Tongues in Cheek

Real-live lesbian Jen Foster answers Katy Perry.
by Nancy Ford

Jen Foster

 When Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” burst into iPods in 2008, touting the joys of hot girl-on-girl action, singer/songwriter Jen Foster was puzzled.  

“My first thought was, ‘Wow, she ripped off Jill Sobule!’” Foster says, referring to Sobule’s 1995 Gay & Lesbian American Music Award-winning song of the same name. “Then my second feeling was that it was a brilliant gimmick.”

 Perry’s catchy song had a good beat and was easy to dance to. But it was hardly an empowering anthem for lesbians with lyrics like “I hope my boyfriend doesn’t mind it.” It was an attention-grabber, though, Foster admits.

 “It sort of walks that line between not being too offensive to straight people, while creating a little bit of intrigue and using the gay thing to her advantage.”

 Foster’s ultimate response was something a bit more proactive; the out musician answered Perry’s song by penning “I Didn’t Just Kiss Her” in a matter of hours.

 “I had another song that had the same beat and guitar riff,” Foster says. “The song was more political and cerebral, and [when I’d play it] people always got a funny look on their face like they were trying to figure out what I was talking about. And so I thought, if I could add some really great lyrics that are compelling and a little more obvious, I’d love to see this song hit people in a big way.

 “All of a sudden I was just playing it and ‘I didn’t just kiss her, we went all the way and she liked it,’ just came out of me! It just sort of flowed.”

 The appreciation from her fans, in turn, flowed back. As many as 40,000 clicked in to JenFoster.com to hear “I Didn’t Just Kiss Her” within its first week on the Internet.

 Told from the perspective of a jilted lesbian lover, Foster’s provocative song pulls no punches. The artist generally better known for her introspective lyrics and love songs received some criticism from her fans who prefer her softer side.

 “I can see how it could be a little more palatable to a wider audience if some of those lines were softened,” Foster says. “But the deal is, that song calls for a little bit of grit; it calls for that kind of openness. I thought it through: ‘What else could I say? What else would I say?’

 “Actually, there are ways I could’ve made it a little bit softer. But I just think, you know, you’ve got to go with it. I went with where the song took me. It’s very raw, and it’s very from-the-heart, if you will. So, no regrets.”

 Nonetheless, the thought of ruffling feathers, especially those of her fans, gives Foster pause. “I don’t like offending people,” she says. “I’m a Texan and I come from a very conservative family, as gay as I am. I still have a very Southern, polite side of me. But I’m always wanting to push the envelope, to challenge myself, and challenge what people think. So I battle with those two sides of myself.”

 So far, Foster’s song has ruffled no feather in Perry’s camp.

 “I’ve had fans who have called her hotline and people who have posted comments on her page, but I’ve had no direct response from her or her people whatsoever,” Foster says. “I don’t know—I wonder sometimes if maybe, with all the backlash they’ve gotten from the gay community, maybe they think I’m coming at it from a really angry place. But I’m not. I’m coming at it from a tongue-in-cheek, humorous, witty kind of place. The song is meant to be taken with a smile.”

 For her part, Perry has professed her support of gay equality (“My closest friends happen to be gay,” she told TheNewGay.net), and Foster believes her.

 “As far as what she says, she supports what we’re doing, and it certainly stirred up the debate. It stirred up conversation, for better or for worse.”

 A video version of “I Didn’t Just Kiss Her” has yet to be produced, because Foster is considering turning that responsibility over to her fans. “We’re talking about the idea of making it a contest and putting it out there to the fans to create their own videos.

 “I love interactive stuff, because I’m really involved with my fans,” she says. “I keep in touch with a lot of fans that I see on a regular basis who come out to my shows and make road trips and drive out for the weekends to see me. There are people that I see all the time across the country who just love to help and promote. So I’d like to give them the opportunity to participate and be part of what I do. Send us your video—and having some sort of prize for whoever wins ‘Best Video.’”

 The as-yet unproduced video has a considerable legacy to follow. Foster’s most recent video, “Closer to Nowhere,” placed third in LOGO’s Top 20 videos for 2008; it marked a particularly sweet honor for Foster, considering a scant three of those top videos were by female artists. The dearth of lesbian representation in the field of winners was a phenomenon not lost on Foster.

 “I noticed that,” she says. “I don’t know—I really wonder. Were they getting as many videos from females, or what? I don’t know, but I wonder.”

 Foster, who grew up in Houston, now resides in Nashville where she is organizing the first installment of “A Writer’s Share,” a quarterly songwriters’ showcase and forum.

 “It’s the kind of environment where you sit in the round, and songwriters go around the circle and share a song and talk about what that song means to them, and the audience is really drawn in and gets to get the behind-the-scenes stories with this music,” Foster explains.

 The June 18 event benefits the T.J. Martel Foundation’s cancer, AIDS, and leukemia research.

 “It’s just a cause that’s dear to my heart because my mother died of cancer last year,” Foster says. “When that happened I just decided I’m going to do more with my music to help people, more with my music that will help raise funds to help the causes I support.”

 Nancy Ford wrote about the Mr. Prime Choice contest for the April issue of OutSmart .

 Sweet Sailing

 As her fourth album, 39, reaches completion, Jen Foster joins Suzanne Westenhoefer on a western Caribbean adventure with Sweet, November 8–15.

 “Sweet is the new, hot, eco-friendly lesbian cruise line!” Foster explains enthusiastically. “I’d met Shannon Wentworth, who was an Olivia employee, on the Olivia cruises that I played, [who] sort of broke away and ended up doing her own thing. I think she’s doing something really cool because she’s just a very thoughtful, deep kind of person who wants to give lesbians a great source of entertainment and unique travel experience. But she is also doing something better for the planet—or as much as you can, having a cruise line.”

 In addition to enjoying the heady headliners, Sweet cruisers have the opportunity to pitch in with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in New Orleans, where the excursion originates. Details: discoversweet.com.

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