I’m interested in the debate going on about Katy Perry, the new trying-to-be-Lily-Allen popsicle. Her first two singles are both accused of being anti-gay. The first was called “UR so Gay” and is all about an ex who was too metrosexual for his own good, while the second is called “I Kissed a Girl” and, well, its about her kissing a girl. The musical value of the songs aside, she’s pissed a lot of people off. But the daughter of two Christian Pastors and the latest product of Capitol Records seems herself to be blithely ignorant of the offence she has caused.

This fantastic interview with her and its subsequent discussion in The New Gay magazine is wonderful. As one of the commentators points out

“The interviewer just keeps asking, over and over, “Why are you such a homophobic cunt?”

The subject keeps responding, “The songs are personal, the themes are open to interpretation, I don’t have a government-mandated obligation to be politically correct.”

The songs each play on tropes of homophobia that are common in daily life but considered to be ‘harmless’. The first being the use of ‘gay’ as an insult akin to ‘stupid’ or ‘sucky’, the second being the idea that (pretty) straight girls kissing is hot as long as its aimed at turning on men. The first is one of my own personal rant buttons, and I have on several occasions got into huge blazing rows over it (most recently with my little sister – the one who also thinks that Muslims are evil). “But I don’t really mean gay as an insult, its just a word. It doesn’t mean gay like that“: the excuse of the fucking ignorant. The second idea that lesbians are hot seems to have a whole lot to do with porn. I always wondered why it was that lesbians were so popular in porn for men, given that you’d assume there would be nothing there for them. But I figured eventually that its probably because most straight men are so homophobic that they aren’t even comfortable seeing another guy naked in porn, so if you just eliminate the guy and put in two women it solves the problem. Which is of course reinforced by the fact that you would never see a butch lesbian, or in fact a lesbian, in ‘lesbian’ porn aimed at straight men. So Katy Perry’s funny little jokes reinforce the idea that lesbians only exist as male sex objects, and that men (gay or straight) who don’t fit in with established sex/gender roles should be punished for it. Catchy!

I was thinking about writing this post last night while in a gay bar in La Paz, and talking to my friend who took me there. My friend, Diana, was pretty uncomfortable but trying really hard not to show it. She had been nervous about whether she ought to mention the fact she was going to the bar, and had kind of ‘sounded me out’ on how I would react before inviting me. She is straight but was going because an old friend of hers who is gay was organising the event. Diana’s reaction was really interesting – although she was obviously very uncomfortable and probably quiet unhappy about her friend being, as she called it, ‘abnormal’, she was really trying hard to understand and to open her mind to the idea. She wanted to go to the bar to support her friend in an event she was organising, and I think in general to show her friend that she still supported her altogether. We had a good night out (till the curfew interrupted us) and made plans to see the Miss Gay Bolivia candidate through to the competition next weekend. Diana talked about how dangerous it is to be openly gay in Bolivia – at the gay pride event earlier in the year people attacked and sprayed gas on the people marching. We talked in the taxi home about the Katy Perry song “UR So Gay” and she was far more shocked than I had been.

In a way its a bit like the racist comments I was talking about before. Ed, for example, considers himself to be progressive and would probably describe Diana as homophobic because she is uncomfortable with the idea of her friend being gay. But Ed regularly makes the kind of locker room jokes with his male friends about being ‘so gay’, and I can only imagine the look of fear that would cross his face if we had offered to bring him along last night to the drag show in a gay bar. Diana lives in a country where being gay really is considered to be ‘abnormal’ so her opinion is understandable – I think its a bit much to assume that individual people can throw off their habitus overnight after one contact with the ‘liberal west’. In fact it’s this idea that we are more liberal in the west that makes us able to become comfortable with our own prejudice. What makes Diana more tolerant that Ed is that she is actively trying to change her opinion and broaden her mind, and that she understands that such ‘causal jokes’ are part of the day-to-day reinforcement of oppression that keep her friends underground and, at times, in fear of their lives.

I didn’t realise my housemate was in when I got home. I managed to wake him up because I was laughing so hard, in another room. The cause of the anti-social mirth: The Guardian’s “Pickard of the Pops” where each
week Anne Pickard reviews a music video. So cruel, and yet so damn funny.

Youtube has had an amazing effect on my pop-education. I recently have become a little obsessed with music videos, and in particular with finding videos to songs I once knew and loved but never saw before. Given the number of ex-boy/girl bands from my yooff that seem to be reforming recently, its also been entertaining to compare the old with the new. The Spice Girls being a perfect example. Compare exhibit A, the 1996 hit “Wannabe” with exhibit B, the 2007 comeback pseudo-hit “Headlines”.

Exhibit A (note also that this is nearly all one shot…)

Exhibit B (yawn)

The former is cheap, ridiculous and catchy – exactly the kind of mayhem that got them famous in the first place. Its annoying for sure, but at the same time a hell of a lot of fun in the right dosage. The latter is about as humorous and enjoyable as a Victoria Secrets catalogue, which it resembles in many respects. It’s so self-consciously “sexy” and “classy” that its just a bore. In fact, the mansion they are pouting at each other in looks remarkably similar to the hotel their younger incarnations pulled apart in 1996.

Seeing the Spice Girls back together again was confusing. I couldn’t work out which blond was which – they used to be so usefully colour coded! Seeing the new Take That video, though, was confusing on a whole other level.

Exhibit C, new Take That Minus Robbie video, “Patience”.

Exhibit D, old Take That video, “Back For Good” (haha! little did they know how ironic that title would become…)

I know perfectly well that the correct response to a Take That video is a combination of “Ewh!! Make him stop gyrating!” “Ewh!! Make him put his clothes back on!” or “Ewh!! I’m not a paedophile, I just came across this video of hairless boys semi-naked in the rain by accident!” Which made my immediate reaction to the new video a little disturbing. Maybe its just that I’m older, or that they’re older, or that someone finally put them in a video where they hardly dance and don’t take their clothes off – but one or two of those Take Thaters look pretty cute… I’m resisting the urge to wash my own brain out with soapy water for thinking such thoughts, but its true. They’ve finally turned into fairly decent eye candy after all these years.

But my favourite video at the moment has to be Lily Allen’s “Littlest Things”, for its incongruities that work so well.

The very personal ordinariness of the story being told in the lyrics is brought to the fore by the contrast with the melodramatic trashy-romance genre of the video. As a love song, its hard to identify with – buying trainers and watching DVDs are hardly universally applicable indexes of romance. Which, of course, is what makes the song so great – its a love song on an album by one of the few commercial artists who sing about anything other than love songs. But its not a love song, or at least not one that can be used by anyone else. She conceads to make a song about love, but in fact makes it an anti-lovesong. The Mills and Boon video just goes so perfectly with this. It just highlights the “You want me to do something more girly and traditional? Fine. Here. The ultimate in Girly and traditional. Hah!” aspect all the more. After which she can go back to singing about getting a morgage or trying to get into a club again. I love it.

Thinking of Lily Allen, I’ve recently started trying to teach myself about Hip Hop using Pandora, and had been listening to and much enjoying Common’s Drivin’ Me Wild, without realising it was with her. Fantastic. My conversion to Hip Hop after years of hating it, embarrassingly enough, came about during a departmental seminar given by an anthropologist recently. Her talk was really inspiring – and opened my eyes (or perhaps, ears) to the fact that there’s a lot more to Hip Hop than the crap played on the Chicago radios. In particular, she talked about this video by Common, that everyone loved because its set in Chicago… (plus its a great song). Given that one of the main points of her talk was to describe the significance of the concept of place in Hip Hop, its kind of amusing how excited we all were to see ‘our’ city.

Hm, finding out about pop-culture through a seminar. How sad is that? Almost as sad as admitting that Take That look sexy… There is no hope for me.


[Additional note: Thinking of re-evaluating old songs once you see the music video, what the fuck was that all about??]

Ian Brown Illegal Attacks Lyrics

So what the fuck is this UK
Gunnin’ with this US of A
In Iraq and Iran and in Afghanistan

Does not a day go by
Without the Israeli Air Force
Fail to drop it’s bombs from the sky?

How many mothers to cry?
How many sons have to die?
How many missions left to fly over Palestine?
‘Cause as a matter of facts
It’s a pact, it’s an act
These are illegal attacks
So bring the soldiers back
These are illegal attacks
It’s contracts for contacts
I’m singing concrete facts
So bring the soldiers back

What mean ya that you beat my people
What mean ya that you beat my people
And grind the faces of the poor

So tell me just how come were the Taliban
Sat burning incense in Texas
Roaming round in a Lexus
Sittin’ on six billion oil drums
Down with the Dow Jones, up on the Nasdaq
Pushed into the war zones

It’s a commercial crusade
‘Cause all the oil men get paid
And only so many soldiers come home
It’s a commando crusade
A military charade
And only so many soldiers come home

Soldiers, soldiers come home
Soldiers come home

Through all the blood and sweat
Nobody can forget
It ain’t the size of the dog in the fight
It’s the size of the fight in the dog on the day or the night
There’s no time to reflect
On the threat, the situation, the bark nor the bite
These are commercial crusades
‘Cos all the oil men get paid
These are commando crusades
Commando tactical rape
And from the streets of New York and Baghdad to Tehran and Tel Aviv
Bring forth the prophets of the Lord
From dirty bastards fillin’ pockets
With the profits of greed

These are commercial crusades
Commando tactical raids
Playin’ military charades to get paid

And who got the devils?
And who got the Lords?
Build yourself a mountain – Drink up in the fountain
Soldiers come home
Soldiers come home
Soldiers come home
Soldiers come home

What mean ya that you beat my people
What mean ya that you beat my people
And grind the faces of the poor

via Lenin and a few others. Can anyone tell me if this is getting much air time in the UK? I’m not holding my breath that I will ever hear it on the radio here.