A music video with a gay dude who you don’t immediately know is gay! Someone at Gawker likes it! Someone at Yale Daily News loves it! Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez and Ashley Tisdale lip synch to it in a house that is too sterile and adult-looking for them! It has an asterisk next to it on the Billboard Hot 100, denoting it one of the songs with the “greatest airplay and sales gains this week”! It was all over the radio when I was on vacation in Tampa with a guy I had known for a week and his parents!

I cannot figure out the song “Call Me Maybe.” The Justin-Bieber-and-his-friends-use-PhotoBooth-just-like-you video has almost 25 million views on YouTube, yet the official video has fewer than 5 million. Gawker spoke of it as the fast-approaching UFO of a new pop dictatrix who will soon enslave us with her “disco strings and that horribly catchy hook,” yet I still haven’t heard it on the radio here in Cincinnati (what’s that Mark Twain quote again?).[1] It sounds like it’s made for the Disney Channel, but the singer is 26 and I can’t stop listening to it.

Julie Shain at the Yale Daily News does a good job decoding the messages this song sends us, which is great except that I disagree with her. She says it’s a sign of progressing views of homosexuality, I say the opposite and then some. The song and video, (only the latter of which reveals that the stud isn’t interested in women) reinforces all our notions about the different roles men and women must play; the homosexuality of the man, far from challenging these, is actually the guiltiest party.

To begin, lyrics such as “call me maybe” don’t do a whole lot of good. As Shain points out, the “maybe” at the end of the song’s title lyric undermines any boldness that could be imagined into the oh-so-assertive act of giving a boy your number and demanding that he makes this relationship happen for you and then chastising him when he “took [his] time with the call” and “gave [you] nothing at all.” Women are left to be passive and doubt themselves.

The worst line comes in the first verse: “I trade my soul for a kiss” is about as bad as Arielle giving up her actual voice like literally the way she communicates and defines herself for a man. And it’s not only the misogynistic lyrics that hurt: isn’t offering only “pennies and dimes for a kiss” the exact opposite of how much you mean to be valuing this man? Dimes are tiny! But this is pop music and I don’t mind the innocuously bad lyrics. What bothers me is that once again we learn that, lest she be “heartless” or have a “soul … created below,” the more over-powered a woman is the cuter.

The video has some redeeming qualities. It plays with this whole damsel-in-distress/man-eater dichotomy by poking fun at the one way women are (sometimes) allowed to be powerful: sex appeal. Ms. Jepsen attempts to wash a car to lure her sexy neighbor over; it is slightly enticing I suppose (don’t ask me), though mostly silly, especially when she falls off the car. Letting girls have fun and be humorous is always good, and I was happy that the desired man came over at this point with a smile on his face to make sure she was okay. He got it! He didn’t try to shame her! She didn’t feel embarrassed, but rather got up and sang with confidence and composure! And he liked that too!

This is all super. I don’t like that the singer can pull of this naïveté mostly because she has been molded to look perhaps half her age, but she nonetheless embodies this most Taylor Swift of personas — I have no game and you should like me because I’m real — in a much less strained way. This is still a mostly negative power, only reaffirming the dominance of the sexy female she so showily fails to be, yet she at least is allowed to attract a man with humor and while challenging all those silly things we’ve been trained to think are sexy.

BUT! But the reason this guy likes her and the reason he responds with humor and decency is that there is nothing at stake for him — he’s gay! Yes, it is cool that there is a gay man who is not reduced to stereotype (other than that one about always trying to pick up the probably-straight despite obvious signs that this is not at all the appropriate thing to do) but the moment of this revelation, the moment that is supposed to make the video interesting, is a disappointment.

After Ms. Jepsen finishes singing, the stud claps and goes over to introduce himself to her friends. This would be a great thing for a straight guy to do in a video — to recognize that the woman is not just to be picked up and carried away but rather has friends and a life that he must accept with her. (For a brilliant defense of that most-disparaged of Spice Girls lyrics about getting with one’s friends, see this). But instead he does it because he’s interested in one of the guys; thus homosexuality is reduced to a joke and a complication, we are reminded that all men who are both hot and caring are gay, and the girl thus learns that being her quirky and genuine self doesn’t work after all.


[1] It goes “When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it’s always twenty years behind the times” and it’s apocryphal.


 

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