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Life in the 21st century is just one big musical. Or so it might seem. Music is used in so many aspects of our lives that many have grown unaware of its influence on our daily lives. Lyrics of pop and rock songs have become the only poetry that children and teenagers of the 21st century know and these lyrics can be regarded as a form of literature. As literary texts, these lyrics could easily be deconstructed.
"I Kissed a Girl" is a song by pop singer Katy Perry and appeared on her album One of the Boys which was released in 2008. The song was an immediate success and according to Wikipedia it "is recognized as the 10th best selling single in the 21st century" (Wikipedia). The song is about a girl who is talking about her experience in kissing another girl and Perry herself said that the song is "about the magical beauty of a woman" (Wikipedia).
In this assignment I plan to deconstruct the song "I Kissed a Girl" (the lyrics to the song can be found in the appendix below) by using the three stages of the deconstructive progress with emphasis on the verbal and the textual stages.
According to Barry, the verbal stage involves looking for paradoxes and contradictions in the text (Barry 71). In the first stanza of the song, the sentences "lost my discretion" and "caught my attention" could be seen as paradoxes, as 'discretion' involves the ability to avoid 'attention'. But by losing her discretion (by drinking) the speaker suddenly spots someone who catches her 'attention'. So the play here is on the words 'discretion' and 'attention'. Further, the verbs in the two sentences, 'to lose' and 'to catch', can also be seen as some kind of opposites as when you lose something you have nothing; there is emptiness, whereas when you catch something you have gained something; you have something in your possession. In the refrain there is a very obvious paradox. The speaker says: "It felt so wrong / It felt so right" and this indicates that the speaker has mixed feelings towards what she has done - an internal conflict of emotions. The emotions are excitement and guilt. She feels guilty that she has cheated on her boyfriend and hopes that he "don't mind it". She further feels guilty about her behaviour for she recognises that "It's not what good girls do / Not how they should behave". Simultaneously, she experiences excitement at doing something that she is not supposed to do and she does not think it is a big deal; it was just an innocent little experiment. It is "human nature" to want to experiment - she was just "curious", it was "innocent" and it did not mean anything. She does not even know the name of the girl she kissed and "It doesn't matter" because it "Don't mean I'm in love tonight".
In the text there is also a reverse of the binary opposition male and female. This means that the second term, female, is regarded more desirable than the first term. The speaker chooses a woman over a man to fulfil her sexual fantasy. The third stanza is basically the speaker's argument why women are better lovers than men: "Us girls we are so magical / Soft skin, red lips, so kissable / Hard to resist, so touchable / Too good to deny it".
The textual stage involves an overall view of the text and looking for shifts or breaks in the continuity of the text (Barry 71). The main breaks in this text are indicated in the grammar of the text, such as shift from past tense to present and a shift in person. In the beginning of the first stanza the text is in past tense and the perspective in 1st person narrative: "This was never the way I planned / Not my intention / I got so brave, drink in hand / Lost my discretion". Then the text shifts over to present tense and the speaker addresses someone: "It's not what I'm used to / Just wanna try you on / I'm curious, for you" but then the last line goes back to past tense: "Caught my attention". The refrain is in past tense and the speaker talks about "a girl" and her "boyfriend" in 3rd person. In the refrain there is no 'you' and that raises the question to whom the speaker is speaking. Who is 'you'? It cannot be the boyfriend as he is referred to in the 3rd person and it cannot be the girl the speaker kissed, because she is also referred to in the 3rd person. Therefore it is not quite clear who the speaker is addressing. In the final stanza the speaker changes her narrative from 1st person singular to 1st person plural: "Us girls we are so magical". So, the text begins in past tense and then when the speaker addresses 'you' the tense shifts to present and in fact, always when the speaker addresses 'you' the text is in present tense. The refrain is however always in past tense and involves the boyfriend and the girl. From this, one might argue, that the speaker was in fact dreaming that she was kissing the girl, hence the past tense in the sentence "I kissed a girl". The dream has filled her with guilt towards her boyfriend because she is not sure about what the dream means. The 'you' could therefore be the girl she kissed in the dream but the speaker is addressing her in the present and reflecting on the dream.
The third and final stage of the deconstructive process is the linguistic stage. According to Barry, this stage involves looking for moments in the text "when adequacy of language itself as a medium of communication is called into question" and "there is implicit or explicit reference to the unreliability or untrustworthiness of language" (Barry 73). One could argue that since the speaker is actually explaining a dream she had, the language is an inadequate medium to describe the dream as dreams usually show actions and are very visual. The speaker plainly says "I kissed a girl / And I liked it" and then goes on and says "It felt so wrong/ It felt so right". These descriptions give the reader no real sense of what the dream must have felt like for the speaker. The reader does not know what kind of kiss it was or in what situation it occurred. So by explaining the dream with words rather than showing the dream (by using paintings or drawings), the speaker is not able to successfully convey the true meaning of the dream to the reader.
Deconstructing a pop song lyric like "I Kissed a Girl" by Katy Perry is possible because pop song lyrics are a form of poetry and can therefore be classified as literary texts. By deconstructing the text, I have found examples of paradoxes and contradictions relevant to the verbal stage. By looking for shifts and breaks in the text according to the textual stage, I discovered shifts in the language of the text, most notably in the grammar. By looking for unreliability in the language as the linguistic stage suggests, it can be argued that language is not an adequate medium to convey the true meanings of dreams. So, a simple and innocent little pop song like "I Kissed a Girl" can be regarded as a serious and meaningful literary text through deconstruction.
Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 2009. Print.
LetsSingIt. "Katy Perry - I Kissed a Girl Lyrics". Web. 17 Feb. 2011. <http://artists.letssingit.com/katy-perry-lyrics-i-kissed-a-girl-rnx6q8r>
Wikipedia." I Kissed a Girl". Web. 21 Feb. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Kissed_A_Girl>