When I was 18 and in my first real stages of being an aggressive baby queer, there was a song that I hated with a fiery passion. Even to this day, my entire foundation for why I hate this artist starts with this song.
It was 2008. The song was ‘I Kissed A Girl’ by Katy Perry and it was fucking EVERYWHERE.
As much as I wanted to avoid the song, I couldn’t, especially in the queer spaces in college I was going to. The universe was trying to tell me to love the song because yay girls kissing, but I knew they were wrong. It was about a girl getting drunk and kissing another girl to impress her boyfriend, further perpetuating the stereotype of the “barsexual.” You wouldn’t have me fooled, Katy Perry. My sexuality existed outside the drinks I wasn’t having, the bars I wasn’t going to, and the people I weren’t kissing.
I’m 25 now. I’ve had a few drinks, I’ve been to a few bars, and I’ve kissed many a girl, both while sober and not. Even when a culture of bi-erasure tries to make me doubt myself because of the measure of men I’ve done things with compared to the women, I’m even more solid and sure than I was at 18 that yeah, I’m still bisexual outside of all of that. Screw you, Katy Perry.
But at 25, I have now have hope that our up-and-coming pop stars have more awareness of the more intricate details of sexuality, attraction and fantasy beyond the stereotypes presented by media previously.
Why? Because ‘Cool For The Summer’ by Demi Lovato exists.
Being the trashy pop music lover that I am, I live for summer songs. ‘Call Me Maybe’ by Carly Rae Jepsen and ‘Get Lucky’ by Daft Punk were perfect examples of that song specifically constructed for blasting during an outdoor party or with the windows down as you drive by night in the middle of July. ‘Cool For The Summer’ sets out for that right at the beginning and delivers right on time with the slick guitar and synth driven Max Martin beat. The atmosphere of this song makes me think of high speed night drives and pool parties. I would be disappointed if it didn’t for a song with ‘summer’ right in the title.
However, it’s not just the atmosphere of the song I love. It’s the tone and content. While maybe not as overt as ‘I Kissed A Girl’ was back in 2008, this song is firmly rooted in bi-curiousity with the way Lovato sings to her interest about ‘something that we wanna try’ and how they share the same body type. If anyone thinks that this song is about a guy or just gals being pals, I’d like to meet someone that oblivious.
What really separates this song from the previous example though is how it’s handled. Where Perry wanted to aggressively remind the audience that she had a boyfriend and that “it felt so wrong/it felt so right,” Lovato has a more personal one-on-one approach. There are no boys to impress and no drinks in hand. Just a genuine interest along with realization that they could still be judged for it if they’re found out and not giving a shit if she is. There’s even a level of comfort when Lovato sings “don’t be scared” and “even if they judge/fuck it/I’ll do the time/I just want to have some fun/with you.”
I honestly can’t remember the last time I heard a song made for mainstream radio that was so blatant and playful about sexuality without seeming crass. Maybe it was ‘Poker Face’ by Lady Gaga, but there was still a certain sadness to that song when you really dug into it because it was about wanting to be with a woman while she was with a man. This song is not sad. It’s sexy, exciting, and downright optimistic. Even if it’s only for this song, Lovato knows herself, is chasing what she wants, and doesn’t try to diminish it.
If I had one complaint about the song, it would actually be more about the video. Because for a song about wanting to have a summer fling with a woman, it focuses more on ‘summer.’ You only see one or two pairs of women actually kissing in the entire thing and none of them are Lovato herself. The closest she gets is grabbing onto another woman in the middle of the party, but it doesn’t go through with the central message the way, say, ‘Girls Like Girls’ by Hayley Kiyoko does.
However, I can’t be mad at it for too long because what it lacks in women kissing, it makes up for in Lovato just oozing confident sexiness that just drives the confidence of the song home. After I picked my jaw up, I proceeded to have my second internal screaming fit about how attractive someone was in the space of twelve hours. (The first one was about Finn Bálor in a leather jacket.) And not for nothing, but female friendships and sexuality are still at the core of the video. The guys we actually see are blips in comparison to the amount of women we see in the video and the explicitly heterosexual moments are brief in comparison to the ones between women.
While not perfect, this is a great example of how to do sexuality right in a pop song. With clear control belonging to Lovato, ‘Cool For The Summer’ is a slick summer anthem about bi-curiousity and sexuality that doesn’t dismiss it as something that only happens to drunk girls to impress boys. It’s exciting, confident and I cannot wait for it to be inescapable.