Why is being “just one of the boys” a bad thing? Jonathan Delavan explores a deep, underlying theme in Katy Perry’s first breakout album.
I have a confession to make, dear reader. In one of my first articles, I mentioned why I considered Katy Perry to be one of my significant others. However, while that is still true, I have been very selective in my exposure to her work. In fact, other than the entire Prism deluxe album, I have only listened to less than a handful of her songs.
This reality is due in part of my own fears in exploring Katy’s more notorious songs from her previous two albums. My religious conservative upbringing was very efficient in censoring anything from “the world” that included even a hint of sexuality or sensuality, which included Katy’s songs at the time. Thus, I was very much ignorant of Katy and her work until encountering her Prism album at its release. This is an effective illustration that shows just how sheltered I was from pop culture growing up. The inconvenient truth is that I have been avoiding major aspects of Katy Perry and her music career out of an intense fear for her more sexually infused songs despite her significant influence on my life.
I have become convinced of this unconscious yet deliberate avoidance of the rest of Katy’s songs that make me incredibly uncomfortable—first by a mentor of mine and then by my own integrity. And so, as a gift to myself (since my birthday is in July) as well as a personal challenge to myself, I decided to buy CD copies of her three pop albums: One of the Boys, Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection, and Prism [Deluxe Edition]. My latest resolution is to finally listen through the other two albums that I have been avoiding over the years as an exercise in confronting my irrational yet tangible fears.
I decided to begin this nascent personal challenge with her first breakout album, One of the Boys. I’ll be honest, I found myself approaching this album with much hesitation, as if I was tip-toeing to the edge of a frozen lake as part of some polar bear plunge dare. When I first hit the play button for the CD while driving one of my longer commutes in Houston, I braced myself emotionally (and even physically) for the sudden impact of the “ice-cold fear” that I unconsciously expected to wash all over me. However, much to my surprise, that did not happen for all but one of the songs in the album. That one track was, unsurprisingly to me, one of her most famous songs: “I Kissed a Girl”.
A song that definitely caused quite the stir on its release and rocketed Katy Perry’s pop career, it is one rife with controversy and popularity by anyone who can formulate an opinion. However, my intense struggle over this song seems to be of a far more personal nature.
When I listen to “I Kissed a Girl”, my first thought is not of a woman kissing another woman or even of Katy kissing a girl (and liking it!); no, the imagery that comes to my mind when this song is played is of me kissing a girl, and liking it! And yet even contemplating this socially acceptable and encouraged act of affection between a boy and a girl fills my heart and body with upmost terror and panic, especially when set to the heart-racing music of Katy Perry’s song. It must sound so ridiculous for a man to be terrified of kissing a woman and liking it, but that is the unavoidable reality I face as I confront that part of my “Steppenwolf” through this song.
So this is the personal challenge I mentioned earlier: to finally recover aspects of my innate sexuality that was buried deep underneath an abyss of fear by listening to songs like this one. And this popular song is a step towards that end, that hope.
The rest of the album was, fortunately, a pleasant surprise for me. For a pop album, it is filled with deep and personal tracks that also touch emotions on a universal level, all at the same time. I found myself taken aback by this album similarly to how I was when I heard the entire Prism album for the first time. It’s simply amazing for me to see how far she has come and yet remained just as true to herself as when she first began singing!
I am touched by her title song’s humanness of a girl wanting to embrace her femininity, no longer wanting to just be “One of the Boys” that she was growing up. I enjoy the comedy that is “Waking Up in Vegas”, touching on a fantasy theme that has become a hallmark of the American Dream lately. I deeply feel the sorrowful regret of a lost romantic relationship thoughtfully expressed in “Thinking of You”. I become reflective and compassionate when I hear Katy’s sincere plea for emotional intimacy from a man in “Mannequin”, a crass critique for male authenticity in the following “Ur So Gay”, and the playful frustrations of non-committal relationships in her other popular song “Hot n Cold”. I am impressed and inspired by the self-respect mantra that is “If You Can Afford Me” for girls and women everywhere. I am filled with compassion and empathy when I hear “Lost” and wonder if she was trying to portray a modern-day “Prodigal Daughter” alternative to the parable of the “Prodigal Son”. I am reminded of the all-too-real consequences co-dependents experience in damaging relationships as reflected in “Self Inflicted” and “I’m Still Breathing”—the latter of which sounds very much personal to me as she airs some of her relational insecurities. And lastly, I am genuinely encouraged and stirred when I listen to her concluding song, “Fingerprints”, as Katy delivers her personal anthem for perseverance and authenticity:
I wanna break the mold / Wanna break the stereotype / Fist in the air / I’m not going down without a fight!
It’s my life / And I’m not sitting on the sidelines watching it / Pass me by / I’m leaving you my legacy / I gotta make my mark / I gotta run it hard / I want you to remember me / I’m leaving my fingerprints, I’m leaving my fingerprints.
Don’t give up / But don’t give in / Build your house on the rock…
Quite simply, One of the Boys is an underrated album of depth, authenticity, and fun! After listening through the entire album in one sitting (driving through Houston can take a long time after all!), I couldn’t help but notice a sort of hidden theme underlying all of the songs in one way or another.
So what is the deeper theme of this album? Well, the theme I heard in this first album of Katy Perry is that of a feminine cry for authenticity, not just for herself but for her male counterpart as well.
How many women have voiced the exact same desire for centuries now? Too many to count most likely. And yet, how many men have been willing to actually listen to this feminine call for personal and relational realness? Not enough it seems, as men are still encultured, pressured, and shamed into forms of masculinity that clearly come across as inauthentic to women. In fact, it has become stereotypically “masculine” to be dismissive of women’s perspectives and desires in relationships by labeling their thoughts, feelings, and concerns as “crazy”, “her time of the month”, and other demeaning clichés towards women—as if being emotionally real and compassionate with your girlfriend makes one “unmanly”.
Regardless, the reality remains that we men (overall) have been really bad in listening to our other halves when it comes to what they want for themselves as well as for us. How much change would be possible in our lives if we would just listen to them? In my opinion, enough to change the world over! For as I discussed in my earlier article on masculinity and femininity, those who are willing to explore, embrace, and express both natures become wholehearted individuals. Such individuals, I believe, are the ones who change the world for the better. Besides, how else can men come to understand their feminine natures than through the very women in their lives?
From what I have heard and seen, I think Katy Perry strives to be a wholehearted woman in her own way. Thus, the wholeheartedness she expresses through her songs, both past and recent, is an essential factor to her world-wide success as an international pop star (in my opinion). Perhaps that is what really drew me to her in the first place in the fall of 2013, as well as so many of her fans—her wholehearted nature.
Suffice to say, in addition to being a source of my recent and ongoing personal challenge, this exceptional album has also been a means by which I have become more aware and in tuned to my feminine nature, which in turn helps me become more aware and in tuned to my masculine nature as well—a pleasant yet unexpected win-win scenario I would never have imagined when I bought this CD at the beginning of the month. I like to imagine sharing this album with my future daughter(s), and even son(s), one day so they can enjoy Katy’s songs as I have and learn from them as well.
So let me challenge you, dear reader, with my reflections on Katy Perry’s first pop album, One of the Boys. Will you listen to what Katy and other women have to say about relational authenticity, discerning femininity, and genuine masculinity? Or are you statically content with just being “one of the boys”?
photo credit: laurariumartín./flickr