early that morning and sits on display for four hours before lunchtime hits.

      1. Hey, at least he acknowledged the existence of Chicago (although he also gratuitously mentioned LA). That’s a start.

    2. Credibility shot:

      I would bring it up wherever we went and after every meal we had. “Mmm, that bowl of pasta was great. But man, could I go for a Chicago deep dish right now,” I would say in a joking manner.

      My brother, Grady, called my bluff right away

      First he implies he was egging on his brother over and over. Then he says his brother called him on it immediately. Sorry, Charlie, you’ll have to do better than that next time you make up a story.

    3. Portability is a very niche qualification for a food.

      1. Only for socialists like you.

    4. Well, this was more worth my time than these two songs.

    5. The takeaway is always the same–

      It’s good. But it’s not pizza.

      It’s a pizza casserole. Made without pizza dough.

      It may sound weird but the dough is the main ingredient. That’s the pizza. You get cheese pizza, sausage pizza, pepperoni pizza.

      Different toppings…on your pizza.

      And there’s an iconic image of that dough.

      Someone spinning it or tossing it.

      And that doesn’t happen with deep dish.

  10. Time to move to Little Rock and binge re-run the South Pacific
    scene of Mitzi Gaynor singing: “I adore being a Girl!”

    1. Whoops! Wrong musical (and wrong singer). Mitzi Gaynor sang ‘I’m gonna wash that man right outta my hair” in South Pacific. “I enjoy being a girl” comes from Flower Drum Song, and was sung by Nancy Kwan (although it was voiced by BJ Baker). The Broadway version was sung by Pat Suzuki, whose version was not dubbed and is considered the definitive version.

  11. Sometimes a song is just a song.

  12. Honk! Honk! Honk!

  13. Considering how socially conservative it is, Ireland’s 2018 Eurovision entry is a bit revolutionary for LGBT folks.

    1. Can’t be worse than Poland’s offering a few years ago that UK “judges” decided to throw out the viewers decision that it was the best song of the night.

      …then again, I also have a soft spot for big-titted chicks washing clothes and churning butter.

      1. Amen to that.

      2. That is a very specific spot.

  14. This year’s Moldova Eurovision entry celebrates polyandry, and the Romanian Eurovision entry is about a lesbian relationship.

  15. My version of events:

    Thoughts when ‘I kissed a girl’ came out — “wow, what an obvious gimmick and a lame song to boot”

    Thoughts on ‘Girls’ — “What song? Oh right, I’m in my 30s now and out of touch. Harumph, back in my day at least the song gimmicks were original” / promptly arrested by woke police

  16. Out of curiosity, what was the last time Gillespie wrote an article that was NOT cringe-worthy?

  17. Et tu TaTu?

  18. I think Reason should interview Lou Reed for his thoughts on all this.

    1. …and his thoughts on “colored girls.”

  19. I’m not saying the lipstick lesbian is a myth, I’m just saying don’t loan one any money.

    1. I’ll side with Kevin Smith from Chasing Amy.

      In the middle of a four way intersection, you have a dollar bill. In the four directions, you have a lipstick lesbian, the easter bunny, Santa Claus, and a man-hating lesbian. Who gets the dollar?

      The man hater because the other three are figments of your imagination.

  20. My Buddy’s mom makes $77 hourly on the computer . She has been laid off for five months but last month her check was $18713 just working on the computer for a few hours. try this web-site

    +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+ http://www.seekcyber.com

    1. This comment seems appropriate on a Reason post about sexuality.

  21. Racy for its day

    C’mon, no it wasn’t. Why do people always try to treat 10 years ago as if it was in Victorian times. We had gender-bending celebrities, homosexuality and lesbianism in pop music back at least as far as the ’60s. Nobody was shocked by I Kissed a Girl.

    1. Nick is old as fuck, it probably was racy to him.

    2. Nick is old as fuck, it probably was racy for him.

      1. I’m older than Nick?old enough to remember Little Richard.

    3. The onset of geriatric dementia is a tragedy.

      1. Nick is still young enough for it to count as early onset.

    4. I very vividly remember that video’s release, for… reasons. It didn’t have anything even remotely special about it. But I will say, as a young adult male at the time, it wasn’t hard to watch.

    5. We had Dennis Rodman in a wedding dress.

  22. The Lesbianism isn’t the real issue here. The real issue is that these lyrics are just fucking awful:


    Sometimes, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls
    Red wine, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls
    Sometimes, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls
    Red wine, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls
    Girls, girls, girls, girls, girls

    Cardi B’s raps this verse:

    Now I could be your lipstick just for one night (one night)
    Girls just wanna have fun and have their funds right (yeah)
    I mean, say my name, say my name, say my name (say my name)
    It tastes good just rolling off your tongue, right? (hurrr)…
    I’m too sexy, I seduce myself (Bardi)…
    I steal your bitch, have her down with the scissor
    Tonight, I don’t want a dog, I want a kitten (Eoooaaawww)
    I might French a girl from Great Britain

    Pop music has deteriorated to a startling degree.

    1. Ugh. Just listened to the song. It was exactly what I would have expected down to the auto-tuned vocals and utter lack of any musical complexity, creativity or inspiration.

    2. I bet there are like six writing credits.

    3. I know, Nick has such a shitty musical taste.

  23. Racy for its day

    Do you really believe this?

  24. Aw cmon. Like sex and music is something new.

    Joan Jett in ’83 covering the Tommy James and the Shondells classic from the ’60s Crimson and Clover.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xTfHhNg1iII

    “I’m not such a sweet thing

    I wanna do everything”

  25. Katy Perry, et al., will behave however you’d like, so long as you’re listening / clicking / buying, etc. There is nothing genuine about any of these, um, “artists'” expressions of sexuality.

  26. from the love that dared not speak it’s name to the love that won’t shut the fuck up…that’s how far we’ve come

  27. from the love that dared not speak it’s name to the love that won’t shut the fuck up…that’s how far we’ve come

  28. from the love that dared not speak it’s name to the love that won’t shut the fuck up…that’s how far we’ve come

  29. Young Dolph gives $20,000 to fired employees.

    http://www.charlotteobserver.c…..09644.html

    1. Well, that *was* the thrust of his song.

      1. “Get paid, young POC and white sidekick, get paid.”

  30. These days, even National Review conservatives who only a few years ago were sending their prayers to Bruce Jenner (they’d never call her Caitlyn without scare quotes) have practically sued for peace when it comes to transgender issues.

    And for those who wonder how “cuckservative” ever became a thing, I offer you Exhibit A.

  31. My Buddy’s mom makes $77 hourly on the computer . She has been laid off for five months but last month her check was $18713 just working on the computer for a few hours. try this web-site

    +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+ http://www.seekcyber.com

  32. At this point, only the gay rights activists care, to keep their identity group politics strong and profitable. Gay rights is so 00’s, we’re past that….and the over indulgent pop songs is more evidence it has jumped the shark.

    Like this years olympics and the inyourface OUT figure skater the msm kept on screen constantly. As if everyone didnt already believe 90% of the male figure skaters were gay 20 years ago.

  33. “More interestingly, and despite the explicit lyrics, there are no images of the performers or any women in the video, which is all text. Far from being a visual spectacle that plays to male fantasies, sex in “Girls” is a private matter that happens behind closed doors, or at least offscreen. Effectively, there’s no gaze, male or otherwise. There are only individuals doing what they want.


    This is what empowerment looks like, and pluralism too.”

    Actually, it’s what a lyric video looks like (the clip even states it’s the Official Lyric Video in its title). Lyric videos are released before the official music video. The official music video will come later.

    1. Hey now–Nick ‘s a bit old to know these kinda things–lay off. It’s like challenging your great grandfather to a race.

    2. Will keep an eye out for the subsequent vid. Thanks.

  34. “The distance traveled from 2008’s “I Kissed a Girl” to today’s “Girls” can’t be measured in years alone”.

    What about the difference in auto-tune pitch?

  35. Time to go yell at the wife for swapping my Reason bookmark for Cosmopolitan.

  36. I was for gays doing what they want and even calling themselves married. That is, until they tried to force others to support it. I mean, can’t everybody be free? Can’t the Christians who owns businesses be just as free as gays calling themselves married? Can’t a business owner or church have rules for if same sexes can use the same restrooms?

    Think about it. A lot of times one business owner might one a kids business (i.e. Chuck E Cheese) and an adult themed business (i.e. a bar). He’ll have different rules for the different businesses all to cater to what his customers expect. Gubment types try to make one size fit all.

    Until the LGBT lobby quits using things like gay marriage as a billy club to run Christians out of business, I’ll quit supporting things like gay marriage. Let the rest of us have freedom next to your freedoms, and I’ll support your freedoms.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.