This past decade may have been the one that most changed music, both as an industry and in general (will we even have albums anymore, at the close of our new decade?). Apple introduced its iPod in 2001 and then its iPhone in 2007, both of which helped the Cupertino-based company located at One Infinite Loop become the largest music retailer in the industry. Before we go on, let that sink in a moment: iTunes Store is a larger retailer of music than Wal-Mart or Amazon. Part of it is convenience—the iPod dominates the digital music player category, while the iPhone continues to grow as a cell phone—but there’s more to it than simply that people just want something to plug in and forget. It’s changed browsing, publishing, and exclusivity, not to mention access; more musicians have more access to put up their music. It no longer takes the likes of Sony and BMG to reach an audience; now, anyone with a microphone and a guitar can record their music in their basement and charge a buck a track to anyone who wants them.
Which is not to say that anyone with a microphone and a guitar should (although at times it’s sounds like many have and still are); as with movies and books, few people ever want to believe they’re just not that good at what they want to do. Most publishers, be they of music, movies, or books, want the general public to believe they act something like gatekeepers, which may be one of the biggest PR con jobs in the history of people making stuff up for other people to enjoy.
But the past ten years have been really good to music. Spectacular, even, with introductions to fantastic new bands and new releases from ones we hadn’t heard from in a lot of years. So good a top-ten list is tough, and again, filled with lots of CDs that very nearly make it but either way certainly deserve a mention as elevens. In no particular order:
The day: Southern California just south of Santa Monica, warm and oppressive as Los Angeles so often is. I’m in my old beater of a Mazda (which has served me oh-so-well through the years) playing the rock station I think Butch Walker introduced me to, if I’m not mistaken, when I hear a song by Katy Perry. It’s obviously pretty purely pop confection, with the kind of heavy, thuddy beat that masks the fact that there’s really nothing going on and then kind of vocal enhancement that tries to conceal that the vocalist can’t actually sing.
But don’t take my word for it:
My first thought on hearing it was: “Jill Sobule called. She wants her song back.”
Which is, I think, actually charitable. Because really, it doesn’t really rip Sobule off so much as insult homosexuality and the GLBT community in general.
Here’s Jill Sobule’s “I Kissed a Girl”:
You know what I love about Jill Sobule? She looks so happy and joyful. She’s having so much fun playing her guitar she nearly falls backward in her bed, and there’s her feet not reaching the floor. I love her facial expressions, and the way she sings, like kissing a girl was, for her, a revelation. An epiphany.
“They can have their diamonds while we have our pearls.”
It’s a rather defiant statement but one without anger or resentment behind it. It’s like she gets the fact that the most powerful and influential revolutionary, and the one who will most change the world, is the one who’s smiling.
And then there’s Katy Perry.
So the video opens with her on the bed, stroking her pussy (cat). Already, it goes, arguably, a little more toward crude and tasteless than Sobule’s. And okay, I get that we can’t really exactly compare the two videos, because videos are less about the artist and the song than they are about the record companies and the marketing.
So fair play. How about that song?
The first time I heard it was driving down that sunny California street (I was actually on Romaine, a block south of Santa Monica). Quiet residential streets flooded with hard sunshine. Which I tell you because I had no visual to go with it. All I had was the song and the lyrics. Which start off mostly okay; I didn’t take issue with her lack of planning or intentions. So it was sorta spontaneous. Took her by surprise. All right. It’s not what she’s used to, she just wants to “try you on.”
Not quite the best metaphor, I don’t think. Doesn’t “try you on” objectify the recipient? You don’t “try” a person “on”; people are not blouses that are not going to fit correctly and which you have to bring to your tailor to take in the sides. People are not high heels that look great but are totally uncomfortable.
Peoples, as I learned from The Muppets Take Manhattan, is peoples.
“I kissed a girl and I liked it/the taste of cherry chapstick.” And hey, sure, I identify with that. I’ve kissed girls and it’s generally something I like, as well. Some have tasted of cherry chapstick. Or vanilla. I like kisses sans flavor, personally, but that’s a personal proclivity we’ll not discuss farther because it has little to do with the topic at hand.
“I kissed a girl just to try it.” I’ve kissed a couple girls “just to try it.” I prefer to be romantically interested in the girl, because I kinda think just kissing someone you’re not actually interested in dating is leading them on, but then again I’ve gone on first dates I wasn’t entirely certain were going to lead to second dates but still ended with a kiss. Only a couple, mind, but still.
“I hope my boyfriend don’t [sic] mind it.”
Oh, now hold the phone. You’re romantically involved with someone enough to call him your boyfriend but still kissed someone else? Infidelity much? Sorry, here’s where I take real issues. Not saying, of course, that one can’t be in a romantic relationship and kiss someone else; lots of people have open relationships, but the “rules,” so to speak, of such relationships are generally clearly delineated ahead of time, no? I mean, it’s not something that you just go to a bar and start making out with random people, unless you’ve clearly established that’s okay beforehand. Otherwise, it’s really kinda cheating, ain’t it? And sure, I know lots of guys wouldn’t mind it if their girlfriends started making out with other girls, but the reason there, of course, is the visions of threesomes dancing like sugarplums in their heads.
Well, mostly, anyway. Probably. My point is, she kissed a girl without first discussing it with her boyfriend.
And then the next stanza:
“No I don’t even know your name
It doesn’t matter
You’re my experimental game
Just human nature.”
So on one hand: I agree about homosexuality. I don’t believe it’s a lifestyle choice, and I think anyone who does is bisexual (it seems to me that anyone who thinks gay people made a choice about which gender to be attracted to probably, at some point, made that choice themselves. Stands to reason, I think), which means that yes, I agree it’s human nature.
What I don’t agree with is “experimental.” I think there’s a Bill Maher or Chris Rock joke that goes something along the lines of “experiment my ass. Unless you’re wearing a lab coat and goggles, it’s not an experiment. An experiment? Really? So what was your hypothesis, Heisenberg?” To me, again, it goes back to objectification and just trying a person on.
I mean, again, it doesn’t have to be so, but only with the consent of both parties. And given that Katy Perry doesn’t even know the name of the girl she kissed, how can she know she has her consent to do so? The song states there’s alcohol involved; what if this poor girl Katy Perry kissed and whose name she never knew starts to struggle with depression and anxiety due to the questions about her sexuality kissing Perry raises?
“It’s not what good girls do
Not how they should behave.”
Oh, really? Kissing other girls is not what “good girls” do? So all lesbians are, by opposition, bad girls? Good girls shouldn’t be lesbians?
Which, in addition, led me to her other music video for “Ur so Gay”:
1) she’s not talking about gay; she’s talking about emo.
2) she opens by wishing someone would accidentally kill themselves by suffocating on their H&M scarf while masturbating (to Mozart? zuh?).
3) Zooey Deschanel called. She wants her look back, because, like with Jill Sobule, you stole it and don’t even do it right.
4) It sounds like she’s just bitter because emo dude with whom she fell in love and who later dumped her is prettier than she is, thinner than she is, wears make-up better than she does, and dresses better than she does.
And the only reason I link to that video is so you know I’m not making any of that up.
(well. Except for the prettier thing and all that, because obviously it’s just dolls in the video, so I’m just assuming that based on her looks/style)
And look, the funny thing is that I must confess I’m kinda completely a dude when it comes to lesbians (ZOMGLEZBIENSWOOTFTWBBQ!!!!111!). Like Charlie Sheen in Being John Malkovich: “Hot lesbian witches? That’s fucking genius!” And even though Perry never actually kisses a girl in her video, there’s a sequence where lingerie models have a pillowfight, and we all know what happens when lingerie models pillowfight.
What, no? But I thought—
Man, next thing you’re going to tell me is there’s no Easter bunny!
No, but in all seriousness, one of the major objections raised to Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy was that it implied that all lesbians really needed was a good, hard dickin’ to “cure them of their ways,” so to speak, and I think Perry perpetuates this somehow. Because the way I read the song, she’s doing it for attention and basically because she’s bored, as an experiment. And (and I can’t stress this enough) she already has a boyfriend.
So really, homosexuality is just confusion and experimentation and boredom, because it’s not what good people do, not the way good people behave. (/sarcasm)
I mean, can you imagine if a guy sang a song like this? Can you imagine if Justin Timberlake came out with a song called “Tickle Kiss” about making out with a guy who hadn’t shaved for a week? Nevermind that it’s all the news channels would talk about for a month while whatever evangelical preacher who cared lamented that it was a sign of the moral degradation of society and a signal that the end is NIGH!
But is it okay because it’s a chic–I’m sorry–girl? Am I making too much of girls making out, or do you take some umbrage, too? Why is what’s good for the goose not good for the gander?