After realizing that the "live" stream of the Grammys was not a live stream at all but a four-camera view of what wasn't happening onstage (aka a brilliant plot to get people to buy cable), I was left with a harrowing choice: bunny ears or bust. Several crippling neck angles and a dust tornado later, I managed to screw my lopsided antenna into my not-so-HDTV. As miracles would have it, it worked! I tuned in to CBS and sat down to lick envelopes, drink tea, and judge people... and, you know, watch the Grammys.
Truth be told, I hadn't even realized they were happening, but sometime around 8:50 p.m. I got the memo via Facebook that some live gay weddings were about to happen. There I was, watching and waiting to see Maklemore & Ryan Lewis, Mary Lambert, Madonna, and Queen Latifah make Grammy history by belting out "Same Love" as 33 couples (or 34? Nobody seemed to know!) exchanged vows and rings.
But then, out of nowhere, something amazing happened! No, it wasn't Pink's aerial act; after "Glitter in the Air," the show was nothing out of the ordinary. This amazing something had a little more twang in it: Kacey Musgraves' performance of "Follow Your Arrow."
Drawn in by her adorableness and very nice legs, I found my eyes glued to the screen. "Who is this chick?" I thought, half genuinely curious, half just thinking she was attractive. Then I heard, "Kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls if that's what you're into," and it was as if a thunderbolt had struck! "Wait, did I really just hear her say that?! In a country song?!" The song continued. More girls kissing girls. The god of country music did not smite her. I was astounded.
Now, other than my foray into the Dixie Chicks post-Bush-bashing-hoopla, and that time my ex's parents bought us the Chely Wright CD for Christmas, I really haven't listened to a whole lot of country music. My knowledge of the genre is sad at best, and I had never heard of Kacey Musgraves before last night, so it was truly a love-at-first-sight kind of thing... but if ever I knew something, I know this: Kacey Musgraves is the best thing to come out in support of little gay girls kissing girls since South of Nowhere hit the airwaves in 2005.
I would hazard to say that this might be the first time that girl-on-girl kissing has been directly addressed in a country song in a not-joking, not-ironic, not-sarcastic, non-exploitative, neither depressing nor overly optimistic way, but rather in a completely nonchalant kind of way.
Here's how it goes: Kacey sings, and we all bop along to the following lyrics:
Make lots of noise
Kiss lots of boys
Or kiss lots of girls
If that's something you're into
When the straight and narrow
Gets a little too straight
Roll up a joint, or don't
Just follow your arrow
Wherever it points, yeah
Follow your arrow
Wherever it points
Say what you think
Love who you love
'Cause you just get
So many trips 'round the sun
Yeah, you only
Only live once
Take a moment and contrast the lines "or kiss lots of girls / if that's something you're into" with Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" lyrics:
I kissed a girl and I liked it
The taste of her cherry ChapStick
I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don't mind it
It felt so wrong
It felt so right
Don't mean I'm in love tonight
I kissed a girl and I liked it (I liked it)
No, I don't even know your name, it doesn't matter
You're my experimental game, just human nature
It's not what good girls do, not how they should behave
My head gets so confused, hard to obey
While the tonal difference between the two is obvious ("Follow Your Arrow" is unapologetically carefree, while "I Kissed a Girl" is apologetically carefree), the repercussions of each song are, on the surface, elusive. I find them worthy of consideration mostly because of the demographic for which these songs are intended: young women.
Let's start with Katy Perry. "I Kissed a Girl," though we love to sing it, is quite possibly the most anti-feminist song about girl-on-girl attraction, sung by a girl, that exists. While the anthem grants women the permission to kiss each other for fun, it leaves those of us who identify on the LGBTQ spectrum barking up the wrong tree, chasing after the unattainable girls who just wanna have fun. According to Katy, somebody or something has to be at fault for the kiss, whether it's the tantalizing cherry ChapStick, a lack of self-control, or irresistible soft skin and lips. After the song's release, across all sexual orientations, women's sexuality took a serious hit, and lesbian sexuality was similarly exploited: Girl-on-girl experimentation was seen as women lacking self-control rather than as women asserting their sexual agency.
Then there is Kacey Musgraves' song. Put simply, "Follow Your Arrow" gets everything right that "I Kissed a Girl" does not: It sets out with little apparent political intent; delivers its message without accusatory, self-loathing, or self-doubting language; and, rather than calling out those who find it "hard to obey" the rules, comes full circle by asserting that the "straight and narrow" restrictions themselves are futile. Ultimately, Kacey proclaims, without a shred of self-righteous indignation, that you should "follow your arrow wherever it points" and assures young women that there is nothing to be gained or lost by being who you are, because you only live once -- as in #YOLO, but for real.
What ultimately stands out to me is that "Follow Your Arrow" is direct and unrepentant, and though its message is universal, its target audience is in fact a specific demographic, commonly noted for its impressionability: preteen and teenaged women. With them in mind, "Follow Your Arrow" redefines the status quo in a way that is so understated and somehow in tune with Kacey's girly frills and country twang that it slides under the radar just enough to reach those girls who need to hear its message the most. The candid verses of the song validate female sexuality of all sorts, along with other apparently "subversive" behaviors. Its label-less reference to girls kissing girls, unlike in "I Kissed a Girl," simultaneously and awesomely endorses women's sexual exploration andtakes it seriously.
Despite my uncompromising daily commitment to reading anything that surfaces on Google News under the heading, "lesbian," I have read little about "Follow Your Arrow" raising controversy or creating negative press for Kacey Musgraves. On the flip side, if it was meant to be another "gay anthem," mission not yet accomplished... but in a good way.
After the Grammys, five minutes of research led me to find out that "Follow Your Arrow" was co-written by Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark, the latter of whom is an out lesbian. This was solid-enough evidence for me to reason that Clark knew how subtlety impactful this song could be, particularly among young women. Clark's sexuality also solidifies my assumption that, all along, the song's conceptual intent ran deeper than a country-style, post-Macklemore publicity ploy. And that, frankly, is nice to know.
The bottom line: I officially have a big lesbian crush on Kacey Musgraves. So, Kacey, if you're reading this, I have but one question for you: Will you marry me?
Follow Jodi Savitz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/girlongirlmovie