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10 years after ‘I Kissed a Girl,’ Rita Ora’s single stirs debate over portraying bisexuality

10 years after ‘I Kissed a Girl,’ Rita Ora’s single stirs debate over portraying bisexuality
16 May
2:17

When Katy Perry released “I Kissed a Girl” 10 years ago last month, the catchy song launched the preacher’s daughter to chart-topping fame. It was praised by some as a groundbreaking and bold “lesbian anthem.” For Perry, it was a “sweet and innocent” song about curiosity.

But for many others, the song trivialized queer female sexuality.

“I kissed a girl just to try it,” Perry sings, describing the taste of the girl’s “cherry Chapstick.” Kissing girls isn’t what “good girls do,” she went on, adding that she hopes her boyfriend doesn’t “mind.” “It felt so wrong, it felt so right, don’t mean I’m in love tonight.”

Earlier this year, Perry admitted that if she had to write that song again, she would probably make some changes. “Lyrically, it has a couple of stereotypes in it,” she said.

Last year, Halsey told Paper magazine that she’s tired of seeing bisexuality exploited or portrayed as “taboo,” or a form of rebellion against parents. “Don’t tell your mom” or “We shouldn’t do this” or “This feels so wrong but it’s so right.”

That narrative, she said, is “damaging to bisexuality and its place in society. That’s something I’ve had to fight my whole life and something I still fight.” (Some speculated she was referring to Demi Lovato‘s 2015 song “Cool for the Summer,” which includes the lyric “Don’t tell your mother.”)

“Today, bisexual musicians are more visible than ever in pop, with new artists writing wistful love songs using same-sex pronouns and chart-topping stars waving pride flags on-stage,” wrote Dazed, a British alternative culture magazine. “But the mainstream has to create more genuine presentations of bisexuality if they want to satisfy Gen Z teenagers. Rather than two women sharing lipgloss for a couple of seconds in order to tantalise the commercial gaze of gossip columns, pop stars are providing more nuanced presentations of bisexual love. Less a phase, more a commitment.”

But ironically, some of today’s most authoritative singers in the LGBT community credit Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” for inspiring their work – despite the issues surrounding the song.

Hayley Kiyoko, the artist who helped prompt the wave of backlash over “Girls,” told the Guardian earlier this year that when she first heard “I Kissed a Girl” in her teens, it was the first time she had heard a song associating queer desire with joy.

“There was nothing out there like it,” she told the Guardian. “It was a very exciting moment . . . Of course, I wished that it was a gay girl singing, but I was like, ‘That’s gonna be me.'”

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