The Unexplored Disconnect: A Defense of Katy Perry

by: Philip Siegel

There are two main reasons people give why they hate Katy Perry: she’s homophobic and her songs suck. To those who agree with the latter reason, all I can say is to each their own. You may find her songs dumb, but you can’t deny their catchiness, and isn’t that a key ingredient in pop music? The other complaint against Ms. Perry – homo- and transphobia – highlights a bigger issue within the gay community.

Ms. Perry’s first misstep within the LGBT community was the single “Ur So Gay” off her debut album One of the Boys. In it, she uses the titular phrase to insult an ex-boyfriend who’s into H&M, Mozart, Ernest Hemingway, and tanning, among other interests. Ms. Perry claimed that the song isn’t a slam on gays; rather, it’s about how she thinks a guy who dumped her would be happier as a gay man. The ex-boyfriend in the song sounds more like a mash-up of metrosexual and hipster than a gay man. However, using that phrase as a negative is never cool and a step back for gay rights, plain and simple. It seems she’s learned her lesson since then. The singles off her follow-up album Teenage Dream are light and harmless. Luckily, “Ur So Gay” never gained traction, unlike her next gay faux pas, “I Kissed the Girl.”

The international smash received criticism as being demeaning towards lesbians, reinforcing the male fantasy version of gay women. Plus Ms. Perry had never actually kissed a girl. The song ruled the charts in the summer of 2008, during the thick of the Prop 8 debates. The gay community couldn’t risk anything trivializing gay rights in the eyes of potential voters. I don’t see the song as being about lesbians, though. There will always be straight girls that make out with each other at parties and clubs for attention. And men will always enjoy girl-on-girl fantasies. She just set those two undeniable facts to music.  If anything, “I Kissed a Girl” is about experimentation, the exciting titillation of stepping outside your comfort zone. It’s a universal experience, gay or straight. Ms. Perry captured the ambivalence perfectly in her song.  But mostly, it’s about girls who kiss girls at parties for attention. Something J.C. Chasez has also sung about.

What’s interesting about the homophobic complaints against Ms. Perry is that at the same time, she is a beloved figure within the gay community. She’s on track to be a gay icon. Despite the backlash against “Ur So Gay” and “I Kissed a Girl,” Ms. Perry was named one of Out magazine’s People of the Year. They put her on the cover.People like Beth Ditto complained that she exploited the gay community to get popular, yet her songs remain alive and well in gay clubs. Ryan Murphy, the openly gay executive producer of Glee, had Blaine sing “Teenage Dream” to Kurt. “Firework” was used in the It Gets Better campaign, even though Ms. Perry recently sang “Ur So Gay” to a high school audience, oblivious to the correlation between that phrase and bullying.

She recently got into hot water with the trans community for sending a distasteful tweet. It hasn’t had any discernible effect on her gay fanbase. Why does the gay community, particularly men, adore Ms. Perry so if her LGBT credentials are repeatedly called into question? It’s reminiscent of Britney Spears, another worshipped gay icon who hasn’t done much for the community – not as much as her reputation suggests. But she kissed a girl for attention. Madonna, Christina Aguilera, and Lady Gaga have all proven their unwavering support of gay rights. Speaking out, raising money, writing gay anthems. How did Britney and Katy wind up just as cherished as them? Is it really just about the music?

The homophobia charges against Ms. Perry expose the disconnect in the gay community. It’s like popular rappers who use the n-word to the dismay of black activists. Those who dislike Ms. Perry are angry at the wrong person. It’s the gay community who is making her a gay icon, who looks past any offensiveness and enjoys the music. I don’t think Kate Perry is homophobic. Her missteps of the past are due to ignorance, and she seems to be learning from her mistakes. Other artists have said and done far worse to gay people. After 11 years in the music business, she’s paid her dues. She works hard, puts on a good show, and doesn’t get into trouble. Now if only I could get her songs out of my head.

Philip Siegel grew up in New Jersey, just down the block from a veritable Real Housewife. He graduated from Northwestern University and promptly moved out to Los Angeles, where he became an NBC page. Phil likes to think that the character of Kenneth on 30 Rock is loosely based on his life rights. Currently, he works at a major Chicago advertising agency by day while he writes novels at night and during his commute sandwiched in between colorful characters on the El. His plays have been performed on stage and radio, and he has published articles about gay line dancing bars and the French box office, among other fundamental topics. Read his blog at philipsiegelwrites.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter at @FillupSeagull.

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