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15 December 2008, 5:15 pm 31 Comments

Music: How Katy Perry Almost Won Me Over


Results, my gym, has a real way with music. The rapidly fading glory of the DC gay workout scene blasts club music all day and night and seems to have no more than fifteen songs to choose from at any given time. Thus it is likely that I will hear a given song every time I go there, for as long as it remains on their rotation. An example of this happened in early 2007. No matter how much Architecture in Helsinki I listed to at my work desk, regardless of how of often I blasted LCD Soundsystem when I got home, too much time at the gym would always leave me singing “You must not know ’bout me, you must not know ’bout me” when I thought no one was looking. Once at work someone asked where the bathroom was and I blurted “to the left, to the left.” The music I hear while lifting becomes nearly parasitic in it’s ability to lodge itself in my skull.

My current favorite guilty pleasure is a song that goes something along the lines of “You change your mind/ like a girl changes clothes.” It’s vapid, it’s catchy and once I hear it I want to hear again immediately. In short, it has all the trappings of a perfect stupid pop song. I also enjoyed it’s anonymity. I didn’t know who sang it or what it was called. Until today.

Our sometime-contributor Rohan, who has more indie-ness in his little finger than I do in all three of my testicles, posted a facebook note listing his favorite singles of the year 2008. Number one was something called “Hot N Cold” by the dreaded Katy Perry. Katy Perry, who I accused of being a homophobe in the most read TNG post of all time. The Katy Perry who I think is better at being incendiary and “controversial” than she is at singing.

The same Katy Perry, it turns out, who is responsible for the my absolute favorite guilty pleasure gym song. Hot N Cold, it turns out, is the very same tune I get so excited to hear at the gym. This is a problem.

Much like a cat who falls in love with a dog or scat lover who finds themselves head over heels for a piss freak, everyone has found themselves at some point feeling intense attraction for a sworn enemy. But when the thing you most hated becomes the cause for a pitter-pattering heart it causes a person to seriously rethink their priorities. What do you even know any more? How can you be sure the ground you walk on will continue to support you? If Katy Perry writes awesome pop songs that don’t offend me as a queer person, do I have to address the fact that I’d been too harsh on her in the past?

(At this point I should add a note about pop music: My problem with KP comes from her odd attitudes toward gay people, not her status as a hit musician. No matter how many people like to accuse me of being a hipster music snob I will be the first to kow-tow to an indelible radio hit. For example, the year 2004 saw the release of both Britney Spears’ Toxic and Magnetic Fields‘ “I Don’t Believe You.” The latter is, in my opinion, one of the most resonant love songs ever written. But in 3o years it’s going to be a mere musical footnote next to the sheer power of “Toxic.” That’s the power of pop.)

In my attempt to reconcile my love of Hot N Cold with my disdain for its singer, I thought it would be wise to do some research and watch the video (above.) It was there that I found some reassurance. The song was just as catchy as remembered it. Katy’s boobs were just as oddly alluring as I always find them to be. But there, in the clip’s opening moments, came my clue that Katy is still using gays as a punchline: Right after Katy says “I Do,” we see that one of her brides’ maids is actually a man in a dress. In case there was any doubt that this was a gay joke, we also see that he is holding a little dog. Two more gay stereotypes in one. Way to go, Katy. You almost had me there for a minute.

Katy: You’re pretty, you sing well and you write songs that I need lobotomies to excise from my brain. As soon as you stop using gay people as punch lines I’ll start singing your praises in any available medium. For now, though, I’ll have to keep pointing out that you might want to be a little more sensitive.


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31 Comments »

  • Jeff Guard-Editor GPL said:

    seriously, this song is like crack for the ear. One I started listening to this I could not stop and I don’t even like her other music. But this song is like a remora. It latches onto you forever!

    I’m still not over listening to it.

  • Rohan said:

    ok, so i guess i should go on record about this because i lifted the curtain for you. yes “hot n cold” is my favorite single of the year because of its sheer pop force. but i must add that the “rock and roll part 2″ meets orgy stomp of “i kissed a girl” gets me off too. i am not denying any gay stereotypes exist in her music (but hey “ur so gay” is actually funny when taken in the hipster vs gay controversy level) but some things are forgivable. i don’t think that katy perry in undermining the gay movement. she just writes catchy pop songs (although she really can’t sing i.e. “mannequin”). i don’t think she is using gays a punchlines. sure there is a male bridesmaid in the video but I thought it was funny. maybe my sense of humor is skewed, but I don’t think she is a horrible person.

    btw – thanks for the shout out

  • Rohan said:

    oh yeah, one last thing. listen to the yelle remix of the song. it might make things less guilty.

    http://hypem.com/search/katy%20perry%20yelle/1/

  • Anonymous said:

    I had this same experience when I was in Ireland a few years back. This great song came on the radio sounding very much like a Prince protege; very Vanity 6. It wasn’t the best song I’d ever heard, but darn it, it was catchy! And then someone burst my bubble by telling me it was the new Britney Spears single “I’m a Slave 4 U”.

  • Hans N. said:

    Well, I listened, and it’s catchy, but to me it sounds quite bland, like something you might hear from Britney or Hillary or Ashlee or Avril or any number of interchangeable mainstream pop singers. I’ll probably listen when I want some bouncy, mindless tune to put on while I clean the bathroom or something.

  • Raphael said:

    I say: Boo!

    You get all huffy about her homophobia, but don’t notice the sexism?

    This song is no less offensive.

  • Anonymous said:

    Thanks, Raphael. My thoughts too.

  • Margaret said:

    I totally agree on the sexism comment. There’s much to be said for her playing up sexist stereotypes in this song as she did in the gay boy song.

    She starts off by calling women fickle:

    You change your mind
    Like a girl changes clothes

    Women are fickle. Didn’t you know? That’s one of the most consistent stereotypes that is traded and has been historically traded about us. Now people say that it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind. A prerogative, for those like me, who have used the word but don’t know it’s exact definition, is:

    1 a: an exclusive or special right, power, or privilege: as (1): one belonging to an office or an official body (2): one belonging to a person, group, or class of individuals (3): one possessed by a nation as an attribute of sovereignty b: the discretionary power inhering in the British Crown

    2: a distinctive excellence

    Considering the rich vein of writers in the Western tradition who have labeled women as fickle in their decisions, (cf. Ovid, 1st century BCE-1st century CE; Ambrose, 4th century; Andreas Capellanus, late 12th century; Jean de Meun, 13th century; Chaucer, 13th century), this accusation seems to have been chivalrously downshifted into a softer tone. Well, of course women are going to change their minds because they are weak and bound to cheat, the old thinking went; this has now shifted to, so we’ll let them.

    And the chorus, as an extension of the first verse, only emphasizes this womanly fickleness:

    ‘Cause you’re hot then you’re cold
    You’re yes then you’re no
    You’re in and you’re out
    You’re up and you’re down
    You’re wrong when it’s right
    It’s black and it’s white
    We fight, we break up
    We kiss, we make up

    It’s your fickleness that’s to blame for our problems.

    And then there is the PMS comment:

    Yeah, you PMS like a bitch
    I would know

    Blaming women’s actions, feelings, opinions, thoughts, and rightful anger on the effects of their hormones disenfranchises them. It’s true that many women feel crappy during their periods, but to assume that mood shifts and anger and unpleasant behavior are due to hormones (more progesterone and testosterone, and less estrogen, in the system) is to say that women don’t have a right to feel anger, and mood shifts and be unpleasant when the circumstance calls, and that women aren’t really feeling angry or that they aren’t really disagreeing — it’s just the hormones talking. For Katy Perry to claim that she can call PMS in a man when she sees it because she herself PMSes is to disenfranchise him, to be complicit in her own disenfranchisement and to not take responsibility for her own actions.

    Dammit Katy, I’ll all about the men with feminine characteristics (and women with masculine ones) — but can you please not use the worst of stereotypes to attack your bad boyfriends?

    [I would like to note, by the way, that there's nothing in the song that precludes the 'you' from being another woman. But that doesn't make her potshots any less offensive].

  • Allison said:

    Margaret, thank you thank you thank you for writing that… you saved me the energy!

    Personally, the song tickles my pop-loving side; so did, “I Kissed a Girl,” and so did “Ur So Gay.” Of them all though, “Hot N Cold” makes me the most angry, because she is a woman.

    On the other side though, the girl definitely has some gender stuff to work through, since she’s brought up gender or sexuality in all three of her big hits… and then there was this costume: half boy and half girl.

  • Allison said:

    Margaret, thank you thank you thank you for writing that… you saved me the energy!

    Personally, the song tickles my pop-loving side; so did, “I Kissed a Girl,” and so did “Ur So Gay.” Of them all though, “Hot N Cold” makes me the most angry, because she is a woman.

    On the other side though, the girl definitely has some gender stuff to work through, since she’s brought up gender or sexuality in all three of her big hits… and then there was this costume: half boy and half girl.

  • Toby said:

    Katy Perry is not responsible for Hot N Cold. Max Martin (Baby One More Time, Oops I Did It Again) is.

    Katy Perry has three writing credits on her album, one of the worst reviewed of the year. A song writer she is not.

  • Toby said:

    Katy Perry is not responsible for Hot N Cold. Max Martin (Baby One More Time, Oops I Did It Again) is.

    Katy Perry has three writing credits on her album, one of the worst reviewed of the year. A song writer she is not.

  • copp3rred said:

    Zack: I hate you. I want to hate her too, but I’m getting sucked in. Fuck this ear-crack is addictive. Still Resluts is too intimidating for me, even if they do have good music from the sounds of things. I know that when I go to the gym vapid music takes my mind off the strain and the exertion.

    margaret- Sometimes we want to listen to Ani, but self-righteous anger gets tiresome. I just can’t be angry 24/7, I have other things I’d like to do in life.

  • copp3rred said:

    Zack: I hate you. I want to hate her too, but I’m getting sucked in. Fuck this ear-crack is addictive. Still Resluts is too intimidating for me, even if they do have good music from the sounds of things. I know that when I go to the gym vapid music takes my mind off the strain and the exertion.

    margaret- Sometimes we want to listen to Ani, but self-righteous anger gets tiresome. I just can’t be angry 24/7, I have other things I’d like to do in life.

  • Lauren said:

    I just thought I should let you know that the male bridesmaid in the scene you are referring to is actually her best friend, adn in the video, he’s the maid of honor, comically in a dress. And the dog is one that they share, although he claims ownership since he’s not traveling across the world.

    Just wanted to clear up that it is not in fact a gay joke, but instead the inclusion of her best friend in her music video.

  • Stephanie said:

    lesbot news flash: http://www.afterellen.com/blog/stuntdouble/the-dinah-buys-into-katy-perry

    i sure hope katy perry changes it to “i kissed an indigo girl” and brings a little madonna/britney passing of the torch action to the stage!

    in other news: y’all need to replace hot n’ cold with a better, more sophisticated tecno-pop classic – cascada, “everytime we touch”

  • Margaret said:

    @copp3rred:

    Oh did I sound angry? I was going for analytical and maybe a wee bit pedantic.

    I think it’s as important to call out sexism as it is to call out homophobia — the labels applied to women come from the same place as labels applied to queer folk. Both sexist and homophobic are a way of keeping people quiet and in a pretty little box by labeling them as not-Masculine.

    As for my own musical taste, I don’t ask my music to be political, I just expect it to not insult me and 51% of the population. But that’s a personal decision about what I put in my brain (I also avoid watching violent movies because they get into my subconscious in weird ways, but I can acknowledge that Terrentino is a good director).

    People listen to music for many different reasons. I don’t think that people shouldn’t necessarily listen to something because it contains an -ism. That’s for everyone’s personal judgment call. But since we are discussing pop culture in an analytical way, I brought this point up because broad stereotypes in media have an insidious way of reproducing themselves, unless one is aware of them.

    And, by the way, there have been recent discussions of whether or not TNG is a space that women feel like they are able to see themselves in. Comments that dismiss a woman’s point of view because she mentions things having to do with her body (some of this gay men on this site speak pretty frankly about things that have to do with male bodies, by the way, which are considered valid commentary) and stereotypes that are directly about her make this feel like an unwelcoming space for women. The way that you said that you would like to listen to the music without analyzing the gender dynamics in it (which is a position I can get behind) shut me down and make me feel like I have less of a right to comment than you do.

    This might be the nature of commenting online. But I like to think that we can come up with better ways of speaking to and about each other than using general stereotypes.

    Even if Max Martin/Katy Perry set a really lousy example.

  • copp3rred said:

    I do think it is important to challenge sexism and homophobia (the latter can almost be seen as an outgrowth of the former), I just don’t believe that 51% of the population are going to agree with you, or feel insulted, even IF they should.

    We have created an exception to the rules of engagement of stereotypes, letting the “own” group use words and phrases those outside cannot. It is what it is. Is Meredith Brooks’ Bitch just as offensive?

  • copp3rred said:

    Speaking of Cascada, “Holiday” is synth-pop-electronica with a twist worth listening to. You can have fun and dump your abusive bf too.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-O63xyXGAw

  • Margaret said:

    I wouldn’t expect everyone to agree with me or to feel like they’ve been offended. I feel like those lyrics are offensive to women because they trade on negative stereotypes of women.

    The song Bitch is interesting in comparison. In “Bitch” (I’m a bitch, I’m a mother, I’m a child, I’m a lover, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint, and I do not feel ashamed), Brooks was indeed claiming the word for women, and actually a lot of women I know (particularly straight women) have taken the song as an anthem, and find it quite empowering.

    But I think this is because of the way that she uses ‘bitch’. It’s part of a litany of words that can all be subjectively defined. What might make me a sinner may be different than what might make someone else feel like she’s a sinner. What makes me a bitch and the way that I define bitch is different from what makes someone else a bitch and how she might define it.

    What I object to about KP’s lyrics is that she blames the bitchiness on PMS. She can’t be a bitch on her own. She blames her hormones for that. It is out of her control. She is a weak female who is being battered around by forces greater than her. She doesn’t own being a bitch, which Brooks does (I’m a bitch). The reclamation of words is about transforming its meaning into something positive, different from the way the word has been used in the past. KP’s use on the other hand gives the word the exact same meaning that it has always meant by coupling it with the stereotype of PMSing women.

  • cuffshark said:

    WTF is up with this blog?

    “Rapidly fading glory” linking to vida? Katy Perry? GYM STORIES??!!

    How about a fucking post about something outside the fucking incestuous bullshit we know to be the fucking dc gaybourhood? Would that be too much to fucking ask, what with that being the STATED PURPOSE OF THIS FUCKING BLOG???

    Sorry… day 3 of quitting smoking. The sentiment is valid, even if the manner of expression is not.

  • Anonymous said:

    Cuffshark: This post might have originated in a gay gym and might talk about a quasi-controversial pop starlet, but the issues it raises are very real to queer communities.

    Want more from TNG, write for it. They’re always asking for submissions. How about a story about your struggle to quit smoking while failing to not turn into an asshole?

  • jimbo said:

    This entry reeks of the whole “indie-er than though” attitude that seems to dictate that it is a crime to enjoy pop music. When I hear the phrase “indie fan” I think “uptight music snob.” If you want to listen to monotonous, soul-less music from Sweden (or the hottest obscure country du jour), fine, torture yourself, but I’ll continue enjoy my pop. Don’t feel bad just because a particular song gives that you joy is performed by an artist that isn’t completely unknown.

    I’ve also noticed “indie” fans are completely disdainful of the artists they formerly raved about, as soon as the artist becomes well known. Half of the fun of being an “indie” fan seems to be in looking down at lower life forms who enjoy pop.

  • Rohan said:

    jimbo- “I’ve also noticed “indie” fans are completely disdainful of the artists they formerly raved about, as soon as the artist becomes well known. Half of the fun of being an “indie” fan seems to be in looking down at lower life forms who enjoy pop.”

    i don’t know what “indie types” you know but not everyone is like this. some of my favorite artists are popular and on major labels (beck, dcfc, sonic youth, wilco).

    I am an “indie type” and i enjoy music from Sweden, but i mostly like Swedish pop music. Ever heard of ABBA or the Cardigans?

    Final point, have you ever read pitchfork (that holier than thou website)? They cover a shit ton of pop music, so i guess you are hip too becasue you like pop (go figure).

  • Rohan said:

    jimbo- “I’ve also noticed “indie” fans are completely disdainful of the artists they formerly raved about, as soon as the artist becomes well known. Half of the fun of being an “indie” fan seems to be in looking down at lower life forms who enjoy pop.”

    i don’t know what “indie types” you know but not everyone is like this. some of my favorite artists are popular and on major labels (beck, dcfc, sonic youth, wilco).

    I am an “indie type” and i enjoy music from Sweden, but i mostly like Swedish pop music. Ever heard of ABBA or the Cardigans?

    Final point, have you ever read pitchfork (that holier than thou website)? They cover a shit ton of pop music, so i guess you are hip too becasue you like pop (go figure).

  • The Scientist's View said:

    Jimbo hits the nail on the head. I just LOVED how all the music snobs who couldn’t get up in the morning without playing an R.E.M disc practially went nuts when Out of Time came out. The “purity” of indie rock is a farce, and at its worse is worn as a badge of honor- if the artists wanted to be truly indie, then do it for free. Aesthetically, an off-key howl to a poorly tuned guitar is just that – no amount of posturing can change the cruel reality. Suffer all you want to a dying animal- I just wanna dance!

    So I’ll enjoy my Kylie, ABBA, Prince (he is one of the true indies when it comes to music), Madonna, Beyonce, Rhianna (she is totally fabu), Olivia Newton-John, Cyndie Lauper, U2, Depeche Mode, Tina Turner, Dean Martin (OMG – my guilty pleasure), etc etc etc.

    I refuse to submit to the music snobbery – good pop is not meant to stir the soul, it is meant to lift the soul!!!

  • The Scientist's View said:

    Jimbo hits the nail on the head. I just LOVED how all the music snobs who couldn’t get up in the morning without playing an R.E.M disc practially went nuts when Out of Time came out. The “purity” of indie rock is a farce, and at its worse is worn as a badge of honor- if the artists wanted to be truly indie, then do it for free. Aesthetically, an off-key howl to a poorly tuned guitar is just that – no amount of posturing can change the cruel reality. Suffer all you want to a dying animal- I just wanna dance!

    So I’ll enjoy my Kylie, ABBA, Prince (he is one of the true indies when it comes to music), Madonna, Beyonce, Rhianna (she is totally fabu), Olivia Newton-John, Cyndie Lauper, U2, Depeche Mode, Tina Turner, Dean Martin (OMG – my guilty pleasure), etc etc etc.

    I refuse to submit to the music snobbery – good pop is not meant to stir the soul, it is meant to lift the soul!!!

  • Gavin said:

    This entry reeks of the whole “indie-er than though” attitude that seems to dictate that it is a crime to enjoy pop music.

    I’m going to have to bite on this one. I don’t see, wherein, you could attribute an ‘indier-than-thou’ attitude to either the original post or the most of the comments. The point of the post was Zach’s own attempt to reconcile his like of the song in question in light of issues he has raised about the artist in question as far as a perceived lack of sensitivity/ignorance in relation to gay/queer issues.

    How in the hell is that ‘indier-than-thou’?

    In addition, I think you’re being about as broadly general in your stereotyping as you accuse others of being. If anyone needs a reminder of what snobby elitism looks like, I’m sure you can find many instances on a daily basis by stepping foot into a gay bar.

    As someone involved in a punk/independent music culture for well over 21 years, I can safely say that your personal music tastes have about as much concern to me as my music tastes are of concern to you. However, I can certainly reassure you that I haven’t formulated my music tastes with the sole purpose of looking down my nose at others.

  • Anonymous said:

    How the hell do you guys even know or care who Katy Perry is, let alone this really mediocre muzak piece of shit song?

    Talk about deep cover. Wipe the gay off and come out your mess.

  • Anonymous said:

    How the hell do you guys even know or care who Katy Perry is, let alone this really mediocre muzak piece of shit song?

    Talk about deep cover. Wipe the gay off and come out your mess.

  • Michael said:

    Most recent anon: This is how.