Chart Beat Chat

Fred and his readers discuss Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl," foreign language titles and Coldplay.


Hi Fred,

I deeply empathize with Tommy Marx's letter about pop music's rising acceptance for the gay and lesbian community. We've come a long way from Anita Bryant, and from the days when Sebastian Bach could wear a T-shirt reading "AIDS: Kills Fags Dead," which he notoriously did in 1989.

However, I disagree that Katy Perry's single "I Kissed a Girl" is an example of tolerance. Lyrically, the song is about a straight woman flirting with lesbianism as something dangerous, forbidden and shameful. She repeatedly says that kissing girls is something "nice girls" don't do and that she doesn't care about the woman she's kissing. "You're my experimental flame," she croons, just moments before she reminds the listener that she has a boyfriend.

That sentiment turns a lesbian kiss into an act of bad behavior, a way for a straight woman to give herself a thrill. Far from being respectful, the song treats homosexuality as a mysterious taboo, and it turns the "other woman" into a tool for the singer's exploits. What if the woman she's kissing is actually a lesbian, you know? What if she doesn't see her kiss with the singer as a naughty little walk on the wild side, but as a normal, natural expression of who she is?

In "I Kissed Girl," there's no room for homosexuality as a normal or loving behavior. Instead, it is fetishized as an act of rebellion -- a deviation from the "norm" of heterosexual life. That attitude does nothing to bring people closer together. Instead, it reinforces the idea that gay people are the "other" and that their behavior merits scandal.


Mark Blankenship
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Dear Mark,

I can't believe the crab from "The Little Mermaid" wore a T-shirt like that. Or am I thinking of a different Sebastian?

Alright, I admit that being light in my reply may not match the serious tone of your e-mail, but I wanted to make a point. Your letter inspired me to read the lyrics for "I Kissed a Girl," not once, but several times, and I had an entirely different reaction. I don't think there is much of a hidden subtext in the lyrics, I think it's all right there: a woman who considers herself to be heterosexual (and who has a boyfriend) has something to drink, which loosens up her inhibitions, and she gives in to her curiosity about what it would be like to kiss a girl. And guess what? She likes it!

What that means and what happens next is up to the listener to decide. Does she leave her boyfriend and start dating girls -- maybe even the girl she kissed? Does she repress her feelings about liking the kiss and go back to her boyfriend? Since it felt so wrong AND it felt so right, is she going to do it again, maybe without alcohol next time? Is her boyfriend going to be upset, or understanding?

It certainly gives us a lot to speculate about. And I think the lyric, "It's not what good girls do," isn't a judgment so much as a statement about that's what everyone has been taught. It doesn't mean it is correct and maybe it's a call to examine our belief system and why we accepted that idea as truth in the first place.

I think what most people take away from the song is that this woman kissed a girl and she liked it. That's the hook, and that's what has driven this song to No. 2 on the Hot 100.



With the pleasant surprise of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" ascending to the top spot, it's worth noting that this is the sixth No. 1 hit in Hot 100 history where the title was at least partially in Spanish, following "El Paso," "La Bamba," "I Adore Mi Amor," "Livin' La Vida Loca" and "Bailamos." I'm excluding "Macarena" as I believe it is a girl's name, although the song is largely in Spanish.

I can't find more than one chart-topping title originating from any other non-English language. In French, there's "Le Freak." From Arabic there's "Abracadabra," from Japanese "Sukiyaki" and from Latin "Kyrie."

Also if you include pre-Hot 100 songs you could add "Tequila"!

Patrick Kelly
Brampton, Ontario

Dear Patrick,

"Macarena" is both the name of a neighborhood in Seville, Spain and the name of a woman, so if I were compiling the list, I would count it.

If you're not counting names, then that would explain why you didn't include the Singing Nun's "Dominique," the name of a Saint.


Hello Fred -

It's terrific to see Coldplay earn the top spot on the Hot 100, and with such a clever song (It's definitely on my list of worthy Grammy contenders!). The British band's "Viva La Vida" becomes the fourth No. 1 this decade -- and first since 2002 -- to NOT feature its title in the song's lyrics. I suppose that the closest lyrical similarity to "Viva La Vida" is the following line: "Now the old king is dead, long live the king!"

Here are this decade's other chart-toppers in this category:

"Dilemma," Nelly featuring Kelly Rowland (10 weeks in 2002)
"Foolish," Ashanti (10 weeks in 2002)
"Family Affair," Mary J. Blige (six weeks in 2001)

Take care,

Pablo Nelson
Berkeley, Calif.

Dear Pablo,

I agree that Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" is a great song, one of my favorites of 2008 so far. It's a Grammy contender as you mention, and even more important, a contender for my top 10 songs of the year.

The subject of No. 1 songs with titles that aren't mentioned in the lyrics is always a favorite among Chart Beat readers, and yours is just one of several e-mails received on the topic this week.