One of the Boys — Katy Perry

I bought Katy Perry’s One of the Boys,* and was immediately struck by how misogynistic and homophobic the CD is. I was going to go through problematics of each track one by one, but then my ears started bleeding.* So, I’ll instead bring up one major issue for me and a BUH? discussion launcher.

To begin! The titular first track, “One of the Boys,” sets up a straw-man argument, where the narrator describes herself as an exceptional female, to borrow Adrienne Rich’s term for a woman who gains acceptance in a group of men through reiterating a set of stereotypes about women and then constructing her identity as not-that. Perry sings about how she’d tape her boobs down because they’re a nuisance, she prefers guitar over ballet, and isn’t afraid of spiders, all of which mean she’s one of the boys and the dude in question doesn’t see her as a love-interest. She starts researching girliness by reading fashion magazines, and comes back to school ready to wow him. That’s pretty standard-fare, but in conversation with “Kissed a Girl,” the next song, you start to realize that Perry’s doing something really whackadaisical.

1. She’s positioning herself in contrast to an essentialized kind of femininity — one defined by sexual accessibility, passivity, and “prettiness.”

2. This is a consumable femininity and a consumable sexuality– Perry’s able to take on the trappings associated with it (I think because narratively she associates herself with the masculine, active subject as a result of her role as an exceptional female) and is herself able to (harmlessly) objectify that feminine sexuality. Perry’s said elsewhere that the song is about going out and seeing some really hot girl and having a girl-crush moment. She’s also said it’s about sleepovers. How odd, since I thought it was about kissing.

Anyways, that seems pretty cut and dry, right? But wait — there’s more! What do you do with “Ur So Gay?”  Jennifer Kesler and I were chatting online about this song and decided there are too many layers of messed up to pick just one. For someone who begins by talking about alternative ways to be female to then go on to talk about the “gayness” of boys who don’t like boys yet drive electrical cars, don’t eat meat, and shop at H&M is just… odd.

So what do you think, y’all? How many layers of nuts can YOU find in the song “UR SO GAY?” Best answer wins my copy of this regrettable CD. ;)

*Please, judge me later for my love of pop.

*Seriously, the only worthwhile track on this CD is “Waking Up in Vegas” — and even that’s just a less awesome aural version of this:

Comments

  1. Dom Camus says

    The thing about “Kissed a Girl” is that whatever the author’s intention (he said, neatly avoiding contradicting any claims) it just happens to play neatly into the porn cliche of “girl-on-girl” sexual activity being somehow attractive to heterosexual males.

    So pretty much business as usual for the pop industry.

  2. Fraser says

    Dom’s right. The video is basically “Ooh, I kissed a girl and I’m standing here in lingerie talking about it, are you horny yet?”

  3. Fraser says

    There’s another song where the opening lines are
    “You change your mind like a girl changes clothes.
    “You PMS like a bitch, I should know.”

  4. Fraser says

    But reading the lyrics to One of the Boys, it doesn’t sound like you’ve described. It seems more in the vein of “You think of my as your tom-boy buddy, how can I make you see I’m grown up?”

  5. Maria says

    That’s what I thought too when I first heard it… But, I think that when you consider the course of the whole CD (especially since the next track is “Kissed a Girl”) it’s a lot less standard.

    I don’t know what to do with all this in terms of how she’s all 1950s-out in terms of clothing.

  6. says

    But reading the lyrics to One of the Boys, it doesn’t sound like you’ve described. It seems more in the vein of “You think of my as your tom-boy buddy, how can I make you see I’m grown up?”

    I’m getting a very different read from it. In the song, she’s positioning herself as a tomboy who realizes she can’t get boys, so she deliberately transforms herself into a female stereotype. This is problematic enough because it implies boys have a right to expect girls to be all flowers and pearls and we should conform to those expectations instead of being ourselves. But if you take the whole song as a send-up of the 1950s “tomboy becomes prom queen” movie, which is how it feels to me, then I find Maria’s position convincing: Perry is, through fairly subtle irony, telling us she’s cooler than girls who conform to female stereotypes. So I took a slightly different direction than Maria and still wound up in the same place.

    And then when you look at the whole album, and this song’s position as title track, and the title of it, it seems even more likely that Perry is setting herself up as an exceptional female. More importantly, I feel it’s really boys/men she’s telling this too. I think UR So Gay is also looking at the world through a lens of (insecure) heterosexual male perspective.

    Compare all this to P!nk, whose music sometimes criticizes society’s expectations of women and girls without implying that she’s superior to anyone or that we should all strive to be cool like her.

  7. Charles RB says

    You listened to the whole CD? Damn, I can’t even listen to I Kissed A Girl, the tune makes me want to bash my head against things.

  8. Anemone Cerridwen says

    I’ve heard “hot and cold” on the radio, and just watched the video (trying to figure out where I’d heard her name before, other than she’s the one going after a fashion designer in Australia whose real name is Katy Perry (unlike the songstress) over name usage).

    My take is she’s the usual 20-something struggling with stereotypes who doesn’t have a clue which fit and which don’t. I’ll take her statements seriously when she’s 30 or 35. (I’d say the same thing about me at that age, too.)

    P!nk sounds much more sure of herself as a person. Older, more mature.

  9. says

    LOL, Maria, the problem with your requirements for winning the CD is that the song leaves everyone’s brain frozen. It’s like the aural equivalent of the blue screen of death. ;)

    Seriously, it’s insulting to gays, vegetarians, 90% of Santa Monica, CA (hippie central), and people who hate L.A. (like there’s not good reason for that!). I mean, she describes about half the people I know, male and female, and then declares them “so gay”, which is totally WTF as well as totally bigoted, and… then my brain just sort of shorts out.

  10. Robin says

    I’ve only heard ‘I Kissed A Girl’, but that was enough of a deterrent to keep me away from the rest of her album. I’m all for a bicurious young woman exploring her sexuality, it’s rest of the lyrics that are rather troubling. The fact that she admits to cheating on her boyfriend is uncomfortable at best.

    As for ‘UR So Gay’, thank you for the warning. Using the word gay in a derogatory manner is one of my pet peeves, and I don’t think I could sit through the song to find out whether it was intended to be ironic.

  11. says

    the narrator describes herself as an exceptional female, to borrow Adrienne Rich’s term for a woman who gains acceptance in a group of men through reiterating a set of stereotypes about women and then constructing her identity as not-that.

    I totally wish I could print this on a t-shirt but I *think* it’s a little long. I both have resembled this remark and known folks who do it – the whole “protesting too much” thing comes into play – and it’s just insulting to everyone!

  12. Kiki says

    Verse 1:
    “I hope you hang yourself with your H&M scarf/ While jacking off listening to Mozart.”
    Ok, last time I checked Mozart was not “emo” so there is really no reason for this person to hang themselves, unless she’s commenting on their sexual preferences that have something to do with auto-erotic asphyxiation. What that has to do with shopping at H&M, I’m not sure, although they have some nice clothes. Maybe she is saying she hates things that are nice and classly?

    “You bitch and moan about LA/ Wishing you were in the rain reading Hemingway”
    Does the person she’s talking about live in LA? I have to go with yes otherwise this line is too insane. In fairness we all hate on our cities sometimes, unless she’s trying to allude to the emo-ness sort of brushed at in the first verse, even then, *twitch*. Once again she mentions something that our society places value in the works of Hemingway. Hemingway, who is was a terrible misogynist and a drunk, but still one of the classic American writers. Is this guy supposed to be artistic? Is that what she’s saying? But LA isn’t an artsy city is it? I thought New York was more the art place and LA more for hippies.

    “You don’t eat meat/ And drive electrical cars/ You’re so indie rock it’s almost an art”
    Here she is implying that being a vegetarian and driving an electric car is a bad thing, which seems not to fit with the other statements. She also mentions that this guy is “indie rock”. I have met lots of gay men, I can’t remember any of them striking me as “indie rock”. Also the gay “scene” is very different from the indie rock “scene”. Maybe she’s trying to imply that being liberal makes you gay, and liking non-mainstream music (since she sings pop).

    “You need SPF 45 just to stay alive”
    Instead of what? Being burned to death by the sun? It takes more than one exposure to the deadly rays of Sol to actually kill, although it can make you really sick. However, this has nothing to do with being gay and everything to do with being “emo”.

  13. FM says

    “But LA isn’t an artsy city is it? I thought New York was more the art place and LA more for hippies.”

    Whaaaah? We’re plenty artsy! And the hippies live in Northern California. :D

    I’m not familiar with her music, but I’m sad someone so undeserving got to wear that awesome carousel dress.

  14. says

    L.A. is actually pretty diverse. We’ve got people immigrating here from all over the planet, for motives that range from fleeing bad political situations to hoping to get richer than Donald Trump. There’s no dominant group, religion or philosophy. There are hippies, artsy people, corporate yuppies from hell, working and middle class families, criminals, phonies and people who help strangers in need like you would not believe.

    And all Los Angeloonies occasionally “bitch” about L.A. No matter what you love about it, it’s insanely expensive, the traffic is hideous, etc. Additionally, she seems to be implying that only a phony would say they want to be “in the rain” while bitching about L.A. Well, Jesus Christ, we just had a 5 year drought. People from all sorts of backgrounds complained frequently about the lack of rain. I NEVER thought I would miss rain when I moved here, but believe it or not, 360 days a year of “clear and sunny” gets old eventually. And Los Angeloonies often wax nostalgic about seasons – you don’t get stuff like leaves changing color or flowers blooming all at once here, and sometimes people who didn’t grow up here miss that stuff. Hell, sometimes people who DID grow up here long for it. There’s nothing phony about this, and the people I’m hearing it from are not, by and large, gay men.

    I think she *thinks* she’s describing an L.A. phony with that song, but the L.A. phony is a stereotype this city’s entertainment industry created to make money. People all over the country make fun of and claim to loathe L.A. even though they’ve never visited and really know jackshit about it (now who’s phony?), so film/TV people worked out that they could make money by pandering to the small towner’s need to feel superior to L.A.

  15. Charles RB says

    I DID wonder why TV and films made in LA kept saying how horrible and degrading LA & Hollywood is…

  16. Lee R. says

    First time posting..

    I when I first saw the title “I Kissed A Girl”, I thought it was a cover of Jill Sobule’s original tune from 1995. Thank god it wasn’t.

    But then it annoyed me even more because Jill’s take on it has been forgotten, and she is actually gay (or bisexual at least) so the tune is authentic, and not some phoney shtick designed to make her a star.

    I’d be curious about others thoughts on Jill’s tune – there’s a live version on youtube here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4r41vPTF8k

    But if you can find the video, it’s even better as she portrays herself as a 50s housewife (another thing KP ripped off) and has Fabio as a husband. I’d link to it on youtube but the only version there has Beavis and Butthead on it…

  17. Charles RB says

    I thought Perry was doing a cover first time too, and went “WHAT have you done to the tune?!”.

    Then, thank Christ, it turned out not to be a cover.

  18. Casey says

    ARGH, I was reading some In Touch magazine and there was an article about Katy Perry’s upcoming marriage to Russel Brand and the designs for her wedding dress; there was a quote from her saying “I have my own look, which I call ‘Lolita meets Old Hollywood Glam’.” Now far be it from me to begrudge anyone who uses Lolita as a clothes descriptor (I’m partial to Elegant Gothic Lolita* fashion, myself) but NOW I know that not only does she Try Too Hard(tm) with her Exceptional Female(tm) shtick, she’s doing the definition of Lolita RONG! (also, didn’t Russel brand make a joke about drugging and raping Katy Perry when he hosted the MTV Viewers’ Choice Awards? Oh boy. :()

    *the difference between EGL and what Perry is referring to is that she when she means loli, she means “sexy jailbait” whereas the EGL aesthetic is profoundly sexLESS*

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.