I remember the first time I ever thought a girl was attractive. I was very young, only about five years old, and Britney Spears was on TV in her iconic schoolgirl outfit singing “…Baby One More Time.” Even at that young age, I knew the way my cheeks flushed while she danced was a little fruity of me, and I also knew that that was a feeling best kept to myself. And so I buried it, which was easy because a few music video cycles later, I found myself enamored with Sugar Ray, thus restoring the balance of childhood crushes.
I mean, it’s arguably more embarrassing to have had a crush on Sugar Ray than it was to have one on Britney, but. Internalized childhood homophobia doesn’t make that distinction.
Time went on, and I forgot my brief girlcrush. That is, until middle school, when the threat of impending bisexuality loomed again. This time, the realization that I was for sure not straight came after watching an episode of Veronica Mars. There was no use denying the obvious after saving about 50 pictures of Kristen Bell to my phone, and I could only pretend that I was hanging up Hayley Williams posters because I “just really liked Paramore” for so long.
Like many baby gays, I really didn’t understand being bisexual was an option. I remember hearing the old stereotypes about being “greedy” or “fake.” I totally fell into the whole “being bisexual is just what scene kids on MySpace do to be trendy” mindset. If I could, I would go back in time and send young me a message. I wouldn’t tell her anything sappy like, “it’s all going to be okay” or “you’re valid,” I’d be like, “stop being a biphobic bisexual and clear your Internet history so your parents don’t see you constantly looking up the music video for ‘I Kissed A Girl.’”
Point is, middle school through high school was a weird time for me. I vaguely knew I wasn’t straight, but wasn’t really sure what to do about it or what that even meant. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, there wasn’t really that much in the way of “representation” on TV, so the only things I really knew about girls liking girls came from the Paige and Alex episodes of Degrassi or episodes of South of Nowhere.
But I did have pop music. Vaguely bisexual pop music, to be exact. Which brings us back around to Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl.” That song tormented little thirteen-year-old me. The problematic implications of the song were totally lost on me. All I knew was that some lady was constantly singing about kissing girls on the radio, which was a topic I was trying VERY hard not to think about. Then again, it was kind of nice seeing all these women having a pillow fight on VH1 all the time…
It was all downhill from there. After looking that music video up on YouTube, I ended up discovering the joy of t.A.T.u’s “All the Things She Said” – a 2002 music video that I’m fairly certain every Gay of a Certain Age was obsessed with at one point or another. As it turns out, the reality behind that video was less-than-great. Similar to “I Kissed It A Girl,” the inclusion of sapphic subject matter was basically just a marketing campaign. In fact, t.A.T.u member Julia Volkova turned out to be an outright homophobe. When I was streaming the music video in 2008, though, none of that really mattered to me. What mattered was that I was seeing girls kiss!
It would have been nice if there were some mainstream media outlets talking about that video in a way that didn’t just boil down to either fetishization or homophobia. Like, read this bit from a piece in The Guardian – “Lesbians! Phwoar! Eyebrows are raised. Sly grins are exchanged. The subject, clearly, is fascinating to us. We approve of it.” Reading stuff like that didn’t make me feel great. Responses like that and YouTube comments about how hot the girls were gave me a whole complex about myself. I started to believe that you were only “allowed” to like girls if you looked a certain way. While that insecurity bubbled, though, I would at least enjoy the thrill of watching these girls in Catholic school uniforms make-out over and over and over again.
Not long after, I learned about the Rihanna song “Te Amo,” another sexy pop song about a woman liking another woman. This one is about a woman who has a crush on Rihanna (don’t we all). Lyrically, the song is about Rihanna turning this woman down, but the music video tells another story. The two women caress one another throughout the video.
There was a whole genre of sapphic music videos that I frequented. I’m pretty sure I even made a YouTube playlist of them. As the years passed, I added more songs to that playlist. Songs like “Scar” by Missy Higgins, “Jenny” by The Studio Killers, the Glee cover of “Me Against the Music” with lesbian character Santana and her girlfriend Britney, and of course, the corresponding video of Britney and Madonna kissing at the VMAs…
Another stand-out was “Take Me On The Floor” by The Veronicas. The bridge to that song went, I want to kiss a boy/I want to kiss a girl,and that was enough fuel for my little confused heart to keep chugging along for months. Then there was a Christina Aguilera song with a similar throwaway line. On “Not Myself Tonight,” she sings: I’m taking shots and I’m feeling fine/ I’m kissing all the boys and the girls/Someone call the doctor ’cause I lost my mind. Again, probably not the best representation because the implication there seems to be that kissing girls is so0o0o0o crazy and adventurous, but hey…I was sixteen and I was going to take what I could get! Although, I found out later that Aguilera is, in fact, openly bisexual, so that song might get a pass.
As I got older, my options grew. There was Panic At The Disco’s “Girls / Girls / Boys,” which had an alternative version with two girls kissing, so thank you for that, Brendan Urie. I got into Tegan & Sara, who obviously had plenty of songs about loving girls for me to fixate on. 2015 brought Demi Lovato’s “Cool For The Summer,” which much to my disdain did NOT have girls kissing in the music video despite totally being a song about sexual experimentation.
Still, the pattern with the majority of these songs is that they either tiptoed around the subject matter or were blatantly sexualizing it to get a boost on the charts. I don’t think I really, truly got the pop song I wanted until Hayley Kiyoko’s “Girls Like Girls.” There were no cheeky winks about being “naughty” for kissing a girl, and there were no tired euphemisms for being gay. It was simple: Girls like girls like boys do, nothing new.
By the time that song came out, I was pretty solidly out of the closet and generally comfortable with myself. Still, the song hit me like a train. Where was this before? How different would my childhood have been if this song released in 2005 instead of 2015? If I had heard it when I was ten instead of at nineteen? I still have a fondness for those songs I mentioned before, but it really did feel like I was reaching for scraps with a lot of them. Like, GOD, did I really have to look to “I Kissed A Girl” for gay content? REALLY?
I’m sure there was other music out there when I was growing up, but my teenage self didn’t know how to find it. Nowadays, it’s easy to find queer artists in any genre. I’m thankful to see young people easily accessing queer artists like Hayley Kiyoko or dltzk or Lil Nas X. And be glad that your bisexual icons weren’t Katy Perry or Tila Tequila like mine were!!
If you want to listen to the timeline of my bisexual pop anthems, check out this playlist. And if you feel so inclined, let us know if you had any guilty pleasure gay (or gay-ish) songs that you listened to!