Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2008

Katy Perry's I Kissed a Girl

Every summer needs its song. In 2007 it was obvious. Umbrella—Rihanna's ever-lasting gobstopper of a hit featuring the best use of an echo ("... ella ... ella ... ella") since the Von Trapps—topped the charts and achieved the kind of ubiquity that allowed those who heard it to indulge a harmless but essential fantasy: that the entire world was watching the summer float by on the same breezy tune.

So far, 2008 has failed to produce anything like it, and it's getting to be panic time. Especially since the closest thing by the numbers is I Kissed a Girl by Katy Perry, a 23-year-old lapsed gospel singer who was brought up Footloose-style—no rock music allowed—but apparently climbed down enough trellises to inspire her paean to experimentation. I Kissed a Girl has ruled the Billboard Hot 100 chart since June, and even though I can't find anyone who'll admit to liking the song, it has succeeded in uniting two previously disparate segments of the market. Christian groups have taken issue with Perry's sudden sapphistication, while gay activists are spoiled for choice between I Kissed a Girl's apparent trivialization of lesbianism and the fact that Perry's previous single, Ur So Gay (opening lyric: "I hope you hang yourself with your H&M scarf"), makes her seem like a less-than-ideal spokeswoman for the cause.

As odd as the debate over I Kissed a Girl is, the song is much, much weirder. It opens with a martial drumbeat and a jock-jam keyboard riff so unsubtle that only a radio programmer could love it. Then Perry's voice, overdubbed to a mechanical chill, describes the night she lost her inhibitions and found another girl's tongue. Countless people who have not heard I Kissed a Girl are under the impression that it's a cover of Jill Sobule's jangly 1995 hit of the same name. But where that track had a sweet, vulnerable sexuality, Perry turns brushing lips with the same sex into a cheesy, aggressive form of exhibitionism—like Wrestlemania without the cuddling.