It’s funny how the merest sniff of Sapphic dalliance can send straight girls hurtling up the charts. No sooner had I Kissed A Girl from Betty Page pin-up Katy Perry hit the British airwaves than the single had to be rush-released to mitigate the torrent of illegal downloads.
Perry had already done a fine job of upsetting majorities and minorities in the US. The Christian right are seething at the very mention of homosexual behaviour; while the touchier ends of the gay community have been inundating the blogosphere with flaming accusations of lipstick lesbianism. Add to this the US single Ur So Gay, with its mockery of a (straight) ex-boyfriend for his metrosexual feyness and you’ve got a powder-keg for the po-faced of all persuasions.
But is the controversy just a storm in a big gay teacup? Is Katy Perry just a novelty one-trick pony? And is the album any good? The answers – respectively – are kinda, kinda and kinda.
I Kissed A Girl is cheeky, kooky bubblegum pop, marrying a tale of sexual experimentation with a glammy Gary Glitter backing. No sniggering at the back, please. “I kissed a girl and I liked it” – well, why not? If it offends a few people who kiss members of the same sex for more than just the heck of it, then what the hell. Perhaps seeking controversy too arduously, I initially assumed that “the taste of her cherry chapstick” referred to a rather more intimate part of the female anatomy than the lips; but taken in the context of the rest of the song, I’m sure that’s just a product of my grubby little mind. In reality there’s nothing here but harmless froth.
Ur So Gay, with its referencing of pale skin, vegetarianism and H&M scarves as signifiers of male homosexuality, is a little more problematic. But Perry is no lard-brained Chris Moyles: this is a slagging-the-ex tune in the Avril Lavigne bratty mallrat vein, and so insensitive pop-culture allusions are par for the course. Though one hopes that “you pull ’em down and there’s nothing really there” refers to a lack of tumescence rather than a lack of substance, for it would be an unenlightened 23-year-old indeed who suggested that gay men and those who ape them are devoid of genitalia.
After listening to the whole of One Of The Boys, it becomes clear that kissing the girls and dissing the boys with gay jibes are just two of many ways in which Perry uses sexuality to assert her femininity. Hot N Cold, a Tiffany-style ’80s pop number, is about a flaky boy who can’t make up his mind about anything; If You Can Afford Me is pure early-Madonna self-assertion dressed up as materialism; and the title track describes a knowing conversion from tomboy to femme in order to ensnare a childhood friend. These spunky, sassy numbers are undoubtedly the high points of the album, though admittedly about as edgy as Lulu pushing a row of men in suits into a swimming pool on The Morecambe & Wise Show.
But as with every American teen-pop album in living memory, One Of The Boys comes with its share of sludgy ballads and tales of tough teens making it against the odds in the big city. There’s a strong debt to Alanis Morissette throughout (from the feisty persona to the perky voice shifting octaves mid-syllable); and filler tracks like Self Inflicted, Mannequin and I’m Still Breathing are the kind of self-centred dirge you’d expect to find lurking around the back end of one of Alanis’s weaker albums.
Where it hits the mark, One Of The Boys is sparky and accomplished – though entirely disposable – pop. It’s 40 minutes of mildly provocative fun – but if you’re looking for controversy, it’s really nothing to get hot under the collar about.