I Kissed a Girl is a 1995 song (and video) by Jill Sobule.... and a completely different 2008 song (and video) by Katy Perry. Both are tales told from the perspective of a girl, who has kissed another girl, and is reporting mostly positively on the experience. And the similarities don't end there -- both songs, by way of example, mention that the singer has a male significant other, and that alcohol lubricated the event -- but at the same time they strike opposing tones as to the nature and emotional outcome of their experience.

The Sobule version is folksy, with voice accompanied by a strummed guitar, with a drum line so subtle that it is easy not to notice it at all. In this live version, there is no drum at all, and the singing and guitar is accompanied by nothing more than a plaintive harmonica.
The Perry version is clubby, the guitars and beats are all electric, intense and heavily synthesized -- even in her live performance.

Sobule's song is, at bottom, a love story, and more particularly, a tale of forbidden love realized; the very opening line begins with a notion of familiarity -- "Jenny came over and told me 'bout Brad," Jenny obviously being already at least an acquaintance to come to someone's house and commiserate about her boyfriend situation -- he is, it is related, "a hairy behemoth" and "dumb as a box of hammers" and yet (seemingly pardoning these faults) "such a handsome guy." The counterpart voiced by Sobule expresses similar reservations about her "Larry," of whom she says "I think I can do better."

This personal exchange leads to laughter, then a drink and a smoke, and then "She took off her overcoat...."

Perry's song tells us no such story; the other girl is never named, and Perry even recites: "I don't even know your name, it doesn't matter" -- this is not at all about love, and so she declares that this kiss "don't mean I'm in love tonight"; her act relates experimentation, with a touch of rebellion against the proper order of things. Her only mention of her equally unnamed male companion is the line repeated in the refrain, "I hope my boyfriend don't mind it" -- which teases out the idea that she doesn't care whether her boyfriend becomes aware of it, she only hopes to moderate his reaction when he does.

Where Sobule's version suggests only that the act is one commanding secrecy, and worthy only of a moment of guilt flashing in the eyes of the other girl, Perry's take is stocked with references to the action itself being improper, perhaps even worthy of moral condemnation. This carries from Perry's first line, "This was never the way I planned, not my intention," to the next -- while Sobule's drink shared with her eventual paramour seemed sociable, a means to loosen unduly restrictive bounds imposed by society, Perry is direct in saying "I got so brave, drink in hand" to the point where she confesses to having "lost my discretion." She flatly describes her action as "not what good girls do, not how they should behave," and sings of her head getting "so confused."

On the other hand, when she says of the other girl, "You're my experimental game, just human nature" it seems that she means that it is human nature to experiment with sexuality in this way. This is telegraphed in the previous verse, where she says, again of the other girl, "just wanna try you on" -- for no other reason than that she is "curious."

And now, the refrains. First, from Sobule, sung to a folksy meter:

I kissed a girl.
I kissed a girl.
I kissed a girl / Her lips were sweet.
She was just like kissing me
Kissed a girl won't change the world
But I'm so glad,
I kissed a girl!!

No moral confusion there -- this is a pure and happy moment. Now, Perry:

I kissed a girl and I liked it, the taste of her cherry chapstick
I kissed a girl just to try it, I hope my boyfriend don't mind it
It felt so wrong, it felt so right, don't mean I'm in love tonight
I kissed a girl and I liked it, I liked it....


There is subtext of further lesbianism in both songs, with Sobule twice singing "They can have their diamonds / And we'll have our pearl," which I read as a reference to the diamond as the traditional wedding ring-formalized relationship between male and female, and the pearl being the clitoris, for which she and "Jenny" will have a long-term less conventional relationship of providing stimulation to one another. Perry's song also suggests more than mere kissing, with the verse:

Us girls we are so magical, soft skin, red lips, so kissable
Hard to resist, so touchable, too good to deny it....


Touching (and the soft skin touched) would seem to go beyond kissing, but Perry's next line stands in contradiction with her previous moral ambiguity: "It ain't no big deal, it's innocent" -- but why? Because she was drunk and not in control of herself? Or because there's nothing wrong with a girl kissing another girl? The tenor of Perry's lyrics, compared with Sobule's, is disappointing in the step backward that it takes after a thirteen-year interval in which we as a society were supposed to be moving past certain archaic sexual hangups.

Finally, a word on the videos. For the most part, Sobule's only shows four people -- her and her female lover, and their oblivious male companions. Both men seem to be construction workers, and for what it's worth, Sobule's is played by male model Fabio, whose long hair falls out from under that helmet in marked contrast to the tightly wound hairdo into which Sobule's blond locks are tressed; the couples live next door to each other in cartoonish cookie-cutter houses. The only other people to appear in the video are a group of suburban housewife types in a brief tupperware party scene. The video is interspersed with images of both Sobule and her man, and Sobule and her woman, in fantasy settings. And, at the end, both girls come out of their houses heavily pregnant (obviously, not by each other).

Perry's video, on the other hand, appears to take place in a lingerie model slumber party, with a dozen or more scantily clad models traipsing about, casually brushing up against each others' long, stockinged legs. Neither video shows the actual girl-girl kiss, and Sobule's even comes closer to that, at least showing an embrace. At the end of Perry's video, she wakes up in bed next to her sleeping man, leaving the impression that the whole thing about kissing a girl may just have been a dream.

So what did Sobule think of Perry absconding with her title (and, in a fragmentary manner, her idea)? Here's what she had to say in a 2009 interview:

When Katy Perry's song came out I started getting tons of inquiries about what I thought. Some folks (and protective friends) were angry, and wondered why she took my title and made it into this kind of 'girls gone wild' thing....

As a musician I have always refrained from criticizing another artist. I was, 'Well, good for her.' It did bug me a little bit, however, when she said she came up with the idea for the title in a dream. In truth, she wrote it with a team of professional writers and was signed by the very same guy that signed me in 1995. I have not mentioned that in interviews as I don't want to sound bitter or petty...

Okay, maybe, if I really think about it, there were a few jealous and pissed-off moments. So here goes, for the first time in an interview: Fuck you, Katy Perry, you fucking stupid, maybe 'not good for the gays,' title-thieving, haven't heard much else, so not quite sure if you're talented, fucking little slut.

God that felt good.

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